A tale of two friends' journeys to the upper echelons of golf
It was no surprise, but entirely fitting, that Tom Lewis was one of the first players to congratulate Eddie Pepperell after the 27-year-old from Frilford Heath, near Oxford, had claimed his second European Tour title at the recent British Masters at Walton Heath.
The two Englishmen, born just days apart in January 1991, became firm friends while competing alongside each other in the amateur ranks and as they hugged in the rain in Surrey both could reflect on how their fortunes have changed over the course of the last few months.
Both Pepperell and Lewis turned professional in 2011 but, while Lewis enjoyed a fast start by winning on his third European Tour start at the Portuguese Masters, Pepperell initially struggled to make ends meet. As recently as November 2016, he had to return to Q School, but a string of good results saw him finish 41st on the following year’s money list before making his big breakthrough with his maiden tour victory earlier this season at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.
Subsequently, Pepperell has been one of the tour’s most in-form players, reeling off a series of top finishes, including two runner-up spots and a tie for 6th at The Open, before claiming the €571,000 first prize at Walton Heath. His successes have seen him rise from a position outside the top 500 on the world rankings back in May 2017 to a new high inside the top 35. If he stays in the top 50 until the end of the year, he will earn an automatic place in the 2019 Masters which is not something he would have considered even remotely likely as little as eight months ago.
Lewis, at 92nd in the ranking as I write, still has a good deal to do before he can book his own trip to Augusta, Georgia, but in many ways his turnaround in form has been even more dramatic than Pepperell’s.
After that initial success in Portugal, which helped him to finish 66th on the 2011 money list, the only other time he has made it into the top 100 was in 2013, when he was 94th. This season, he started as a Category 19 tour member meaning he has had to divide his time between the Challenge Tour and playing in predominantly €1.5-€2 million events on the main tour. It was an unlikely route back to the top, but it has worked.
The 27-year-old from Welwyn Garden City will tell you that he derived considerable confidence from qualifying for both this year’s US Open and Open Championship and the latter, in which he finished tied-47th , may well have been the turning point of his season.
A few weeks’ later he won the Bridgestone Classic at Luton Hoo and then all-but secured a Category 14 card for next season’s European Tour when he finished tied-third at another Challenge Tour event, the Kazakhstan Open. Little did he know it then, but things were about to get even better.
Returning to the Dom Pedro course at Vilamoura, the scene of his 2011 triumph, he won his second Portugal Masters title, this time beating Pepperell and Australia’s Lucas Herbert into 2nd place.
In three events, over 12 consecutive rounds, he was a culminative 66-under par but more importantly had earned a Category 3 Tour card which will give him access to a large percentage of the big events over the next two years.
Subsequently, with the pressure on him reduced and his career back on track, Lewis finished tied-10th at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and tied-fifth behind his pal, Pepperell, at Walton Heath. In five consecutive European Tour starts, also taking in the Czech Masters where he was sixth, he won once and claimed three other top-ten finishes and it was a run which took him to 44th place on the money list and to the verge of finally making his debut at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai after eight years of trying.
Changed days for both Englishmen.