Some familiar names on the European Tour lost their playing rights for the 2022 season after failing to finish inside the top 121 in the Race to Dubai rankings following the conclusion of the Portugal Masters.
Past tour winners Eddie Pepperell, Ross Fisher, Oliver Fisher and Nicolas Colsearts were just some of the well-known names that slipped too far down the rankings to earn their full tour card for next season.
Pepperell is perhaps one of the most surprising names to find on the cut list given that just three seasons ago he won two tournaments, banked over €2m in prize money and finished the 2018 season ranked 14th on the European Tour points list.
After finishing the Race to Dubai in 54th in 2019 and 67th in 2020, the 30-year-old from Oxfordshire ended the 2021 season in 139th place after missing 13 cuts from 23 tournaments played and banking.
After seemingly being in good shape over the spring, with four consecutive cuts in May, Pepperell’s form slumped dramatically over the summer and autumn, with just five cuts made from June until the end of the season. A man who looked ready to win majors before the pandemic began is now in a battle to save his career.
“I’m knackered, I’m stressed, and if I have another year like this one, I’ll certainly have some challenging decisions to make,” he said after comfortably missing out on the weekend play at the Aviv Dubai Championship, the final event of the regular European Tour season. “Every round I’ve played, I feel like I’ve been banging my head against a brick wall.”
Pepperell’s ranking will give him some playing opportunities on the rebranded DP World Tour next season, which starts at the JoBurg Open tomorrow (November 25), but he will unlikely be teeing it up in the biggest events, as he has done for most of his 10-year career, barring a minor blip five years ago.
“I don’t feel as panicked as I did in 2016 when I lost my tour card,” he says. ‘I came back and played the best golf of my career in 2017-18, so I know I can do it. The problem is this might be the first time in my life where I have gone a whole year where I haven’t been able to figure it out and at least play some good golf. Even in 2016 I had a couple of top 10s, but this year I haven’t had any and that’s never happened to me at any level, be it junior, amateur or whatever.”
Pepperell’s decline can be traced back to the moment when everything changed owing to Covid-19. Ironically enough, it was in Dubai in February 2020 where he led the Desert Classic at halfway.
“That feels such a long time ago,” he says. “I don’t want to sound all ‘woe is me’ when you think what a lot of people have dealt with during the pandemic, but when the tour stopped playing shortly after Dubai last year I took a few months off and, while the right decision in some ways, I’ve had a hellish time trying to get my skills back.
“I’ve had so many coaches this year and now I’ve gone back to my first one, Mike Walker, for about the eighth time. There is clearly something terribly wrong with my game. Historically my iron play has been my great strength, but it has got worse as the year has gone on.”
It will be a while before he is seen again. ‘I know there’s a perception of me on Twitter that I don’t work at it, but I worked very hard to try to see some results,’ he said. ‘Now, I need to put the clubs away for a few weeks and forget about it. When I come back, I need to look forward to the challenge. At the moment I’m in this self- fulfilling downward cycle but one day I will surprise myself and play a little bit better than I expected. Once that happens, it shouldn’t take too long for the confidence to come back and we’ll see an upturn.”