If there’s only one golfer you follow at this year’s tournament, make sure it’s defending All Abilities champion Kipp Popert.
Kipp Popert came to the 18th tee at Pinehurst No.6 with the men’s 2023 US Adaptive Open well in hand, two shots ahead of last year’s winner Simon Lee.
But that advantage evaporated at the exact moment when he launched a drive down the right side, watched it roll into the trees and then out-of-bounds.
Just like that, his advantage was gone, and he’d be starting even with Lee on the tee. His caddie asked him if he’d rather take a 3-wood for his second crack at it, and Popert had a quick answer: “Absolutely not.”
Instead, he kept the driver in his hands, piped the second ball down the fairway and left himself 120 yards to the flag. After a pitching wedge to the green, he watched his bogey putt slip past the hole and he tapped in for a double-bogey. Now he had to survive Lee, who had a par putt to send the tournament into a playoff. The minute Lee missed, Popert turned on his heel and marched to the back of the green, thrilled to have won but unable to express it in the face of Lee’s disappointment.
“Didn’t envision winning it with a double, but sometimes you got to win ugly,” the 25-year-old from England said.
He finished with a 75, not up to the standard of his opening 70-69, but just enough to finish at two-under, edging Lee and Ireland’s Conor Stone by a shot.
As a baby, Popert developed a form of cerebral palsy called spastic diplegia, which limited growth and mobility in his legs. Today, he’s ranked No.1 on the World Ranking for Golfers with Disability and the closest thing to a superstar in his world. He finished second at the inaugural G4D Open in the UK, the R&A’s version of the US Adaptive Open, he won the European Disabled Golf Association’s Hero Open in Europe in 2021 and this year he became the first golfer with a disability to qualify for the British Amateur. Now, he’s a US Open champion and the undisputed favourite to take out the Australian All Abilities Championship for the second year running.
“What Australian golf has done with the Australian All Abilities Championship is a fantastic initiative,” Popert says. “I can’t wait to come to Sydney and try to win the tournament for a second time and start the new G4D Tour season strongly.”
As a reporter, sometimes you ask a question that feels innocuous as it leaves your lips but goes off like a bomb. That happened to me towards the end of an interview with Popert. The entire session had been mostly funny and informative, Popert fielding questions while his friends held his beer so it wouldn’t be seen on camera. Then I asked about the person in his life most critical to his success.
“I’ll get emotional,” he began. “My dad for the first 21 years and then Archie. My cousin passed away four years ago… so I was a nobody four years ago, and I’ve had a lot of wins since. Just trying to get as many as I can for him.”
The words don’t quite convey what was happening in the overheated room. As he spoke, he paused several times and began to sob in his chair. That ended the press conference, and when he walked out, his interview with the Golf Channel had to be paused because he was bent over crying, thinking about his cousin.
I wanted to ask more about Archie, but the time wasn’t right. In any case, we can live without the details. Like so many stories at this year’s AAAC, this one clearly has a lot of love, a lot of sadness and gifts that were never expected.
These players all have their Archie; something that was taken from them, but managed to give so much even after it was gone.
getty images: Oisin Keniry