BRITTAS BAY, IRELAND | The European Club might be one of the most challenging links courses on the planet, but it was almost child’s play for 23-year-old Kipp Popert and that’s not just because he’s an immensely talented golfer who plays off plus-5.
Popert is special in more ways than one because despite suffering Spastic diplegia (or diparesis) – a subtype of spastic cerebral palsy in which the legs are the most affected limbs – he’s reached No 1 in the World Ranking for Golfers with Disability.
Not only that, he put many able-bodied golfers to shame at the European Club last weekend when he carded rounds of 76, 72 and 79 in challenging conditions to finish tied for 15th on 14-over par in the Flogas Irish Amateur Open Championship, just 10 strokes outside a three-hole playoff that saw Douglas’ Peter O’Keeffe beat Switzerland’s Nicola Gerhardsen to become the first player since Pádraig Harrington in 1995 to win the Irish Close and Open titles in the same year.
Popert had the use of a buggy in Co Wicklow, but he endeared himself to golfers everywhere in Saturday’s second round when he carded the second-best score of the day, a 1-over 72, as the field averaged 80.64 in winds gusting more than 30 kmph.
“The top-20 finish is not bad at all,” explained Popert, who plays out of Wildernesse Golf Club in Kent. “It’s OK, but I am more ambitious than that.”
His goal is not only to see golf introduced into the Paralympic Games – thus joining the Olympic Games, which returned golf to the fold in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2016 – but to turn professional and compete on the European Tour.
He clearly has the game to compete at the highest level of amateur golf, but it’s his mental fortitude that makes him unique.
It’s little wonder he finds tough conditions on a links golf course a walk in the park after undergoing many painful surgeries since age 6.
“I’ve got a cerebral palsy called Spastic diplegia, so what that means is spasticity in my legs,” he explained. “My muscles are in spasticity, so everything’s pretty tight and contracted. So growing up, I have struggled with my mobility. But I was blessed to have two parents that were doctors – my mother, Lindsey Thompson, is a GP, and my father, Richard Popert, is a surgeon in London.
“I’ve worked really hard on my mobility and I stretch every day pretty much. I had calf lengthening when I was a young lad. Then I was in casts at nighttime a lot of the time where they cut my calf and stretch it out. It sounds painful, but I’ve never known anything different. So I had those operations from the age of 6 or 7 until my most recent one last year. I had foot reconstruction in 2017. Because of the way I walk, I’ve got massive deformities in my feet, and they were basically agony, so they broke all the bones in my foot and realigned them.
“I had to be 16 to have that operation, and I had it the day after my 16th birthday. Then I had another operation in 2018, which kept me out of university for another year. I might have another small operation over the winter, this time to make my right toe a bit less painful. But I move quite well now.”
Despite all these challenges, Popert remains remarkably upbeat, especially on the golf course, where his low-spin swing allows him to keep his ball under control when others are finding trouble.
He’s graduated from the University of Birmingham with his PGA qualification after doing a degree in applied golf management studies.
"When I was in bed recovering from operations, I was playing championships like this in my head. My ambition now is to play golf at the highest level because I think I can contend in these events."
But as he is now an inspiration to other young people with cerebral palsy, his ambition is to compete at the very highest level of the game.
“It’s been a long journey, and golf has been so important,” he added. “When I was in bed recovering from operations, I was playing championships like this in my head. My ambition now is to play golf at the highest level because I think I can contend in these events.
“I didn’t putt or chip very well this week, and I was up there. My aspiration is to play this game at the highest level and then turn pro. And I will do that next year when the European Tour qualifying school returns.”
Popert hopes to become a bigger inspiration to others.
“I’ve never had anybody to look up to, but I’m very fortunate to have the mental attitude I do, and I’ve just always dreamed really, really big,” he said. “I met two lads recently with cerebral palsy who are 7 and 11, and them seeing me competing at this level is wonderful.
“To be able to inspire the kids is fantastic, and that’s my aim now. I just want to inspire others to go and chase their dreams, too.”
Top: Kipp Popert looks on from the 18th green during the final round of the EDGA Cazoo Classic.