British Masters: European Tour’s ‘UK Swing’ starts at Close House on Wednesday

British Masters: European Tour's 'UK Swing' starts at Close House on Wednesday 1
Eddie Pepperell, British Masters winner in 2018, faced questions from the media via a laptop
British Masters
Date: 22-25 July Venue: Close House
Coverage: Live text updates from rounds one and four on BBC Sport website, daily updates on BBC Radio 5 live.

No one quite seems to know what to expect as the European Tour stages the first tournament of its UK swing with the BetFred British Masters in the bio-bubble of Close House this week.

This £1.12m event in Northumberland begins a sequence of six tournaments to be staged in England and Wales amid strict protocols to combat the threat of Covid-19.

There is no mistaking the unusual circumstances. Seeing players walking around in face masks carrying the branding of their club manufacturer is just one of the aspects that makes it look and feel different.

Having swabs taken from the deeper recesses of your throat and upper nostrils is not the most pleasant process, in fact it is an eye-wateringly painful 30 seconds but it has to be negotiated before access to the tournament is granted.

The European Tour is strictly adhering to guidelines laid out by Public Health England and this also means all of us on site are paired with a “buddy” for the week for social and meal times.

For players that means an even longer and closer relationship with their caddies – for the chap covering the event for commercial radio it’s the miserable prospect of living cheek by jowl with yours truly.

Eddie Pepperell, the British Masters winner at Walton Heath in 2018, admits the buddy ruling is an extra demand that brings a degree of inconvenience to a week that will not feel overly familiar.

“Eighty percent of it won’t be that different,” the Oxford professional told BBC Sport.

“But if I wanted to go into Newcastle for the afternoon and have dinner out there – that’s something I would have loved to have done – to not be able to do that and have it compounded by not being able to have dinner here with friends because you have to be with one person, that’s when it becomes very different.”

Like most European Tour players, Pepperell has been watching the PGA Tour in the United States for the last six weeks while being unable to compete on his own schedule.

He has worried for the future of the European Tour, which is expected to make redundancy cuts affecting 25% of its staff in the next few weeks.

But Pepperell points out that only a very few organisations – “the Apples and Amazons of this world” – have been able to come through the effects of the pandemic unscathed.

“We’re reliant on so many other things now and the Tour is no different,” he added. “I don’t think the fact that the Tour could struggle is necessarily saying it wasn’t in a decent enough position heading into this crisis – this is just such a huge crisis.”

Pepperell has not been impatient for a return to play and is genuinely perplexed when asked how easy will it be to switch on a competitive head when the tournament begins on Wednesday.

“I don’t know,” he said. “The big thing for me, and I know this sounds stupid and obvious, is that I just go out there and hit some really good shots and play well.

“I probably am going to need to for my own enjoyment and sanity.

“That will bring out the competitiveness in me. I don’t know if I’ve seen any leaderboards out there but if there are, then look at those leaderboards if you are doing well, every time you see one.

“Just to remind yourself that this what a leaderboard looks like and to see where I’m at to reignite it that way.”

The Englishman is likely to give up places in the first two majors of the year, August’s US PGA Championship and the US Open the following month, because of United States quarantine measures.

In the meantime he is preparing to play probably three of the upcoming six UK tournaments. He is not sure what to expect from those events or from his game and in those regards he is far from alone.

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