‘I’m just a sponge’: At U.S. Adaptive Open, leader shares winning methods

Sand Creek Station

Sand Creek Station is playing host to this year's U.S. Adaptive Open.

USGA

When Kipp Popert was growing up, he said, he’d cross-reference certain pros’ handicaps from when they were kids.

“I used to have to Google what Lee Westwood’s handicap was at 16 and then I would see after an operation, right, I’ll try and get there by 19 or whatever,” said the 25-year-old Brit, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth. But as Popert considered the autograph-seekers and well-wishers following this week’s U.S. Adaptive Open, he has hopes for them, too.

“I think in 40 years’ time these kids are going to have role models of their disability,” he said after Tuesday’s second round. “If I can help them feel more comfortable and more proud in themselves, I think that’s all I try to do.”

Popert is setting examples on and off the course this week. He entered as the tournament’s defending champ after winning at Pinehurst No. 6 last year; now he leads two-thirds of the way through this year’s event at Sand Creek Station in Newton, Kansas after opening with stellar rounds of 65-66.

Where did Popert draw the inspiration to become arguably the world’s best adaptive golfer? It wasn’t just from Westwood.

“Not really golfers, to be honest,” he said. “My club has quite a few businesspeople there and I used to ask them what they did ahead of big meetings and stuff.”

Popert couldn’t always play golf due to constant operations growing up, but he took those lessons elsewhere, including school.

“I remember going into exams practicing being comfortable under the pressure and knowing that I hadn’t played any tournaments, but knowing I would be able to use this experience in tournaments,” he said.

His tournament travels have gotten him into contact with other impressive competitors, he added — including arguably the greatest men’s tennis player ever.

“I got very lucky last year playing to the Ryder Cup up and chatted to Novak Djokovic, so I got a few techniques off him and that’s been helpful,” he added. “I’m just a sponge. I try and learn as best I can and do as best as I can and it’s holding me in good stead.”

It is indeed. Popert’s bogey-free second round put him seven strokes clear of his closest competition, good friend Brendan Lawlor of Ireland.

“Having a handful of titles now, I love this,” he said. “It’s why I’ve practiced for so many years, since I was three or four years old. I’m excited for tomorrow. I just — yeah, I enjoy this more than anything.”

With one day remaining, Bailey Bish holds a five-stroke lead on the women’s side. Bish has dystonia, a neurological movement disorder that causes involuntary muscle contractions. But she doesn’t expect the final-round moment to get to her.

“I don’t really feel nerves,” she said. “I feel excitement, and just taking it one shot at a time and playing from point A allows me to deal with whatever happens and not get too emotionally invested in the outcome.”

This is the first year of a 36-hole cut at the event, which will allow the final round to feature twosomes. Forty-five players in total made the cut — 6-over-par 146 for the men and 24-over-par 168 for the women, plus additional spots for impairment categories.

Wednesday’s final rounds begin at 7:30 a.m.

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier

Golf.com Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/GOLF.com. The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.

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