Golf: Vale hero has new goal as eyes Sentinel Cup success
FOOTBALLER Tom Pope is ready to put a big improvement in his golf to the test by entering the Sentinel Cup this year.
The Port Vale striker, a long-time member at Burslem Golf Club, has figured in the final stages of the second-tier Shield competition for the past two years.
But after dropping his handicap by a remarkable six shots in just a year, he reckons he is now ready to take on the big boys of local golf.
"I got to the semi-finals and quarter-finals of the Shield, but now that I'm playing off seven I'm looking to enter the cup," he said.
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"My handicap was 13 last year and I got it down to 11 for last year's competition.
"Then I got to a final of a tournament at Burslem and shot seven under my handicap, so they docked me four shots.
"I've played well for the past two years but, to be honest, saved my worst golf for the final stages of the Shield.
"I think the pressure got to me in the end."
Entries are now being accepted for the Sentinel Cup, which is open to scratch players and those up to a handicap of 10, and the Sentinel Shield, for players with handicapps of between 11 and 20.
Both competitions raise money for local charities.
Pope, who plays as much as four or five times a week during the summer, says he thoroughly enjoys the Sentinel competitions.
"It's a great chance to test yourself against lots of players you would never normally come across and on all types of different courses," he added.
"And it's an opportunity for me to be competitive in something other than football.
"I often play in pairs tournaments at Burslem, but the Sentinel events are an individual thing.
"They test both your game and your mental strength too, and that can only help you become a better player.
"I really enjoy it, but I'm not in it for a laugh ... I want to do well."
The 27-year-old first took up the game as a youngster.
"I never had any lessons, but my mum used to be licensee at Burslem and I used to go along," he recalled.
"I was a member as a kid, but then football took over and I didn't play for five or six years.
"I picked up my clubs again when I was 18 and I've been playing ever since.
"I don't get out during the football season that much, perhaps once a week on my day off, but I've still got the bug.
"It's one of those games where the more regularly you play, the better you get, although it doesn't always work that way.
"There have been a couple of times over the winter where I haven't played for seven or eight weeks, and then went out and shot one or two over gross, which was brilliant.
"You can also have days where you shoot 11 or 12 over your handicap. Sometimes you just can't understand it."
Pope, likely to be in the Vale team which plays at Oxford today, remains keen to drive down his handicap even further.
"The first thing people often ask amateur golfers is what they play off," he said.
"And if you can say one or two, then that would be something to be proud of.
"I'll try to get down to four or five this summer, and I'll go from there."
Pope isn't the only golfer at Vale Park by any means.
He often plays alongside right-back Richard Duffy, a 12 handicapper, Darren Purse is one shot further back while close friend Adam Yates is down to single figures.
"Yatesy is decent, to be fair," added Pope, "but he only plays when there's no wind and it's 80 degrees outside. We get him on the course about twice a year if we're lucky.
"We might have a golf day for the Vale players one of these days.
"And the ones who don't play can just caddy for us."