Ian Poulter has always been a good professional golfer, but more importantly for this week, he has always been a terrific Ryder Cup player. To say that the 38-year-old’s career is defined by his superlative displays this unique event would be to neglect the impressive accomplishments spread throughout his career on tour. 12 European Tour wins, two PGA Tour victories including triumphs in two World Golf Championships illustrate a player who has achieved a great deal but it is the passion, intensity and ultra-competitive energy of the Ryder Cup which shows Ian Poulter in his truest form.
The Ryder Cup has always formed part of his passion for golf, even from a tender age. When he was 17, he watched Europe’s triumph at the Belfry in 1993 and so began his obsession with being part of golf’s greatest event. He watched with astonishment as Nick Faldo made a hole-in-one at the 14th, setting off a cacophony of roars and cheers that echoed through the fairways and left an indelible mark on Poulter’s ambitions and personality. Poulter had never seen golf in this form. This, for him, was the ultimate combination of the sport he loved and the competitive edge he thrives on. He knew he needed to be a part of it in his lifetime.
Not to pour cold water over the prestige and allure of the four major championships, the Fed-Ex Cup or the Race to Dubai but Poulter has always looked ahead to this team event more than anything. In his own words, he lives for it. Since making his Ryder Cup bow in 2004 at Oakland Hills Country Club in Michigan, ‘Poults’ has found himself completely besotted with this glorious exhibition match. He adapted almost instantaneously to the highly-charged atmosphere of the tournament and ascended admirably to become what he is now; Europe’s leader.
Taking on the mantle from Ryder Cup greats like Seve Ballesteros and Colin Montgomerie, Poulter feels entirely comfortable in being the go-to guy when it comes to putting points on the leaderboard for Team Europe. A now infamous pre-match interview with Sky Sports’ Tim Barter showcases, in the starkest possible manner, his untouchable self-belief and confidence when it comes to crucial times during the matches.
In 2010, with things delicately poised heading into Sunday’s singles, Poulter declared on live television: “I WILL deliver my point.” A bowled over Barter replied “You’re that confident?” Poulter merely repeated the statement with an intense glare. Displaying no qualms about upsetting his opponents, the frank response from the Englishman was the perfect summation of his character and attitude. He has always been divisive, especially with the Americans, and has never shied away from making contentious remarks, usually on social media, but he has never backed down from a challenge either.
After his declaration of intent in 2010, he went on to hammer Matt Kuchar 5&4 and set Europe on their way to regaining the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in Wales. His comments were regarded as disrespectful by some in the American quarters but Poulter simply did not care; he wasn’t at the Ryder Cup to maintain friendships, he was there to win. Steve Stricker, a vice-captain for the Tom Watson’s USA team this year, said that Ian Poulter was the last European he wanted to lose to simply because he was the pulse that had to be flat-lined. This is at the core of what drives Poulter on. He took being the target man for the American supporters in his stride in 2012 and will live for the support of the home crowd this week at Gleneagles. Whatever the response from the crowd, Poulter feeds off it, he uses it as either adrenaline or resolve. Inside the ropes, amidst the sea of red and blue, he shines as the definitive team competitor.
In golf, nothing comes close to matching the drama and excitement generated by this wonderful event and in 2012, Ian Poulter, almost single-handedly, provided a superb example of why viewers are so absorbed throughout its three days of play. With Europe looking down and out as early as Saturday afternoon, Poulter rolled in five consecutive birdies to ensure a point for himself and Rory McIlroy- who had played somewhat dispiritingly to that point- and ensured Europe had something to cling on to going into the final day. They were trailing 10-5 to a trailblazing American side, themselves pumped up on the voracious support of the Medinah patrons, but held on to the hope that a comeback was within the realms of possibility.
Wearing Seve on their sleeves, Jose Maria Olazabal’s men went out and achieved the greatest comeback the Ryder Cup has ever witnessed. Admittedly, the USA have matched the comeback in terms of rescuing the deficit when they ran riot on Sunday at the ‘Battle of Brookline’ in 1999, but Europe’s ‘Miracle at Medinah’ stands taller in the folklore for being on their counterpart’s home soil and it was a Poulter-inspired charge. It was 2012 that effectively rubber-stamped Poulter’s claim to a future captaincy and it was the year when everyone recognised him as the beating heart of the European side. Gladly accepting his role as talisman, Poulter defeated Webb Simpson in the singles at Medinah which set of a chain reaction of European victories, ultimately ending in a stunning victory of 14.5 to 13.5.
On Friday, Paul McGinley will make tough decisions regarding selection for the opening fourballs but one guarantee is that Poulter will be there, making putts and pumping fists. McGinley knew from the very beginning that he needed Poulter in his team. He may not be in the greatest form of his life but he inevitably steps it up after he walks into the team locker-room. He has earned his nickname as Europe’s “Postman” (because he always delivers). He has gone from being a wide-eyed rookie in 2004 to becoming the consummate Mr. Ryder Cup figure. He has played 15 matches over four previous appearances; won 12, lost 3. It is a truly remarkable record and one that he will look to add more points to come Friday. Europe, as a whole, are regarded as the stronger team and are favourites to retain the trophy but nothing is guaranteed in this great event. What is a surety, however, is Ian Poulter’s firebrand spirit absorbing us once again and forming an exhilarating part of golf’s most electrifying week.