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“When you think you can’t, think of Ian Poulter”

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By Tony Clark

GolfWRX Contributor

Tony Clark is a former professional golfer and CEO of Clark Management Group, owners of the PlaneSWING Golf Training System. Tony divides his time between his businesses in England and Windermere, Fla.

I’ve met Ian Poulter, albeit briefly, as a result of being a member at Woburn where he is the playing professional and ambassador.

The aura of confidence and single-mindedness he displays means Ian might not appeal to everyone but I like him.

That opinion is shaped by my limited knowledge of his background, the work I know he does for junior golf and charities and conversations I’ve had with people that know him far better than me.

By contrast, I’ve also endured BS about Ian from people who display nothing but envy. You know who you are!

Poulter is 36-years-old. He turned professional 20 years ago when his handicap was four and he was a good club golfer but, arguably, nothing special.

But Poulter had a dream: to make a success of his life and prove his teachers wrong.

“All my life I’ve been told I’d never amount to anything,” he said. “That was always the message from my teachers at school. I wanted to be a footballer but that didn’t work out either. But, yeah, I just love proving people wrong. It gives me the motivation to succeed.”

Teachers take note — you make or break our leaders of tomorrow.

With no amateur career to speak of Poulter pursued his dream of being a successful tour pro.  He was an assistant professional at Chesfield Downs, a modest club where, it seems, he received little encouragement.

I’m sure Poulter’s self-belief wasn’t unshakable — we all have bad days. But it was undoubtedly stronger than most – as he has proved so spectacularly.

Now, when kids and adults alike look at Poulter, what do they see?

That’s for them to answer. What I see is a self-made man in the truest sense of the word.

Not only has Poulter worked his butt off to get his game to a level where he competes with the best in one of the most competitive sports in the world, he’s done so with a metaphorical foot on his head trying to keep him down.

His persona is not an accident in my view. He’s made some excellent strategic marketing decisions that ensure he remains at the forefront of golfing news.

People ridiculed the remark he made about his ability (there’s that collective metaphorical foot again) when he told Golf World (UK) in March 2008:

“Don’t get me wrong, I really respect every professional golfer, but I know I haven’t played to my full potential and when that happens, it will be just me and Tiger.”

Was it hype or did he mean it? I hope it was both!

So after 12 years we’ve seen Poulter the golfer, marketer and, through his junior golf and charitable works, the philanthropist.

Always a snappy and trendy dresser, Poulter created IJP Design several years ago and launched a clothing range every bit as controversial, and to a great extent retro, as he is. Enter Poulter the entrepreneur.

All of which makes him appear a magical blend of Doug Sanders, Richard Branson, Donald Trump and Paul Getty.

Add to this the fact that Poulter actually has a wonderful family, spending as much time as he can with his wife and their FOUR children. Enter Ian Poulter the family man.

Undoubtedly, Poulter has a great team around him. No one person could manage everything that goes on his life. So we can now add ‘time management’ and ‘delegation’ to his skill set. Stand up Ian Poulter the CEO!

Furthermore, while Poulter was one of Europe’s 12 sporting heroes in the Ryder Cup at Medinah, he was acknowledged by his teammates as the Leader — someone who thrives on pressure; the aggressive home supporters unwittingly his driving force. Someone should have warned them not to put a metaphorical foot on his head!

So when you think you can’t, think of Ian Poulter.

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum. 

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Golfer for 40 years. A former golf pro, I just love the game and what it means to so many people. Enjoyed working with some incredible people in a range of industries. Passionate about helping others toward rapid and sustained improvement. Married to Dianne for more than 30 years with two wonderful (I mean it) grown kids. I've been lucky in life and appreciate every bit of it. The bad times have been expensive, hurtful and thankfully short and I'm blessed with more amazing friends than anyone deserves! Keen supporter of Golf Supports Our Troops and SMGA, both helping injured US service men and women rehabilitate and discover our great game. Committed Everton (est 1878) Fan. The UK's most genuine Premier League Football (soccer!!) Club. Live in Windermere, Fla., and UK.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Roger in NZ

    Oct 6, 2012 at 11:50 am

    Great article about a great guy.
    Thanks to Tony Clark for pointing out not just Golf successes, but retro style!, family and Philanthropy. And the power of Delegation and Self Belief ! Michael G, so many of those whining 8 year olds sell the goods on Ebay a day later…………

    • Tony Clark

      Aug 20, 2014 at 5:25 am

      Hi Roger, After a spectator caught Rory’s ball at the 72nd hole of The Open Championship and then sold it on eBay for $30k, I immediately recalled your comment above. Spot on. Haha! Hope you’re well.

  2. Mark I

    Oct 5, 2012 at 11:10 pm

    if you judged every golfer (or elite athlete from ANY sport for that Matter) on whether they have not signed an autograph for someone before, Im afraid you would be sadly dissapointed, and find that signing a “black hat” does not define a person or make them a fraud.

  3. Michael G.

    Oct 4, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    Gutsy performance, but this guy is a turd. I watched him literally walk past an 8 year old autograph TWICE at the Barclays a few years back because the hat he was being asked to sign was black. The kid didn’t care, and was crestfallen when this idiot walked past him a second time. A complete fraud…

  4. Stuart

    Oct 4, 2012 at 5:04 am

    Congratulations on a truly great article. Ian deserves to be celebrated. He does it time and time again mostly when the pressure is at it’s most intense. I remember in Wales Monty was criticized for picking him and he went on to be the highest points winner that year too. In fact one of the most memorable momenst of the 2010 Ryder Cup was when the crowd sang there’s only two Molinaris and the reason they sang that was because 5 minutes earlier the crowd was acknowledging that there is only one Ian Poulter. I will indeed think of Ian if I ever doubt that I can achieve anything.

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Hall-of-Famer and career Grand Slam winner Gary Player joins host Michael Williams for an exclusive one-on-one interview at the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf tournament and Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Missouri. Player talks about the past and future of the game, including his take on everything from reigning in the golf ball and golf courses, to advocating for more testing for performance enhancing drugs on the Tour. Steve Friedlander of Big Cedar Lodge also appears.

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Let’s Retire Old Man Par: A Modest Proposal

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In 1729, Jonathan Swift wrote a satirical essay entitled “A modest proposal,” in which he suggested that the Irish eat their own children. As might be expected, the piece drew a great deal of discussion and controversy. He was of course not serious, but simply attempting to make a point. As you will read this piece contains “A Modest Proposal” as well, but it is not intended to be satirical. I am for the record dead serious.

The golf industry is wringing its hands, trying to find a way to bring new players into the game, while at the same time keeping those that are in the game from leaving. They have initiated any number of programs designed for this purpose. How successful have they been? I would venture that they have barely moved the needle.

Barriers to the game

What we do know is that today there are three major barriers that confront the industry. They are first, the time required to play the game; second the costs associated with playing the game; and third the difficulty of the game.

There are among those adults that start the game, three distinct different groups:

  1. Those who would like to start playing golf but for any number of reasons decided not to take up the game.
  2. Those who once played more frequently but have reduced the number of rounds that they play.
  3. Those who started to play the game but then after a short period decided to leave it.

Those who leave the game

Those in the golf industry, the hand-wringers, have developed any number of programs to bring new players to the game. I would ask the question, “What is the point, when almost an equal number of players that start playing the game each year, decide to give it up within a span of a few months.

Does it make any sense to continue to put water into a bucket when there is a hole in the bottom? Of course not, but that is effectively what is being done. The first question to be ask, why do these new players quit the playing after a short time? In my opinion, the number No. 1 reason is the method of scoring being used.

Were an exit poll to be conducted asking these people why they quit playing, I seriously doubt they would answer truthfully. Who would want to admit that they were discouraged by their inability to succeed at any endeavor? The two answers that would be given the most often would be 1) that golf is too expensive to play; or 2) that they simply didn’t have time.  In this case both answers serve to preserve the individual’s dignity. And who could blame them?

The concept of par

Why did these individuals find the game difficult? The short answer is that while golf is a hard game to learn, there  is a more compelling reason.  I would venture, that the underlying reason they quit the game is that it ceased to be fun because of how they viewed their performance. And for one central reason… the concept of par. The idea that an amateur golfer, especially a beginner, should measure their level of success against an imaginary set of numbers that represents what an expert player would score on each hole is on the surface ridiculous.

You might imagine a beginning player scoring an eight on a par-four hole after hitting six good shots and then two putting for an eight. In the context of their ability, they should be ecstatic — but of course they are not (because as their playing partner reminds them) they were four-over par on that hole. The time has come for Old Man Par to retire. And retire permanently. He is killing the game.

Perceived failure

In another scenario, the beginning player scores sixty for nine holes, which is an excellent score given the short amount of time they might have spent playing the game. And yet their nine-hole score was 24-over par. How would that make you feel? Would you be encouraged or discouraged? You might imagine yourself back in school and regardless of the amount of work that you put into a given class you always receive an “F.” At some point, would you give up?

Why should every golfer be judged by the same standard when there is such inequality in their ability? The equivalent would be placing a high school freshman in a graduate-level college course, expecting that they could perform at the same level as the other graduate students. The disparity in knowledge, based on age and experience, is precisely the reason why there are different grades in school. The same disparity exists among golfers. In this case, the difference being the ability to perform on the golf course as opposed to the classroom.

What about the second group of players that now plays less than they did in the past? Could it be that they are no longer having fun playing the game?And then there is the third group, those that consider playing the game but abandon it for another sport. Could it be that they are intimidated by the scoring system, knowing that as a beginner par is an absolute impossibility?

Old man par 

The legendary Bobby Jones was the first to coin, perhaps with the help of his friend O.B. Keillor, the phrase “Old Man Par.” Jones was, of course, the greatest amateur to have ever played the game. He won the Grand Slam in 1930, retiring then at the age of 28.

The time has come to retire “Old Man Par” and devise a new system for measuring a golfer’s progress in the game. I know that those in the USGA. would reject the concept immediately for fear of, and here is a $10 word used primarily by attorneys, “bifurcate” the game. What that word essentially means in this context in having more than one standard. The USGA is responsible for preserving the nature of the game, but at the same time it should be equally concerned with preserving the future of the game.

Personal par

What I would suggest is a system based on the principle of what might be termed “personal par.” This was essentially the system that was used to groom a young Tiger Woods. As a young child, he was not capable of reaching the longer holes in regulation, making par a virtual impossibility. Consequently, his coach wisely devised a system in which par was adjusted upward based on his ability at a given point in time. This served to keep the young child feeling good about his performance and subsequent progress.

This is the type of system that needs to be devised for the health of the game. The system would begin at a nine-hole level using a par of thirty-six as a basis. The actual numbers are not as important as the basic concept. There would be within the nine-hole and the eighteen-hole groups five different levels as follows with assigned par for each hole and eighteen holes roughly equal with the player’s ability.

As players improved, they would graduate from one level to another based on their total score. The handicap system would work in similar fashion as it does now with a single modification. The strokes give from one player to another would depend on the level in which they fall and the par assigned to that level.

The personal par handicap system would not be as exacting as it is presently used, but it would be sufficient to allow players to be reasonable competitive without any significant sacrifice. There would then be two scoring systems then, allowing players to choose which one they wanted to use. Or a recommendation might be given that until they reach a given scoring threshold that they use the personal par scoring system.

There would, of course, be the usual concern with something new being injected into the system, but the proposed change would be no greater than when the system of equitable scoring was introduced or when courses were first assigned a course rating number.

A few years ago, when life-long teacher and educator Dr. Gary Wiren was inducted into the Golf Teacher’s Hall of Fame, he wanted to pass along a single piece of advice to those teachers in the room. “Gentleman,” he started and then paused for emphasis. “We must find a way to make the game more fun for our students.”

I’m in full agreement with Dr. Wiren. The question is, “What is the best way to accomplish that goal?” I believe that that the first step in that direction is to change the scoring system so that golfers experience more satisfaction and accomplishment. That is what makes learning fun.

And so, I would have you consider “The Modest Proposal” that I have put forward. And rather than attempting to find reasons why a revised scoring system couldn’t never work, for the benefit of the game, look for the same number of reason why it could work. The time has come for Old Man Par, as we know him, to retire. He has served us well, but he has become an anarchism. He is as obsolete as the horse and buggy. Let’s hand him his gold watch and let him enjoy his golden years in peace.

And at the same time, let’s welcome the “new kid on the block” who will pave the way for the next generation of golfers pioneering a scoring system that promises to make the game more “fun.”

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