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Poulter wins in China: Is he ready for a major?

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By Pete Pappas

GolfWRX Staff Writer

You’ve heard it hundreds, if not thousands of times. Ian Poulter is overrated. He doesn’t have enough talent to be considered among the PGA Tour elite. He only shows up for the Ryder Cup.

Well, guess what? Poulter didn’t just show up at Mission Hills Golf Club for the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in Shenzhen this week. He knocked the competition unconscious with his gutsy, do-or-die Ryder Cup style of play. And in the process Poulter ripped the “Old Tom Morris Cup” away from the world’s best players with a near flawless weekend performance

And oh yeah. To all you Poulter nay-sayers out there? Don’t worry. There’s room on the “Poulter Bandwagon” – even for you.

Poulter’s thrilling victory in China was his second-career Tour win (and second-career WGC win). The “Bodacious Brit” broke through for his first Tour victory back in 2010 when he defeated fellow Englishman Paul Casey at the WGC-Accenture Match Play. But this WGC victory Sunday was different. Not because Poulter put on a ball striking clinic finishing T-1 in greens in regulation. Or because his 21-under final score established the new HSBC Champions tournament record (previously 20-under held by Martin Kaymer in 2011).

It was different because Poulter’s entire season has been different.

Ian Poulter celebrated his first Tour win of the season

The feng shui of Ian Poulter

Poulter started the final round at Shenzhen tied with Ernie Els in fourth place, trailing Phil Mickelson by one stroke, and co-leaders Lee Westwood and Louis Oosthuizen by three strokes.

“After the Ryder Cup I came here in good spirits,” Poulter said. “I knew that if I did the right things this week and stayed patient I’d be right there at the end.”

Poulter’s prophecy of 11th-hour heroics would set the stage for a dramatic finish. Westwood dropped off the lead early with a double-bogey at No. 5, but fought back into contention with birdies at Nos. 6 and 8. Halfway through the final round, Westwood, Oosthuizen, Mickelson, and Poulter all sat atop the congested leaderboard at 19-under. Bogeys at Nos. 12 and 15 however, ultimately end any chance Westwood had of picking up career Tour win No. 3, while adding yet another notorious chapter to the Englishman’s lore of disappointing near misses.

Oosthuizen meanwhile had more bogeys on Sunday (four) than in his first three rounds combined (three), and never really got going. Oosthuizen and Westwood both finished T-6, even-par for the day, and 18-under overall.

Poulter charged into the lead on the strength of six birdies through the first 11 holes. And at the par-5 No. 15, Poulter launched a spectacular greenside flop to 15 feet. With lionized, bulging eyes visualizing imminent glory after yet another clutch birdie conversion, Poulter had a three stroke lead, with three holes to play.

“It was a special day,” Poulter said. “I knew there was a good round of golf in me on this course.”

But victory was in jeopardy when his string of 37 consecutive bogey-free holes ended at No. 17, and opened the door for Mickelson, who finished Sunday with a 66. Lefty found himself just one shot back with two holes to go, but couldn’t capitalize on the rare Poulter miscue. Unable to get up and down from right of the green, Mickelson fell victim to bogey on No. 17 as well, and finished T-2, 19-under, along with Els, Jason Dufner, and Scott Piercy.

Poulter left a little drama for the imagination on No. 18, hitting his second shot disobediently into a bunker. But showing the same steadfast composure he displayed at Medinah, Poulter chipped out to five feet, and then held on to sink his par putt, finishing 21-under, good for the two shot victory and $1.2 million.

 

“It’s so nice to get my hands on another trophy,” Poulter said. “I’ve been in good form for awhile, and knew if I did the right things, and stayed patient, I would be right there. It’s been an amazing six weeks.”

Poulter’s glory takes root

Poulter’s WGC-HSBC Championships title puts a resounding exclamation point on a 2012 season that defines Poulter not only as the most clutch player in Ryder Cup history, but also as one of the Tour’s topflight players.

Ian Poulter should be considered one of the Tour's upper-echelon players

After Poulter’s win at HSBC, Rory McIlroy congratulated his Ryder Cup teammate on Twitter.

“Ballsy up and down on the last,” McIlroy tweeted. “Wouldn’t expect anything less.”

But Poulter has always been ballsy. He just hasn’t been ballsy in Tour events like he’s been in the Ryder Cup, and in European Tour events – until now. Poulter finished inside the top-10 at the Masters, The Open Championship and the PGA Championship this season. And he would have arguably won the PGA Championship if not for a record-smashing masterpiece by McIlroy.

By most accounts Poulter has not so quietly put together one of the best seasons of his spirited career. And even his strongest critics will find it difficult to deny Poulter’s shown as much talent to win on Tour as anyone not named Rory or Tiger. Poulter’s always been successful on the European Tour, winning 11 times in his career. But victories on that “other” tour for some reason carry a stigma that they don’t mean as much as PGA Tour wins.

Ian Poulter's success on the European Tour shouldn't be overlooked

Nevertheless, Poulter is T-21 all-time in European Tour wins. By comparison that puts him ahead of iconic players Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott, and major champion Martin Kaymer. And if you look at the PGA Tour all-time winners list in comparable position to Poulter? You’ll find the likes of Lee Trevino and Gary Player. That’s pretty good company to keep.

Poulter’s European accomplishments shouldn’t be discounted. It’s where you’ll find the starting line to his PGA Tour success. You see it in all sports. When a player suddenly strings together a few good performances, confidence starts pushing natural ability to step on the gas. It’s happening with Poulter right now. Poulter is soaring. Still, for most players, majors define careers, and Poulter is no exception.

“People keep asking me all the time, ‘when when, when’,” he said. “I don’t know when and I’m trying really hard. I’ll do my best next year.”

So now long overdue “Poulter’s best” finally and deservedly means being recognized as one of the Tour’s best players. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if that also means major victory for Poulter in 2013.

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Pete is a journalist, commentator, and interviewer covering the PGA Tour, new equipment releases, and the latest golf fashions. Pete's also a radio and television personality who's appeared multiple times on ESPN radio, and Fox Sports All Bets Are Off. And when he's not running down a story, he's at the range working on his game. Above all else, Pete's the proud son of a courageous mom who battled pancreatic cancer much longer than anyone expected. You can follow Pete on twitter @PGAPappas

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Heather

    Nov 13, 2012 at 10:56 am

    Great article, Pete,-finally someone who can appreciate Mr. Poulter’s talent!

  2. Bert J

    Nov 6, 2012 at 9:46 am

    Funny how we like our celebrities here in America loud and outspoken with lots of attitude. I think we need more ballsy players like Poulter on the tour. Sounds like Pappas has made a bold prediction.

  3. Matt

    Nov 5, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    No one is more of a pretender than Ian Poulter. And no one is more delusional either.

    • Pete Pappas

      Nov 6, 2012 at 4:18 pm

      Can you elaborate on that? Curious what exactly you mean. Poulter strikes me as being about as in your face honest it gets. He says it how it is, consequences and all.

  4. Jerry

    Nov 5, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    Other than 2012, i dont believe window was ever wide open for his game to win a major, I do believe it is now closed….he shows up here and there, but has declined and has many more consistent players on the tour in front off him that would not allow him to contend with today’s weekly top 10 in a major. This year was his chance with multiple oppurtunities putting his name in a place I didn’t expect more than once, and IMO Its not gonna happen again. He has had a nice career, and how he got on tour is a really interesting story, but believe with his outstanding showings, if any, this year was the year for Ian.

    *outstanding match play….can’t take that from him, nor would I take self proclaimed tired wardrobe image;)

    • Pete Pappas

      Nov 6, 2012 at 4:32 pm

      Some well taken points Jerry, but I really believe Poulter’s 2012 season is going to roll right into 2013 with even more momentum, and most importantly, more confidence. Poulter has never been at the point in his career where he is now, where his results back up his bark. His confidence will be sky high in 2013, and he’ll get major glory next year. I expect an epic Poulter-McIlroy major battle in 2013.

  5. Rick Rappaport

    Nov 5, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    Another well written and hard charging article about a guy with the same MO. Well done Pete!

    I think Poulter offputs many because of his flamboyant style of dress and cocky attitude. We here in America like
    our golf conservative and our golfer’s opinions even more so. He really stands out and that’s a problem for many here.

    Personally I find his story (check it out, much more humble beginnings than about 99% of the pga tour)
    quite moving and tip my hat to him.

    • Pete Pappas

      Nov 6, 2012 at 4:24 pm

      I might just have to do an “Ian: The Humble Beginnings” artlcle now Rick; it is a great story you’re right. Ian makes no excuses for his attitude and style, nor should he. You know where you stand with Poulter, more people should be like that both on and off the course.

  6. Mark Burke

    Nov 5, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    I don’t think fancy pants has the game for major.

    Mark Burke

    Homeless Golfer Pro and Legal Expert

    I am still trying to clear my name

  7. Victor Stevens

    Nov 5, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    Great writing. Thanks for opening my eyes to another player on the tour. It will be great fun to see if he can rise up and challange the best.

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Opinion & Analysis

A new NCAA transfer rule gets passed… and college coaches are NOT happy

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New rules just keep on coming from the NCAA; college coaches are not happy about this one.

In a summer of block buster coaching changes, the NCAA has done its best to stay atop the news cycle by making some significant changes, which will impact the recruitment process. In an article two months ago entitled “The effect the NCAA’s new recruiting rules will have on college golf,” I spoke to college coaches about a new rule, which will not allow unofficial or official visits until September 1 of the players Junior Year. To go along with this rule, the NCAA has also put in place a new recruiting calendar which will limit the sum of the days of off campus recruiting between a head and assistant coach to 45 days starting August 1, 2018.

The 45-day rule will have several potential impacts for both recruits and assistant coaches. For recruits, it is likely that after a couple (2-3) evaluations, coaches will make offers and ask for speed responses to ensure they are not missing out on other options. I also think you will see far less assistant coaches recruiting, which ultimately hurts their opportunities to learn the art of recruitment.

The new transfer rule

In the past, players were subject to asking their present institution for either permission to contact other schools regarding transfer, or a full release.

Now, starting October 15, players can simply inform their institution of their intensions to leave and then start contacting other schools to find an opportunity. This is a drastic shift in policy, so I decided to poll college coaches to get their reactions.

The poll was conducted anonymously via Survey Monkey. Participation was optional and included 6 questions:

  1. New NCAA Legislation will allow players to transfer without a release starting October 2018. Do you support this rule change?
  2. Do you believe that this rule will have APR implications?
  3. Who do you think will benefit most from this rule?
  4. What are the benefits of allowing students to transfer without a release? What are the potential harms?
  5. New NCAA Legislation will make December a dead period for recruiting off campus. Do you support this legislation?
  6. What implications do you see for this rule?

In all, 62 Division I golf coaches responded, or about 10 percent of all Division I coaches in Men’s and Women’s Golf. The results show that 81.25 percent of DI coaches said that they do NOT support the rule change for transfers.

Also, 90 percent of coaches polled believe that the rule will have APR implications. APR is Academic Progress Rate which holds institutions accountable for the academic progress of their student-athletes through a team-based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete for each academic term.

The APR is calculated as follows:

  • Each student-athlete receiving athletically related financial aid earns one point for staying in school and one point for being academically eligible.
  • A team’s total points are divided by points possible and then multiplied by 1,000 to equal the team’s Academic Progress Rate.
  • In addition to a team’s current-year APR, its rolling four-year APR is also used to determine accountability.

Teams must earn a four-year average APR of 930 to compete in championships.

While the APR is intended as an incentive-based approach, it does come with a progression of penalties for teams that under-perform academically over time.

The first penalty level limits teams to 16 hours of practice per week over five days (as opposed to 20 over six days), with the lost four hours to be replaced with academic activities.

A second level adds additional practice and competition reductions, either in the traditional or non-championship season, to the first-level penalties. The third level, where teams could remain until their rate improves, includes a menu of possible penalties, including coaching suspensions, financial aid reductions and restricted NCAA membership.

Clearly coaches are not happy about the move and feel that the rule unfairly benefits both the student athletes and major conference schools, who may have a swell of calls around middle of October as Student athletes play great fall golf and look to transfer. Although coaches are unhappy about the new rule, it is very difficult to predict what direct impact the rule will have on teams; coaches are extremely smart and understand recruiting and development within the frame work of college better than anyone can imagine. As a result, I think coaches will react in many ways which are impossible to predict.

The survey also asked, “new NCAA Legislation will make December a dead period for recruiting off campus. Do you support this legislation?” For this, coaches were more divided with 45 percent in favor of the rule, and 55 percent not.

Although coaches supported the legislation, many (41/62) suggested that it would potentially hurt international recruiting at tournaments like Doral and the Orange Bowl and they had, in the past, used December as a time to recruit.

As we move forward with these changes, here are some potential things that recruits, and their families should consider, including consequences of the rules:

  1. With a limit of 45 days and these transfer rules, it is likely that coaches will be doing significantly more investigation into a player’s personalities and family situation to make sure they know what they are getting.
  2. Coaches may also start skipping over better players in favor of kids they think will be a good fit and are likely to stay
  3. Rosters may get bigger, as coaches are trying to have larger numbers to potentially offset transfers

Unfortunately, we enter a new era of rules at the worst time; we have never had a more competent and deep group of college coaches, the clear majority of whom are tremendous stewards of the game. Hopefully this rule will have insignificant effect on the continued growth of college golf but only time will tell.

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Opinion & Analysis

Is golf actually a team sport?

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Do a little research on the top PGA Tour players, and what you’ll see is that most (if not all of them) employ a team of diverse professionals that support their efforts to perform on the golf course. Take two-time major champion Zach Johnson; he has a team that includes a caddie, a swing instructor, a sports psychologist, a physiotherapist, an agent, a statistician, a spiritual mentor, a financial adviser… and of course his wife.

“I know this seems like a lot, and maybe even too much,” Johnson readily admitted. “But each individual has their place. Each place is different in its role and capacity. In order for me to practice, work out and just play golf, I need these individuals along the way. There is a freedom that comes with having such a great group that allows me to just play.”

My best guess is that Zach Johnson commits hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to this team, and I assume most players on the leading professional tours are making significant investments in their “teams.” There are three questions that jump out at this point. First, is a team necessary? Second, how can anyone compete without one? And third, how to pay for it?

From the club player to the collegiate player to the aspiring/touring professional, everyone can benefit from a team that offers individual instruction, support, guidance, and encouragement. Such a team, however, needs to be credible, timely, beneficial and affordable.

To be affordable, serious golfers should build their team one piece at a time. The obvious first choice is a swing coach. Golf swing coaches charge from $100-$1,500 per hour. The cost explains why players have historically been responsible for their own practice. The next piece, which is a newly developing trend, should be a performance coach who specializes in the supervision of practice, training and tournament preparation. Performance coaching on-site fees range from $200 to $3,000 per day.

So is team support essential for a player to be as good as he/she can be? My research says it is. When a player schedules a practice session, that session is usually based on what the player likes to do or wants to do. “Best Practices” utilized by world-class athletes suggest strongly that great progress in training always occurs when someone other than the player writes, administers and supervises the programs and sessions. The team approach says the player should focus on what needs to be done. Sometimes what the player wants to do and the things needed to be done are the same thing; sometimes they aren’t.

Now for the question of how to pay for it all. Wealthy players, or those with substantial or institutional support, have access to what they need or want… whatever the cost. If you use an on-site coach, teacher or other professional you will be paying for blocks of time. Fees can be hourly, weekly, monthly, yearly or lifetime arrangements based upon several factors. If your coach of choice is not local, you can also incur travel and per diem expenses. The process of paying for someone’s time can really add up. You can review what I charge for various services that require my attendance at edmyersgolf.com.

For those of you who don’t have easy access to on-site expertise or don’t want to incur the expense, I want to offer an approach that business, industry, colleges/universities and entrepreneurs are turning to: “Distance Coaching.” Distance learning is made possible through modern technology. In today’s world, expertise can be delivered using FaceTime, Skype, texting, email and (old fashion) phone calls. Textbooks, videos, specific programs and workbooks can be accessed from anywhere at any time by anyone with a desire to do so… and who knows what’s coming in the future. Through Distance Coaching, individuals can employ professional expertise on an as-needed basis without incurring huge costs or expenses.

The primary team expenses that can be avoided are those associated with face-to-face, on-site visits or experiences. Distance Coaching brings whatever any player needs, wants or desires within financial reach. For example, a player in Australia can walk onto the practice ground and have that day’s practice schedule delivered to a personal device by his/her performance coach. The player then forwards the results of that session back to the coach — let’s say in Memphis, Tennessee. The player is then free to move onto other activities knowing that the performance, training and preparation process is engaged and functioning. In the same vein, that same player in Australia may have moved into learning mode and he/she is now recording the golf swing and is sending it to the swing teacher of choice for analysis and comment.

So what is the cost of Distance Coaching? Teachers, trainers and coaches set their own fees based upon their business plan. Some require membership, partnership or some other form of commitment. For example, I offer free performance coaching with the purchase of one of my books or programs, as do others. Where face-to-face, on-site fees for performance coaching is available for $200 a day, the same expertise from the same coach can cost as little as $50 a month using the distance format, tools and technology. I highly recommend that players responsibly research the options available to them and then build the best team that fits their games, desires and goals. I’m happy to forward a guide of what to look for in a performance coach; just ask for it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Back to Zach Johnson; he recently admitted that his lack of recent success could be traced to his lack of focus and practice discipline. Additional, he concedes that he has been practicing the wrong things. “It goes back to the basics,” he said. “I have to do what I do well. Truth be told, what I’m practicing now is more on my strengths than my weaknesses.”

Zach Johnson has a great team, but as he concedes, he still needs to put in the work.

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Opinion & Analysis

What is “feel” in putting… and how do you get it?

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You’re playing a course for the first time, so you arrive an hour early to warm-up. You make your way toward the practice green and you see a sign at the first tee that reads, “GREEN SPEED TODAY 11.”  That brings up two issues:

  1. How did they arrive at that number?
  2. How is that information valuable to me?

How did they arrive at that number?

They used what’s known as a stimpmeter — a device that’s used to measure the speed of a green. With a stimpmeter, the green’s surface is tested by rolling a ball down the 30-inch ramp that is tilted downward at a 20-degree angle. The number of feet the ball rolls after leaving the ramp is an indication of the green’s speed. The green-speed test is conducted on a flat surface. A total of three balls are rolled in three different directions. The three balls must then finish within eight inches of each other for the test to be valid.

For example, if the ball is rolled down the ramp and were to stop at 8 feet, the green would be running at an “8.” Were the ball to roll down the ramp and stop at 12 feet, the green would be running at a “12.”

Stimpmeter history

The stimpmeter was invented by Edward S. Stimpson, Sr., a Massachusetts State Amateur Champion and former Harvard Golf Team Captain. After attending the 1935 U.S. Open at Oakmont, he saw the need for a universal testing device after watching Gene Sarazen, who was at the top of his game, putt a ball off the green. He was of the opinion that the greens were unreasonably fast, but he had no way to prove it — thus the motivation for creating the invention.

The device is now used by superintendents to make sure all of their greens are rolling close to the same speed. This ensures that golfers are not guessing from one putt to another if a green is fast or slow based on the way it is maintained. The device is also used by tournament officials who want to make sure that green speed is not too severe.

Do Stimp readings matter for my game?

Not very much. That piece of abstract knowledge is of little value until you can translate it into your own personal feel for the speed of the putt. There is a method that will allow you to turn green speed into a legitimate feel, however, and you don’t even need a stimpmeter or a stimp reading to do it. I call it “Setting Your Own Stimpmeter.”

Before we get to how to do it, the first step is to determine if the putting green is the same speed as the greens on the course. The best source of information in this regard are the professionals working in the golf shop. They will be happy to share this information with you. You only need to ask. Assuming that the speed of the putting green is close to the speed of the greens on the course, you are ready to begin setting your own stimpmeter. This is done by inputting data into your neuromuscular system by rolling putts and visually observing the outcome.

Contrary to what most golfers believe, a golfer’s feel for distance is based in the eyes — not in the hands, which only records tactile information. It’s just like basketball. On the court, you look at the distance to the hoop and respond accordingly. While you would feel the ball in your hands, it doesn’t play a role in determining the proper distance to the hoop. Based on what you saw with your eyes, you would access the data that had been previously inputted through shooting practice.

Setting your own Stimpmeter

  1. Start by finding a location on the putting green that is flat and roughly 15 feet away from the fringe.
  2. Using five balls, start rolling putts one at a time toward the fringe. The objective is to roll them just hard enough for them to finish against the edge.
  3. You may be short of the fringe or long, but it is important that you do not judge the outcome— just observe, because the feel for distance is visually based.
  4. You should not try and judge the feel of the putt with your hands or any other part of your body. You can only process information in one sensory system at a time — that should be the eyes.
  5. You should continue to roll balls until you’ve reach the point that most of them are consistently finishing against the fringe. Once you can do that, you have successfully set you stimpmeter.

The key to the entire process is allowing yourself to make a subconscious connection between what your eyes have observed and the associated outcome. You must then trust what you have learned at a sub-conscious level. A conscious attempt to produce a given outcome will short-circuit the system. When it comes to judging speed, you must be prepared to surrender your conscious mind to your sub-conscious mind, which is infinitely wiser and more capable of calculating speed. Want proof? Work through the steps I’ve outlined below. .

  1. After having loaded the data as described in the exercise above, pace off a 25-foot putt.
  2. Using the same five balls, putt to the hole as you would normally using your conscious mind to control the outcome.
  3. Mark the location of the five balls with a tee pushing them down until they are level with the surface of the green.
  4. Allow your eyes to work slowly from the ball to the hole while clearing your conscious mind of any thought.
  5. Using the same five balls, putt to the hole allowing your subconscious mind to control the outcome.
  6. Compare the proximity of the five putts that you just hit to those marked with a tee. What do you observe?

Did you have trouble clearing your mind of any conscious thought? Assuming that your conscious mind intruded at any point, the outcome would be negatively affected. You should then repeat the exercise but this time, emptying your mind of any thought. You will have mastered the technique when you are able to quiet your conscious mind and allow your subconscious to take over.

This technique will improve your proximity to the hole on longer putts. And you know what that means? Fewer three-putts!

Editor’s Note: Rod Lindenberg has authored a book entitled “The Three-Putt Solution”  that is now available through Amazon. 

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