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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

“I Love You, Tiger!” At Big Cedar lodge, an outpouring of affection for Tiger Woods

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What a difference a year makes.

About one year ago, Tiger Woods was in Branson, Missouri at Big Cedar Lodge to announce that he was designing a golf course there; Payne’s Valley, his first public course. That day was attended by hundreds of national and local media, the Lieutenant Governor of Missouri and Johnny Morris, Bass Pro Shops owner and the visionary behind the amazing golf complex that has been established at Big Cedar Lodge.

That day, Woods had not played competitive golf for awhile, and he was recovering from multiple surgeries. Woods took a couple of ceremonial swings, the last of which clearly left him in physical distress. Days later, he was in surgery again and his playing career looked to be all but over. The situation became worse when Woods was arrested for driving under the influence, found with multiple substances in his system. It seemed as though the sad mug shots from that arrest might be as prominent in his legacy as the smiles and fist-pumps that accompanied his 79 wins and 14 major championships.

Fast forward to yesterday, where Woods was back in Missouri to do a Junior Clinic at Big Cedar. An estimated crowd of over 7,000 kids and parents showed up on a school day to catch a glimpse of Woods. The atmosphere was carnival-like, with sky divers, stunt planes making flyovers and rock music blaring from giant speakers. When Woods finally arrived, the reaction was electric. Mothers and their kids were chanting. “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” at the top of their lungs. Photographers battled soccer moms for position to get a picture of his swing. Some of the kids were as young as 6-years-old, which means that they had probably not seen Woods hit a meaningful shot in their life. At one point, when Woods was hitting shots and explaining how to execute them, a woman shouted, “I love you, Tiger!” Not to be out done, a woman on the other side of the crowd, who was their with her husband and kids, shouted “I love you more, Tiger!” Maybe the only people with more affection for Woods would be the people in the golf business. A senior marketing official in the golf industry leaned over at one point in the event and said, “God, we could use just one more from him.”

Woods swing looks completely rehabilitated. He was hitting shots of every shape and trajectory on-demand, and the driver was sending balls well past the end of the makeshift driving range set up for the event. But even more remarkable was the evidence of the recovery of his reputation. Surely there are still women out there that revile Woods for the revelations of infidelity, and no doubt there are those that still reject Woods for his legal and personal struggles. But none of them were in Missouri yesterday. Mothers and children shrieking his name confirmed what we already knew: Tiger Woods is the single most compelling person in American sports, and he belongs to golf.

Unlike a year ago, Woods is swinging well, and seems as healthy and happy as he as ever been as a pro. Add to that the unprecedented outpouring of love from crowds that once produced a combination of awe and respect, but never love. Fowler, McIlroy, Spieth and the rest may get their share of wins and Tweets, but if the game is to really grow it will be on the broad, fragile back of Tiger Woods. It’s amazing to think what can happen in one short year.

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Opinion & Analysis

12 reasons serious golfers don’t realize their potential

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What stops serious golfers from realizing their potential? If you are an amateur who wants to get better, a young player trying to achieve more, or a young professional with big dreams, this article is for you.

I’ve made a career out of helping athletes maximize their abilities, golfers in particular. And the things I see young playing professionals doing prior to our work together is often what is holding them back. The reality is that most young players, no matter what their level, have three key problems:

  1. They’re distracted by what’s not important
  2. They have no detailed structure and plan to reach the targets they determine are important to them
  3. They have no formal process to develop mindset and attitude

In the list below, I share what I see working with these young players and some common blind spots.

1. No real plan and steps to achieve targets

Most players do not know how to create a long-term and short-term plan that outlines all steps needed to reach targets. Players should have yearly plans with targets, steps and actions and weekly plans to organize/schedule their time and prioritize key needs.

2. Not focused enough on the object of the game

This goes hand in hand with No. 1. Surprisingly, players seem to forget that the object of the game is get the ball in the hole in the least amount of strokes. Trophies and checks are not issued for the best swing, the best putting stroke or most balls hit.

3. Not enough pressure in practice

Most young players have loose practice. The intensity of feelings between the practice tee and the course are too different. Focus and intensity must be a part of all practice. Add competition and outcomes to sessions so some urgency is created.

4. Too much practice time on full swing

The data is clear — most shots in golf happen from 100 yards and in from the green. If the majority of practice time is not spent on these shorter shots, practice time is wasted.

5. An obsession with the look of the swing

Players are not generally prepared to own their own swings and embrace the differences that make them unique. Obsessing over swing mechanics is a major distraction for many players. Many players convince themselves that if it doesn’t look “good” on their iPhone, their swing won’t get results.

6. No structure with the driver

Since scoring is the main goal, a consistent, reliable shape to each shot is important. My experience has been that if players are trying to go both ways with the driver, that is a sure-fire way to elevate numbers on the card. Pick a shape and eliminate one side of the course. Predictability from the tee increases a player’s confidence to put the ball in the fairway more often, creating more opportunities to score.

7. Expectation that they will hit the ball well everyday

Many players have the unreasonable expectation that they will hit lots of fairways and greens every time they play. This expectation leads to constant disappointment in their game. Knowing that the leading professionals in the game average about 60.6 percent driving accuracy and 11.8 greens in regulation per round should be a good benchmark for the expectations of all players.

8. Trying to be too robotic and precise in putting

Some players get so caught up in the mechanics of putting that their approach becomes too robotic. They become obsessed with precision and being perfect. Feel, flow and instinct have to be a central part of putting. This can get lost in an overly robotic mindset trying to be too precise and perfect.

9. No process for assessment and reflection

Players do not have a formal process for assessing practice or rounds and reflecting on the experience. The right lessons are not consistently taken away to ensure step-by-step improvement. Knowing how to assess practice, play and ask the right questions is key to development.

10. Getting in their own way

The voice inside of most young players’ heads is not helpful for their performance. It’s often a negative, demanding voice that insists on perfection. This voice leads to hesitation, frustration and anger. The voice must be shaped (with practice) into the right “emotional caddie” to support efforts and promote excellence over perfection.

11. A focus on the negative before the positive

A default to the mistakes/flaws in the round before looking at the highlights and what worked. When asked about their round, most players highlight three-putts, penalty shots and any errors before anything else. Emphasis should always be on what went well first. Refection on what needs improvement is second.

12. The blame game

Young players love excuses. Course conditions, weather, coaching and equipment are a few of the areas that are often targets, deflecting responsibility away from the player. Many players do not take full responsibility for their own game and/or careers.

I hope this provides some insights on roadblocks that could get in your way on the path to reaching your targets in the game. Whether it’s lowering your handicap, winning a junior tournament, working toward the PGA Tour — or just general improvement — considering these observations might help you shorten the road to get there.

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Valero Texas Open

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With one of the weakest fields of the year, TPC San Antonio hosts the Valero Texas Open this week. Only one player from the top-20 in the Official World Golf Rankings will tee it up here. That man is Sergio Garcia, who co-designed this course with Greg Norman.

Just like last week at the RBC Heritage, the wind can wreak havoc at TPC San Antonio. The course features an exposed layout, making the level of wind is often unpredictable. Expect it to be a factor yet again this year. Unlike last week, the longer hitters do have an advantage on this course, which measuring more than 7,400 yards with little rough off the tee.

Last year, Kevin Chappell held off a charging Brooks Koepka to post 12-under par and win his first title on the PGA Tour.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Sergio Garcia 14/1
  • Matt Kuchar 18/1
  • Charley Hoffman 18/1
  • Luke List 25/1
  • Ryan Moore 28/1
  • Kevin Chappell 28/1
  • Adam Scott 30/1

From the top of the market, it’s hard not to love Luke List (25/1, DK Price $10,000) this week. The big-hitting American is still looking for his first win on the PGA Tour, but he is knocking on the door relentlessly. In his last eight events, List has finished no worse than T-26.

He was so close once again last week, and he should take plenty of confidence from that performance onto a course that theoretically should suit him much better. On this long track, List will have a significant advantage as one of the longest hitters on Tour. Over his last 24 rounds, he ranks 5th in Strokes Gained-Off The Tee and 1st in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green. List is also flushing his irons. He was second in the field last week for Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, and over his previous 24 rounds he sits 3rd in the same category.

It’s not only his long game that is highly proficient right now, either. List’s short game has been stellar over this impressive stretch, too. He ranks 8th for Strokes Gained-Around the Green and 28th for Strokes Gained-Short Game over his last 24 rounds.

The one department holding the big man back is his putting, where he ranks 145th for the season. The rest of his game is so sharp at the moment that he’s in the enviable position of not needing that hot a week with the flat-stick to win. He only needs an average week on the greens to finally break through and claim his first PGA Tour event. There’s nothing to suggest List isn’t going to play well once more this week, and at 25/1 he seems undervalued.

Returning to a track that he adores, Brendan Steele (33/1, DK Price $8,900) is always a danger at this event. As well as winning the title here in 2011, Steele has finished in the top-20 three times since then. Whatever it is about TPC San Antonio, it’s a course that brings out the best in Steele’s game.

It’s been an excellent season for the West Coast native, too. He won his opening event of the season at the Safeway Open and has since finished in the top-30 six times. One of the main reasons for his strong run of form has been his work with the driver. Steele is ranked 1st in Strokes Gained-Off The Tee over his last 24 rounds, and he has only failed to post a positive Strokes Gained statistic in this category once since this event last year.

Recently, Steele’s game is showing trends that he may once more be close to hitting the form that saw him win at the back end of last year. In his previous 24 rounds, the Californian is ranked 10th in Ball Striking and 7th in Strokes Gained-Total. Always a threat at this event, Steele is coming into this week with all parts of his game in sync. He should be a live threat once more in San Antonio.

Another man who has played well all year is Xander Schauffele (35/1, DK Price $8,800). The Californian has made seven of eight cuts this year, and he has finished in the top-25 in four of those occasions. Excellent off the tee, TPC San Antonio should suit the 24-year-old this week, too. Schaufelle ranks 7th in Strokes Gained-Off The Tee and 17th in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green over his last 24 rounds.

With wind likely to play a factor this week, pure ball striking will be necessary. That shouldn’t be an issue for Xander, who sits 7th in Strokes Gained-Ball Striking over his last 24 rounds. There is nothing off about Schauffele’s game right now. He ranks 21st in Strokes Gained-Putting over his previous 12 rounds and 5th in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green over the same period. It’s only a matter of time before the two-time PGA Tour winner puts himself in the thick of contention again, and there’s no reason why it can’t be this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Luke List 25/1, DK Price $10,000
  • Brendan Steele 33/1, DK Price $8,900
  • Xander Schauffele 35/1, DK Price $8,800
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