Ian Poulter Rises in the East
There are those who claim with some justification that golfers are a rather boring bunch whose stars lack pizazz. Sure there’s Tiger, Rory and Phil, but beyond that there are a bunch of guys with superb skills but whose idea of shaking things up is wearing a visor instead of a hat.
And then there’s Ian Poulter. The English firebrand is mostly known for his bold talk and even bolder wardrobe. But Poulter has been hovering around the entrance to the elite echelon of golfers for he last five years, and with his win at the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament in Shenzhen, China last week he might have just put his name on the VIP list. Poulter secured both his second WGC championship and second PGA Tour sanctioned event over a sparkling field that included seven of the top 10 golfers in the world and two of the four major winners.
He came from fourth strokes back on Sunday with his second straight round of 7-under 65 to take the title, showing the same clutch putting that made him a hero in the Ryder Cup. At Medinah, Poulter displayed a velvet touch and nerves of steel that led the Europeans to victory. Golf fans around the world got a chance to become reacquainted with Poulter’s wild-eyed celebration as he drained seemingly a hundred yards worth of must-make putts while playing for his country. That victory alone would have been enough to make the year for many golfers, but Poulter felt strongly about the need to win a stroke-play event in 2012 and he got one this week.
The 36-year old Poulter has been his own biggest supporter and, at times, his own worst enemy. Poulter learned the game form his father and quickly became a single digit handicap player. But he couldn’t get a job at a private club that would have allowed him to take his came to the next level; when he did secure a job his boss insisted that he be docked his pay when he wanted to take off to compete in events.
Poulter learned a touring pro’s most important lesson; you have to believe in yourself even if no one else does. Poulter honed his game on the European Tour, rising to No. 5 in the official world golf rankings. It was then that Poulter began to get notice for what he was saying as much how he was playing. Famously, or rather infamously, Poulter declared in March of 2008 that, “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.”
While it was probably a case Poulter wanting to convince himself that he could share the rarified air that Woods inhabited at the time, the notion seemed either arrogant or silly or both to the game’s observers. Poulter came close to winning majors, but the fact that he didn’t added to the burden that he had initially saddled himself with. Shortly afterward, at Open Championship, the sartorially daring Poulter wore trousers that had the Claret Jug on them. The late Seve Ballesteros, who was doing commentary for the event, quipped “that’s the closest he’ll ever get to it.” It was a perhaps a tad strong, but it reflected the sentiments of many in the game.
But Poulter has never been on to stand don from a scrap. Unlike the congenitally likeable Darren Clarke or the gentlemanly Lee Westwood, Poulter is brash, outspoken and just a little bit crunchy around the edges. He’s not going to win a lot of popularity contests, but that’s not what he’s in it for. He once said, “If I ever get happy with myself for finishing 12th or 15th, someone needs to put my clubs away and I’ll take up tiddlywinks.”
After a historic Ryder Cup and an impressive win at Shenzhen, Poulter has put himself in position to get a lot of attention in 2013. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.