Ian Poulter has come a long way from selling Kit Kat bars and taking green fees at his local English muni.
He’s got a wife and four healthy children. He has a garage full of exotic sports cars. He’s got nearly 1.5 million Twitter followers. He’s got his own designer clothing line.
And he’s got a gilded reputation as a Ryder Cup assassin.
Only one thing is missing from his curriculum vitae – a major – and Poulter is working hard to fix that.
“It’s something that I’d like to have on the résumé, to be honest,” he said. “I’d like to win a major. Everyone wants to win a major.
“What have I achieved in golf right now? I’ve won two WGCs. I’ve got 15 tournament wins around the world. What does all of that add up to? It adds up to a nice world ranking position. But what is it I’m searching for? We’d all like to win a major.
“I have to look at what’s going to help me get to that goal. I don’t know, but I’m trying everything that I possibly can to be as fresh and ready so hopefully I can play well at Augusta. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. If I stopped playing golf today and can sit back and quite happily say it’s been a helluva journey. So I don’t have to win one. I’d like to win one. Those are two different things.”
Few people can perform at the highest level under the most intense circumstances. Few have ever done it better than Poulter in the Ryder Cup. His bugged-out eyes, his veiny neck and his laser-like putting made him the European hero and the most daunting challenge to his frustrated American opponents.
Poulter’s heroics with his putter sparked a record European comeback at Medinah last fall. He thrives in that environment.
“I feel like I’m never going to miss, if that’s what you’re asking, whether it be 30 feet or 10 feet or six feet,” he said. “The concentration level is up, the intensity is up, the pressure is up, and when I’ve been in that situation, I’ve managed to hole some seriously key putts at the right time. You know, my mind never wandered away from the fact of being able to hole those putts.
“I was a marked man at the Ryder Cup. They wanted to shut me up. That was plain and simple. Everybody knew that and they couldn’t do it. I guess I frustrate certain people in that format, and you know, hopefully I’m going to be in the same situation if I’m coming down the stretch in a major. You know, I’d like to think that I’ve got the game and I’ve got the mindset if I’m in the position to obviously try and finish one off.”
Even though the nature of individual golf doesn’t foster the kind of emotional intensity that fuels Poulter in team match play, it’s not as though Poulter hasn’t challenged on major stages. He made a run down the stretch in 2008 at Royal Birkdale only to get outrun to the finish by Padraig Harrington. He made a Ryder Cup-like early charge with five opening birdies and was on Rory McIlroy’s tail in last year’s PGA Championship final round at Kiawah, before losing the chase down the stretch.
“Rory was always in front and I was always chasing,” he said. “I got my fingers burned missing a couple of greens in the wrong spot and hitting a couple of poor shots. That’s a shame. I don’t look back at that and say one got away. Rory played unbelievable. I’ll keep plugging away and if I happen to be in the right place at the right time, then I’ll try to grab it with two hands.”
In 2012, Poulter posted three top-10 finishes in majors.
“It’s about getting in that position,” Poulter said. “Sometimes it just doesn’t happen. Sometimes I just take myself out of contention. I’ve been there a couple of times and haven’t finished it off. It’s all a work in progress. I’m trying. I know what happens when my mindset is challenged and know what happens when I get myself in that position. I know I can close out tournaments, I just need to be in position to be able to close it out.”
Augusta National is a place where Poulter can comfortably get in position. He’s never missed a cut in eight starts and his seventh-place finish last year was his best result.
“I enjoy the place and challenge and enjoy the test – what the course gives up to you when you hit good shots and the challenge you get when you’re out of position,” he said. “It allows you to be creative. I like that. It’s a place that I feel comfortable. I’ve been in there and been burnt. There’s no scarring in there in any way, shape or form. Don’t have any regrets about what’s happened in any of those rounds. It’s all a learning experience and hopefully I can come through and win one.”
Poulter was able to carry his Ryder Cup success into the late-season events in 2012, winning the WGC event in China shortly after and climbing inside the top 10 in the world rankings. Now he’d like to bottle that confidence and bring it to a major.
“I obviously can produce it and it is in me,” he said. “It comes out at Ryder Cup. So why shouldn’t I be able to produce that week‑in, week‑out. … When you look at the best players in the world, they are doing it week‑in, week‑out. So there’s no reason why I shouldn’t sit among those guys that do it week‑in, week‑out.”