Ian Poulter out to prove critics wrong
Forget the outrageous wardrobe, the gelled-up hair, the hilarious impersonations. At this Ryder Cup, Ian Poulter will be judged solely on what he does with his clubs.
Hit a bunch of errant shots? That would surely give credence to those who already consider Poulter to be the Lehman Brothers of the European portfolio.
Sink a bunch of clutch putts? Poulter could giddily tell all his critics to go jump in one of those lakes at Valhalla Golf Club.
Certainly, no one is under more scrutiny in bluegrass country than the flamboyant Englishman.
“I’ll bring flair, I’ll bring excitement, and I’ll bring passion,” Poulter said Wednesday, hardly backing down from the challenge. “I’ll do my bit for the team this week. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Poulter is one of the most unlikely members of either team, chosen by European captain Nick Faldo with one of his two discretionary picks.
The media on the other side of the Atlantic tore into Faldo, claiming the captain passed over the most deserving Darren Clarke because of his friendship with Poulter. Even the American captain, Paul Azinger, was stunned that Clarke was left off the team.
The fact that Poulter skipped his final chance to qualify automatically, choosing to play in a big-money FedEx Cup tournament in Boston rather than a European Tour event in Scotland, only fueled speculation that Faldo had guaranteed his buddy a spot on the team no matter where he played.
Colin Montgomerie, a longtime stalwart of the European team who didn’t get selected this year, either, sarcastically asked if Poulter had a “hot line” to the captain that no one else possessed. Poulter lashed back, swearing that he didn’t know he was on the team until Faldo called him just before the official announcement.
“I was gobsmacked, to be honest,” Poulter said. “That was a difficult week. I didn’t know which way the phone call was going to go and I was waiting in anticipation all morning until I got it. Yeah, I was very, very, relieved.”
Now that he’s here, Poulter does seem more at ease, though he sure looked out of place wearing the earth-toned outfit the Europeans picked out for Wednesday’s practice round.
As he walked away from the 12th tee, someone more accustomed to seeing Poulter wearing flashier colors yelled out, “Hey, Ian, wish you were wearing pink today?”
“I am wearing pink,” Poulter replied with the timing of a standup comedian. “You just can’t see it.”
That brought out plenty of laughter from the gallery.
But Poulter’s record is a more serious matter.
Other than a runner-up finish in the British Open—his best showing in a major—this has been a largely forgettable year. Splitting time between the PGA and Europeans tours, he hasn’t finished higher than ninth in any other event. He didn’t even make the cut in his last two tournaments.
As for Ryder Cup experience, that’s largely nil as well. Poulter’s only other appearance was at Oakland Hills in 2004, where he split his two matches and spent most of the time cheering on the Europeans to their most dominating win on American soil.
So what’s he doing on the team this time around? Why not Clarke, who was on the last five Ryder Cup teams and had won twice in the past four months on the European Tour?
Faldo was clearly impressed by Poulter’s showing in the pressure cooker of Royal Birkdale, where he actually pulled into a tie for the final-round lead before Padraig Harrington pulled away with brilliant shots down the stretch.
“How I played, certainly in the Open, was a big factor,” Poulter said. “To play like I did, as well as I did down the back nine, that must have been a factor in him making the decision.”
Poulter also takes issue with those who question his overall record, saying he’s actually had a “very, very solid” year.
“It’s kind of been one of those ones where I haven’t finished a lot off,” he said. “I kind of got into a nice mind-set in the Open. I was very, very focused, and I was able to ride that focus and keep it going for four rounds. It’s something I haven’t done for all four rounds this year. It was nice to do it.”
One of Poulter’s teammates, Justin Rose, believes Poulter will feed off the criticism.
“Ian’s the kind of guy that can take care of himself,” said Rose, who could find himself paired with his fellow Englishman when play starts on Friday. “When he’s got a point to prove, he normally goes out there and does it.”
Poulter said he’s had a chance to talk with Clarke and smooth over any hard feelings.
“He was very supportive,” Poulter said. “He’s obviously very disappointed with not making the side. But Darren said, ‘You know, I’m very pleased that you’ve made the side and you’re a very worthy player of making that side.’ That’s the type of guy Darren is. He’s obviously taken it personally. He’s very disappointed. But on the other hand, he’s pleased for me.”
Poulter said there’s no lingering bitterness in the locker room, either.
Maybe he’ll even get a chance to break out his apparently dead-on impersonation of a character from the old British sitcom “Only Fools and Horses,” the one that prompted Faldo to quip in the call to let him know he was on the team, “Raquel, go and put your overcoat on, it’s time to go to the Ryder Cup.”
“The guys have been great,” Poulter said. “Everybody on the team is united.”
At the 11th hole Wednesday, he stood over a 20-foot putt just as Faldo pulled up in a cart to check out the group.
Poulter rolled it right in the center of the cup.
Now, he’s just got to do it when it counts.