29 Apr 2019

Ian Poulter – Delivering the goods

It took a huge behind-the-scenes overhaul, but Ian Poulter is back where he wants to be and is confident about what the future holds following a few years of struggling and looking on from a distance. after his first victory since 2012 at last year’s Houston Open, and a subsequent climb back into the top 30 in the World Ranking, Poulter is looking forward in anticipation, which is something he’s not done for some time…

Back in 2016 Ian Poulter’s form took a nosedive and his World Ranking started to plummet. He was suffering with a foot injury which would eventually cause him to miss four months of action – including his place in that year’s Ryder Cup team. By the early weeks of 2017 he had fallen to a low of 207th in the world. It was his first dip outside the top 100 since 2003. The frustration hurt and caused the unflappable Englishman to look within himself for answers.

“Of course, you question yourself at times like that,” he said. “When you’re sitting on the sidelines for that length of time it’s never enjoyable. You doubt yourself. It’s easy to forget very quickly what you’ve achieved.” However, something suddenly clicked within Poulter and a runner-up finish at The Players in May 2017 saw him stave off the prospect of losing his US PGA Tour card. Then, in April 2018, he won the Houston Open in sublime fashion with some clutch putts that earned him his first title since 2012. So, what did it take for Poulter to re-establish himself as a force to be reckoned with once more?

“I basically simplified my whole life and that allowed me to focus on golf,” he said. “Away from the course I had some things that caused some real headaches – like shutting down my clothing business and changing management. That was hard. We’d put 11 years of our life and money into the business and it wasn’t doing what it should’ve been doing. We could have made it work, but it would have taken more time and money and, Ultimately, we weren’t prepared to do it.

“I changed agents and went back to Paul Dunkley, who had handled my career early on, and that got rid of some background noise. It was a hard thing to do, letting staff go, changing accountants and all that. Because mistakes were being made, it just had to be done. By cleaning all that up there was only one thing on my mind: GOLF. Then, just a few weeks after that, I finished second at The Players to keep my PGA Tour card. It got me back on track.”

AMMUNITION

It certainly did. Poulter’s victory in Houston was all the ammunition Thomas Bjørn needed to offer the veteran one of his four Captain’s wildcard places for The 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris. Back in The Ryder Cup fold after taking a place on the sidelines as one of Darren Clarke’s Assistants at Hazeltine, Poulter won two points from four matches as Europe cruised to an emphatic victory on the Le Golf National layout which played to the Europeans’ strengths of consistency from tee to green. The win in Houston clearly meant a lot to Poulter and he feels he’s not done yet.

“My first win (the Italian Open in 2000) is always a special memory for me but winning the Houston Open was my best win by far,” he said. “With all the factors around it: needing to win to get into The Masters the following week; the six-year gap since my last win; striving for Ryder Cup points – all that pressure. I don’t recall so much going on around my other wins.” – Ian Poulter

This season, Poulter has started like a train, enjoying a run of four top-ten finishes in succession to start the season on the European Tour, including third place finishes at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and the WGC-Mexico Championship.

He then showed that he could still mix it with the best and put in a confident performance at The Masters, carding a third-round 68 alongside Tiger Woods to leave himself four shots off the lead heading into the final round. However, a costly dip in Rae’s Creek on the final day cost him a double-bogey and a 1-over-par 73 saw him drop back to a share of 12th place. Still, Poulter’s consistency has afforded him some time to take stock and prepare fully for the three remaining Majors of the year, plus the lucrative run-up to the 2018 campaign with some big-money Rolex Series events, culminating in the European Tour’s season-ending finale at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.

PETE COWEN INSIGHT

“When I look back at last year, and the form I’m currently in, and then look at my schedule, I feel good,” he said. “I don’t feel I’m 43, and whilst I’m getting old there’s still a few miles left in these legs. So, I hope I can continue playing at the level I am throughout the summer months, through the FedEx Cup play-offs, and then finish the year strongly on the Race to Dubai and at the DP World Tour Championship where I have had some good results in the past.

“I’m in a position where I can plan my schedule, and that’s a nice feeling to have. The Rolex Series events towards the end of the year in Europe are definitely something to look forward to.” Poulter still seeks the advice of coach Pete Cowen at various points throughout the season and will need to call on his wisdom if he is to keep his performances at a high. “I see Pete occasionally at tournaments and occasionally at home in Orlando,” said Poulter. “We keep things nice and simple. We’ve always worked on the same thing because my DNA is my DNA and I will always have a default of missing shots to the right.

“Then I rely on my short game – so it’s not like I’m rebuilding anything. I’ve always been tinkering with what I’ve got, to make it a little bit better. I’m playing more consistent golf now than I’ve ever played. “In January, at the Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, Hawaii. I led the field in Greens in Regulation – I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before – and at the first round at Augusta I hit 17 out of 18 greens.”

Not content to rest on his laurels, Poulter wants to kick on and get back in the winner’s circle and keep moving up the world ladder. “I do I feel that I’ve done a reasonable job of moving up the rankings. Can I move up further? Yeah, I think I can,” he said. “I certainly know I can still compete. “My golf is extremely consistent at the moment. When you look at the No. 1 and No. 2 guys in the world, Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose, who have created a huge gap between them and the chasing pack, I know that every good finish I have, moves me up, and I want to close that distance as much as I possibly can.”

One of the most engaging characters in the modern game with more than two million Twitter followers and almost 400,000 on Instagram, Poulter is no stranger to the limelight – but would he agree to feature in some of the viral social media videos by the European Tour’s media gurus?

‘LOOK SILLY ENOUGH’

“I’ve made myself look silly enough through the years,” he laughed, “so it’s nice to be left out of that for a change.

“I love what the European Tour boys do from a perspective of having a laugh or two on Tour. We enjoy it. I think the fans at home also enjoy it and it brings out a different side of us, which maybe some of the fans don’t already know about.” For the time being, Poulter will let his clubs do the talking, and with plenty to play for during the season, don’t be surprised to see the wily competitor take down some of the new generation of players and get his hands on some more silverware in the coming months.

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