Never one to mince his words, Ian Poulter has been one of the most forthright and engaging players Europe has produced in the last 20 years. We caught up with the entertaining Englishman just prior to last month’s DP World Tour Championship and discussed a number of matters…
It goes without saying that 2020 has been a strange year and I think everyone is looking forward to 2021, but if you look at the back end of what 2020 gave us – it presented us with an opportunity to play golf, and globally, golf has come back very strong. Rounds of recreational golf are up around the world and the younger generation of golfers are picking up the game. So, even though we’re still currently dealing with the ongoing nature of the pandemic and still go through all the necessary protocols to play golf, I do feel that the game has done a good job, on a global level, in continuing to grow the game.
ON THE STRATEGIC ALLIANCE OF THE PGA TOUR AND THE EUROPEAN TOUR:
I think it’s a great partnership. I think, as we look back over the years at the two tours, it hasn’t always been aligned very well. The PGA TOUR has always been very, very strong and the European Tour, from a Ryder Cup perspective, has been amazingly strong. The different challenges that the European Tour faced this year have been difficult to deal with the multitude of restrictions and government guidelines in all the countries they visit. I know that’s been a huge challenge. So, the partnership between the two Tours can only strengthen things going forward. There will be more alignment with schedules, and it will maintain that if golfers want to continue to play around the world, we don’t have very big tournaments clashing. So, I feel it’s going to be very good and I’m pleased that the PGA TOUR and the European Tour are strengthening their relationship.
ON HIS CHANCES OF REPRESENTING TEAM GB AT THE OLYMPICS:
When you look at it, I’m in and around the late 40s in the World Ranking, and that’s going to need to improve considerably if I’m to qualify for the Olympics, so for me, it’s going to be a very busy year. I’m focused on increasing my Ryder Cup points when it all re-starts, so I’m going to be playing a busy schedule. Now, if that means I’m in a position to be in the top 16 in the rankings by the time the Olympics comes around – great. Obviously, I will go and compete for Team GB. But having said that, I turn 45 in January and is the Olympics the be-all and end-all of my career? No. Is it doable? Yes. Can I get back into that top 16 in the world? Yes. It’s a goal, but I have to look at the season as a whole and see how the year pans out. I base my schedule around the Majors and the World Golf Championships and, hopefully, I’ll be fresh and ready to compete in those events. If there’s the addition of The Olympics in there as well – great.
I’ve always thought Dubai was a great place to begin my season since I first started coming to Dubai in the very late 90s and early 2000s to play competitively – and now it’s also a great end to the European Tour season, too.
I think that sport in general in Dubai has continued to grow, and that’s exciting from the standpoint of any sports fan, and also from a travel perspective. After getting to know people in Dubai, I realise that sport plays a very big part of what Dubai is and has become. For me, it’s a kind of home-from-home because I’m so familiar with the place, having played so many tournaments here and in the region. I’ve built up lots of friends and I always have a good time when I come to Dubai. You think of the hotels, the restaurants, the shopping facilities, the sporting experiences that I’ve had – on a personal level – there are not many places you can go in the world which ticks all of those boxes. It’s a region in the world where all of us golfers enjoy coming to play. We’ve taken our families with us, we’ve had parents come out to visit us and watch us play, and we’ve always have a great level of support – and, in turn, so have the tournaments.
ON THE OFF-SEASON:
This year I was planning on spending the winter back in the UK and enjoying some frosty mornings, but during December there is still some form of a lockdown, so it’s going to be an Orlando-based holiday season this year. I will be having some great family time, working on my fitness and I’ll be doing all my errands and chores that I left to one side that I probably should have done over the last 6-7 months. I’m just enjoying the end of December and New Year period for what it is. It’s a great month to spend with the kids. Joshua, my youngest, is eight so there’ll be plenty of ‘Elf on the Shelf’! For me, it’s exciting. It’s also a good time to practice because the weather is perfect in Florida. There’ll be a few chilly days, but that’s fine because it will still be warmer than the UK. By the time you read this I should be feeling refreshed and getting ready to start 2021 back in the Middle East – that’s the plan anyway!
ON WORKING WITH TOP UAE AMATEUR AHMAD SKAIK IN A MENTORSHIP SCHEME CREATED BY DP WORLD:
It’s been extremely rewarding from the perspective of having a close relationship with Ahmad over the last few months. He’s a great home-grown talent, which is exciting for the UAE to have someone who is in the development stage and on their way to becoming a great golfer. I’ve had a lot of fun getting to know him and his personality, and how he’s taken to the pressures that come with items like playing the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship last year, his process into playing in this year’s Golf in Dubai Championship. So, it’s been rewarding to work one-on-one with him from a personal level, because it’s something which doesn’t always happen. It’s good to be able to have a personal relationship and, obviously, with DP World’s involvement in that, it’s great to help someone along their journey. It’s never easy. But if I can give him one piece of advice, to take forward – whether it’s for one specific week or any upcoming amateur tournaments – and it helps him in his process, then that’s great.
ON THE RYDER CUP:
I think it will be a slightly different Team Europe in 2021 – it will be three years since Paris don’t forget. The USA team is also going to be a younger team, and so it’s always interesting trying to piece together what you think a top-class Ryder Cup team might look like 9-12 months in advance, because there are always surprises come September. Europe are always in with a chance, even if we will be labelled underdogs by some people within the game. That’s something we’re extremely proud of as Europeans – because we’ve normally done very well in The Ryder Cup, whether we’re considered favourites or not.
POULTER’S RYDER CUP HIGHS
2010 – PREDICTING HIS OWN WIN
“I will deliver a point,” proclaimed a confident Poulter to the SkySports cameras as he warmed up ahead of his singles fixture against an undefeated Matt Kuchar at Celtic Manor. In the fifth game out, Poulter did just that, steamrollering the American to a 5&4 win.
2012 – THE SATURDAY SPARK
With the team in free-fall, 10-4 down with two late afternoon fourball matches still to finish, Europe needed to win both available points in order to have any hope of successfully retaining the trophy. Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia earned their first point of the week with a gutsy 1up win over Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker, then it was Poulter’s time to shine. Playing alongside Rory McIlroy against Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner, the Englishman birdied the final five holes in a supreme display of clutch putting to win the tie 1up – and those intense celebrations on the final green in front of his team mates and captains provided the spark and belief for what was to come the following day…
2018–DEFEATING WORLD NO.1 IN PARIS
In what could be Poulter’s last Ryder Cup appearance on home soil, the self-proclaimed ‘postman’ delivered once again when it mattered against the then World No.1 Dustin Johnson in the Sunday singles. Poulter moved 1-up after 14 holes and won the 18th in fine style for a 2-up victory to take Europe to within a point of an outright win.