Ian Poulter: Rory not only one with an eye for glory
Failure is not an option for golf's ultimate showman. And Sandwich could provide the setting to show he's not just mouth and multi-coloured trousers. James Corrigan meets Ian Poulter
Sunday 10 July 2011
Ian Poulter does not do insecurity; he refuses to entertain pessimism; negativity has been dealt an exclusion notice from his universe. When he speaks about next week's Open Championship he does so with an attitude which screams of impending glory. "It's time to deliver," he says. "It's time."
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Of course, Poulter declared the same last year, the year before that and, very probably, the year before that. But that doesn't make his enthusiasm any less infectious. As the cheerleader for this supposed golden generation of English golf, he waves those red, white and blue pom-poms with commendable zeal.
"This Open is going to be exciting," says the 35-year-old. "There'll be a lot of interest and a lot of buzz. The home nation's going in with one and two in the world and there's plenty more backing them up. And then there's Rory."
Poulter is not daft, he understands that the interview will end up concentrating on Master McIlroy, the boy they are all talking about. "Everyone wants to discuss Rory," says Poulter. "Journalists, friends. What he did at Congressional was amazing. But I wasn't shocked. In any shape or form." Poulter is keen to make a distinction and soon you are convinced there is no greater contrast in golf. McIlroy and Poulter are joined by their profession, but within that profession are separated by so much. "I wish I had his game at 22," Poulter says.
"But for me that wasn't a time of majors and trophies but of Mars bars and tee pegs. I was working in a pro shop as an assistant and the Tour seemed a dream. It was one I was determined to realise. But it took a lot of hard work. And the hard work hasn't stopped."
Obviously it hasn't stopped for McIlroy either, and to cast him as the complete natural who doesn't have to concern himself with practice would be as flippant as to cast Poulter as the complete unnatural who has only scaled the rankings through industry. Yet this very convenient comparison is justified, if only because of what they both represent.
If McIlroy is the chosen one, then Poulter is one who chose it for himself. And in terms of being a role model he is the player with whom most children should be able to identify. It is the God-given versus the man-made, the gifted against the grafter.
Undoubtedly, Poulter is blessed with reserves of self-belief which would be the envy of certain firewalkers, but otherwise his attributes are the product of application. "I suppose I am an example of what you can do if you really want something," he says. "No, not many people had much faith in me when I said I'd make it as a professional. But I did, and it just goes to show what can be achieved. But there's still loads more I can do."
To understand the potential for further progress one only needs to look back to where he was the last time that The Open was staged at Sandwich. Poulter was a young hothead who believed he had everything it took to lift the Claret Jug. And when he didn't, he took it personally. He raged against the unfairness of the links, regarding joint 46th as an affront to his ambition.
"It's funny, but I don't harbour any negative thoughts about Royal St George's," he says. "It was eight years ago and, honestly, I can't remember anything much about the week. Maybe I've blanked it out. But I've changed and so, too, has the course. I'm a much more rounded player, both technically and mentally. I'm less volatile, less fiery, and it will be interesting to see what difference that makes this time around.
"I've changed how I deal with myself,how I deal with adversity. I didn't understand myself back them. I do now. I have all that figured out. The only thing I have to worry about is getting the ball in the hole."
His last point is a very real concern. Poulter is often depicted as a poor ball-striker who gets by on the strength of his short game. But he claims this year's majors prove otherwise. Tied 27th at Augusta, he missed the cut at Congressional. "That's the best I've ever played at The Masters. I just couldn't putt," he recalls. "And at the US Open I only missed five fairways in two rounds. If someone would have offered me that on the Thursday morning, I would have ripped their arm off.
"But I showed at the Volvo [World Match Play in May] what I can do when the putter's working. But I won't allow myself to get too frustrated as I'm playing great. There's nothing whatsoever to get down about. I feel good. It just hasn't happened. That's golf."
Poulter should really be employed as a mind doctor – if any rival could meet his expenses. Instead, he will remain one of golf's most colourful and yes, controversial characters, with his 1.2 million Twitter followers and his many more admirers and critics.
Who can forget the Union flag trousers which caused the R&A switchboards to jam up at Royal Troon in 2004? And who failed to snigger when he told a British magazine "one day it will be just me and Tiger"? Wherever Poulter has strode with that distinctive swagger of his, so the headlines have duly followed. Now ranked 16th in the world – interestingly, one above Woods – he guns for the back page he truly craves.
"The Open is the one," he says. "Obviously it is for all the British guys. I had a little taste of what it must feel like when I holed that putt on the last green at Birkdale [in 2008]. I thought it might get me into a play-off, but in the event Padraig [Harrington] finished like a train. It's moments like that which you play for. The moments you imagined as a kid."
The vision burns bright for Poulter. It can't fail to as he and his fellow home hopes field questions of the "when?" variety. "All that expectation adds to the pressure for us," he says. "But that's not a problem. It's because no Brit has won it for however long and no Englishman has won it for longer.
"We have to respond to that demand and fulfil our potential. It'll happen one day and there is absolutely no reason why that day shouldn't be very soon. And there's absolutely no reason why it shouldn't be me who does it."
Like he says, "It would be a great story." It would be just him and Rory. Two wonderful human tales, with two wonderfully conflicting narratives.
Ian Poulter appears in the new EA Sports 'Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: Masters Edition', out now on Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii. Players can compete on 13 of the world's most revered courses. For information visit www.ea.com/uk/tiger-woods
Other Englishmen to watch...
World Ranking: 1. Best Open: 5th (2009)
Has terrible record in The Open although he has the short game to win around Sandwich. Will need his driver to be firing.
Best odds: 16-1 (Coral)
WR: 2. Best Open: 2nd (2010)
World's best driver, and accuracy will be key. If his short game is sharp, he wins.
Best odds: 9-1 (Totesport)
WR: 13. Best Open: 3rd (2010)
In the final group on the final day last year, but he is in poor form and it's difficult to see him figuring.
Best odds: 66-1 (William Hill)
WR: 31. Best Open: 4th (1998)
In a season which has been marked by frustration, Rose needs a sudden upturn in fortunes. Has the game, however.
Best odds: 55-1 (William Hill)
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