Ian Poulter: 'British golf is looking as good as it ever has'
A decade has passed since a UK player last won a major. But as a new generation of home stars emerges, Ian Poulter, who came second at last year's Open, tells James Corrigan whether golf could finally be coming home
Saturday 11 July 2009
In the 149-year history of the Open Championship a decade does not begin to represent a yawning gap, so perhaps it is a little over-the-top to be getting all nostalgic about Paul Lawrie's victory at Carnoustie in 1999. Yet how else are British golf fans expected to feel?
The Scotsman's success (below) is not only the last time a golfer from these shores lifted the Claret Jug, but also the last time one of our boys won a major of any description. That is 39 and counting . Even Fiji, New Zealand and Argen-tina have won five between them in this period.
Which is on the Tiger side of remarkable if you consider the calibre of professional Britain has produced so far this century. Forget, if you can, the unparalleled contribution Britain has made to the recent European Ryder Cup cause – the US defeated in three of the last four matches – and take the most cursory of peeks at golf's world rankings. British golf is no one-horse town like British tennis. Far from it. There is a veritable stable of thoroughbreds.
Going into last week's French Open, Britain had four players in the world's top 20. And, this year, for the first time since Nick Faldo in the mid-1990s, England has boasted a member of the world's top three. When one looks at Paul Casey and a supporting cast list of Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald, Justin Rose and Ross Fisher – not to mention names from the immediate past such as Colin Montgomerie – the barren spell does not make sense. As Poulter, himself concedes.
"No there is no reason I can think of," the 33-year-old says. "It certainly doesn't have anything to do with desire or talent. All I would say is that from a British perspective it's looking as good as it's ever looked. Ross is flying, Westy's strong like he always is, Luke's playing solid golf, Casey's been on fire, while I've never been better. It's pretty exciting really and it's true, I do feel we are spurring each other on. I guess I refer to them as my team-mates. Between us we must have a good chance of ending the blank run of 39 majors or whatever it is. All it needs is for one of us to have four good days. I came pretty close at Birkdale last year."
Indeed, Poulter came closer to Open glory than any of his countrymen since Lawrie capitalised on the madness of Jean van de Velde. In fact, on the 18th green of that Southport links, he even thought he had won it; or at least made a play-off. As it transpired Padraig Harrington, who was five holes behind, produced one of the Championship's great finishes and prevailed by four shots. But Poulter was not to know that as he stood over his putt and the grandstand inhaled a large breath as they, too, sensed history in the making.
"I couldn't be sure what Paddy would do – all I was saying to myself was that potentially I've got a 15-footer to win the Open," recalled Poulter. "That was the position I'd put myself in. So to hole it was very rewarding. You know, I'd always said to everybody that I had the game to win a major. I'd always known that deep down. But it hadn't ever come out. So it was kind of nice for it to "almost" come out. It reiterated what I'd said in the past. It's not all been just words, and that's personally very satisfying."
However, if Poulter thought this would silence his doubters once and for all then he was sadly mistaken. At the Ryder Cup, just two months later, his wildcard selection ahead of Darren Clarke was widely condemned and suddenly it was proving time again. Good job that here is a man who does not really like flying under the radar. Even better job that here is a man who would actually like to be in the dead centre of that screen, beeping and flashing like an air-flight controller's worst nightmare.
"I've said before and I'll say it again but I'll never play under any more pressure in Kentucky and to play so well has obviously given me even more confidence," said Poulter, who finished top points-scorer on either team. "What's been so pleasing to me is that I've been able to kick on from those experiences this season. By coming second at The Players at Sawgrass in May and by having loads of other great weeks, I'm already having the best year I've ever had. And I've got the second half of the season to come yet. That is a seriously nice position to be in. I feel I'm close. Really close."
Poulter and his "team-mates" cannot be close enough for Britain's liking. The big Four-O looms large at Turnberry.
Close but... Britain's nearest misses
Colin Montgomerie (Scot)
2006 US Open (Winged Foot)
Only needed to par the 18th for his first major, but after a perfect drive to the right of the fairway, Montgomerie mishit a seven-iron into the rough and when he could not get down in three, Australia's Geoff Ogilvy was victorious.
Lee Westwood (Eng)
2008 US Open (Torrey Pines)
Went toe-to-toe with Tiger Woods on the final round and was seemingly in a better position on the 18th when chasing the birdie he needed to force a play-off with Rocco Mediate. But Woods made the four and Westwood missed out by one.
Ian Poulter (Eng)
2008 Open (Birkdale)
Began the final day six back from surprise third-round leader Greg Norman, but overcame a sluggish start in fierce conditions to post a 69 and grab the clubhouse lead. Harrington, however, produced a brilliant eagle on the 17th to pull away.
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