Ian Poulter on Ryder Cup victory: 'I still get goosebumps talking about it... few people experience that'
His 18th-hole heroics on the Saturday set the momentum for Europe's unbelievable victory. He tells Kevin Garside that he will treasure that day at Medinah no matter how many majors he wins
A fleeting weekend back in the UK basking in the Ryder Cup afterglow. Ian Poulter accepts it might always be like this, an inexhaustible pulse of joy issuing along a private feelgood frequency whenever Medinah Country Club is mentioned. Poulter was in the house at the ExCeL Arena on Sunday, a stellar representative of the glorious 12 at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year carnival. In any other year his five-birdie salvo on that Saturday evening, and the pivotal role it played in shifting momentum away from an American team that had led 10-4, might have seen him shortlisted for the individual honour. It was that big a moment, a sporting episode sufficient in scale to define not only a contest but maybe a career.
Unless Poulter knocks down the flags at a major championship in the coming years, he is unlikely to produce anything to better a Ryder Cup catalogue that was impressive enough before he pitched up in Chicago. Poulter has enjoyed a fine season. Three top 10s in the majors and a second World Golf Championship victory, coming from behind to win in China, is a reminder that there is more to his game than a psychotic stare and a granite chin in team combat. The countdown to the first major of 2013, the Masters at Augusta in April, has already begun in Poulter's mental log, but he understands that there will always be a desire to talk about Medinah.
He is still processing the details himself. He has yet to fully comprehend how the magic played out, explain how he did what he did. But he knows how it felt. "How it happened I don't know. Putts like that, shots like that in those situations just inspire me. The want to hole them is just beyond belief. It all happens in slow motion. As I'm round the front side of the hole [18th] looking at the putt I pan around from left to right and I see each one of the US team standing around watching. I see the European players, captain, vice captains, caddies. They were all there. It was a surreal moment to stand up, roll it in and see what it meant to the whole team. That was the moment that allowed everybody to go out the next day in the singles and execute the most amazing comeback in the Ryder Cup."
Poulter was paired with Rory McIlroy. They followed Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia, whose point from a narrow victory over Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker was equally valuable yet reduced to a mere detail by the Poulter pyrotechnics. With six to play Zach Johnson and Jason Duffner led by two holes. They birdied three of the final five holes yet still lost, swamped by the zoned-in one from Stevenage. "I get goosebumps even talking about it. Not many people get an opportunity to live through something like that. It is as if everything suddenly makes sense. I barely needed to look at that putt [on 18]. It felt like I was going to hole it. I could see the line so clearly. When you are under that intense pressure, when you have that heightened sense of concentration you can see lines and it just happens. How you explain it I don't know. Perhaps it's best not to try. You can overthink this stuff.
"There is a wonderful picture in the European Tour Yearbook which captures the moment when I holed that putt. I have turned to the team and Jose [Maria Olazabal] is standing there with an expression on his face that is some kind of release. In the background the whole team is jumping for joy, fist-pumping. We were still four points down. The deficit going into Sunday was greater than it was on Saturday morning yet it seemed way better. We had no momentum for two and a half sessions but 10-6 didn't feel that bad."
The team talk on Saturday night took care of itself. On Friday after a 3-1 rout in the afternoon four-balls, which gave America a 5-3 overnight lead, there was a sense of helplessness, as if the match were sliding inexorably out of Europe's control. Keegan Bradley was holing everything, performing, in fact, the Poulter role for America while Europe's talisman sat out the afternoon session. He would be idle no more after that. "Jose gave us the hairdryer treatment on Friday night. He was really pissed off. He knew we could perform better. He was very disappointed. They were clearly outplaying us. He was very vocal that night. The team was anxious. On Saturday morning it was no better. Everybody was looking anxious and people were beginning to think Sunday would be a no-show as far as we were concerned.
"Saturday night was so different, calm even. Everybody was fairly relaxed. We discussed the pin locations for the following day. We discussed the team sheet, how everybody was matched up. We loved the way we had gone strong early in the pairings. We really did think it was achievable, to get after them early and see if the boys at the back could bring it home. Those first five blue points were a massive turning point. I don't know the US mentality but I can only assume that at 10-4 it was all over in their minds, more a matter of how many they were going to win by. And then we get it to 11-10 in our favour on Sunday. That must have been massively damaging and mentally affected some of their guys coming down the stretch. That is what you saw."
Poulter's victory over Webb Simpson came in that first rush of Sunday blue, one of eight in the singles on a final day when the dramatic epicentre shifted along the European line to Justin Rose and finally Martin Kaymer. In all Poulter contributed four points to the victory total of 14.5, winning all his matches. He was not finished there. He would embellish his season further with the most significant tournament victory of his career at the WGC HSBC Champions at Mission Hills, China. Starting the final day four adrift of joint leaders Lee Westwood and Louis Oosthuizen, Poulter rattled off a second successive 65, finishing with an up-and-down at the last to win by two shots.
"I had three weeks off after the Ryder Cup to relax then went over to Shanghai and finished fourth in the BMW Masters so I was feeling on top of the world. To shoot 65, 65 and come through the pack on Saturday and Sunday was really nice. It was a fairly heavy leaderboard. I don't know that many of my wins have involved coming from nine shots back with two rounds to play in a field as top loaded as that. It was a great win and really nice to back up the Ryder Cup with a great tournament victory."
Poulter flew into the UK early on Saturday morning, enjoying a night out with the boys before taking his place among Britain's sporting glitterati the following evening at the BBC ball in East London. What a year for British sport, he observed, stepping back from his role in it. "What an incredible Olympics, probably the best sporting year in our history. I just wanted to come over and enjoy the show. Try picking a winner out of that lot."
Europe's golfers lost out in the team award to the Olympian and Paralympian athletes. The vote of those who stood behind the 18th green on that mad Saturday at Medinah was cast that very night in Poulter's favour. He stood up when it mattered and took his team kicking and screaming into the last day of competition when none thought victory possible. That is all the reward he will ever need.
McIlroy’s lie-in caused no alarms for Poulter
Where's Rory? Poulter was on the putting green when he learned McIlroy was missing on the final morning of the Ryder Cup. "Someone came up to me and said 'you know Rory is teeing off after you and he is not here yet'. But hey, look. If any player can pitch up without a warm-up it's Rory." Indeed. McIlroy arrived via police patrol car 10 minutes before his tee-time against Keegan Bradley. There was never any doubt in Poulter's mind that McIlroy would deliver. "The kid is so talented he doesn't need to warm up. He is very, very good and was able to pull off one of the best wins of the week against Bradley, who was their cheerleader, their man. There was nobody more vocal in that US side than Keegan. He was the one pumping the crowd and pumping his partner up, getting everybody going. We had never seen that before. Even Tiger was at it on Sunday morning. He grabbed hold of Webb Simpson around the neck and obviously told him to go and get stuck into me. So I blew Tiger a little kiss. It was that kind of day."
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