Poulter loving life in fast lane
He was still in the pro-shop at 23, so Britain's most charismatic golfer enjoys every second on and and off the course. He tells Kevin Garside about his love for the Ryder Cup... and buying Ferraris
'I never get sick of the privileges. As a 10-year-old kid, how do you sit down and say one day you will be wandering around the Ferrari factory in Maranello picking what you want? You have to pinch yourself all the time. It's not normal is it? I love it."
This might serve as Ian Poulter's epitaph, a golfer who attacks life with the enthusiasm of a lottery winner. It partly explains our attachment to him. On his visit to Italy on Monday, he chose a black leather interior with tartan trim for the white Ferrari Four to match the signature motif of his IJP clothing line. Gauche? Not half. On his phone he carries a picture of a two-bed house in Brimfield Close, Luton, connecting the two ends of what for an unassuming, down-to-earth kid who left school at 16 is some journey. From starter home to supercars; sounds like the title of that book formulating in a distant corner of his mind.
Poulter has none of the anxieties that infect the professional golfing classes. There is no anguished lament over the major championship he has never won, no desperate desire to be anything other than the man he is. Poulter is a maximiser, squeezing every last drop from the resources nature bestowed upon him and even more from the opportunities he had to forge. You will note that he is not one of those fancied to win The Open at Royal Lytham next week. The bookies start and finish with Tiger, Rory, Luke and Lee. Poulter is lumped in the chorus line at 40s. Good. He is suited to guerrilla golf.
"I give myself a chance every time I play. It's you lot that don't. People write me off. That's fine. I have no problem with that. I know where I have come from, a four-handicap golfer at 19 to where I am now is pretty good. I think I'm in a good place to feel proud of what I've done with my career. It's still a work in progress. I know I'm 36 but I didn't get out of the pro-shop until I was 23. Rory is just 23 now.
"When you look at the background of Rory, Luke, Justin Rose etc, who have come through the amateur ranks and have been talked about and written about for years as kids, they are expected to be in position to do well because that is what they were brought up to do. First and foremost I was brought up to earn money for myself from the age of 15. That is the job I'm still doing today. I want to win as many trophies as I possibly can but I want to provide for my kids.
"I love the way I have done it. I think it will be a good story to tell one day. In terms of golf and mileage I still feel pretty young. I still have that drive to work harder and believe my best golf is still to come. I don't worry about not winning a major. If one comes my way I'll take it. I'd like a major in the trophy cabinet, for sure. But I don't need one to prove anything to anybody. I just love this game. Dead simple."
Poulter has yet to play Lytham. This is not an omission that either shames or worries him. "I missed out the last time it was on the rota . I was working in a pro shop for seven years. I didn't get days off to play the great golf courses of the world. Besides, the course you see now won't be the track we play on. They have moved the tee boxes about, changed things around. There will be time enough to do the homework when I get up there. Besides, the course won't play the same this week as it does next. Golf is a numbers game. Just get those yardages down. I've done this before. I'll be ready to go."
Poulter is enjoying his brief immersion in European golf, not least for the chance it offered to skip from Paris to Maranello to visit Signor Tomaso, the head of Ferrari's custom-made service. "I was there all day, nine to five. It was incredible from start to finish. That's the cool thing about the Ferrari bespoke package. There are not many companies that you can have that relationship with. It's phenomenal. You could have leopard skin, crocodile skin, denim, a cashmere roof, anything. We built the car with a nice tartan on the inside. Three more days and it's off the production line. Can't wait."
Poulter is right. Clocking on at the Ferrari factory is one of life's better eight-hour shifts. Ascari, Farina, Fangio, Hawthorn, Surtees, Lauda, Mansell, Schumacher, Alonso – the greats of grand prix racing – have all graced this place, and have left their trace in the house that still stands where the old man, Enzo, lived and worked. "I went into Enzo's home, his little office that they rejigged when he was getting older. Exactly the same. I ate at the Montana restaurant, the best pasta I have ever had. Seriously."
Poulter also had a quick thrash around Fiarano, the circuit next door, in a Ferrari F12, which trumps by a factor of 10 the best theme park ride you will ever have. "I want to go back and have some serious tracktime now. I walked through the F1 bays, and into the private client area for people who buy the F1 cars when they have finished. They get to come over and drive their cars on the track whenever they want. Pretty cool. If I go win, win, win, then we might have to up the limit on the old Mastercard so I can buy one."
The Ferrari link is not all pleasure. Poulter plays Cobra clubs, which are about to launch a Ferrari-badged driver. Poulter wielding the big stick powered by a Prancing Horse. Not much there for the marketing men to work with. Poulter is to be applauded for the balance he maintains in his schedule. A day sizing up the leather interior of his new toy is not necessarily time wasted. Golfers spend far too much time wedded to a worthy if unproductive work ethic, agonising over details, believing they are joined to a process that will yield gold so long as they graft hard enough.
Poulter has been that soldier and has come out the other side. He understands when, where and how to work. And more importantly still, which club to work with. "The putter wins you trophies. I have played well for a long time now, not missed a cut since August last year. Making cuts is not special in itself but it is a decent indicator. Top tens are what you are looking for and you don't get them unless you are putting well."
Poulter finished in a tie for fourth at the French Open last week, the €135,000 (£106,000) he banked going some way to paying for the tartan trim on the new motor. He was seventh at the Masters in April and survived all four days at the US Open last month, that would be two days longer than the world No 1 and No 2. He does not expect to feature in a fancy three-ball next week with Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy, but he does expect to contend, pumped by the classic golfing discovery he made while playing with his mate Justin Rose last week.
"The biggest positive is I have found my old putting routine. Sounds stupid that you would lose your routine but you do. It is easy to get into different habits and thoughts. You try too hard that you end up changing things without even realising. And that puts you out of your rhythm. I had no idea I had changed my routine until I saw Justin putting. I noticed he looked up once. As I did my practice stroke I thought, 'That is how I used to putt'. I love links golf. I love putting the two-iron and three-iron back in the bag, shaping shots. I fancy my chances a lot. After all the positives from last week I feel I have a great opportunity."
Of course he wants to win at Lytham. He wants to win at tiddlywinks. It is in his nature. But if he has a goal it is not that. The light flashing in his head is illuminating a trophy up for grabs in September. The Ryder Cup has come to define him. The visceral, fist-pumping, eyes-on-stalks adrenalin rush is right up his street and he does not want his selection at Medinah to be at the discretion of the captain.
"The short-term goal is simple. I have four tournaments to make the Ryder Cup; the Open, then I have the WGC at Akron, the US PGA and the opening Fed-Ex Cup event. If I don't qualify it is up to [Jose-Maria] Olazabal to decide what he wants to do. It is his team. It is not for me to parade my record in front of him. I don't want it to come down to that. I would hate to miss this event. I'll be working my arse off to make that side."
Ian Poulter is an ambassador for MasterCard, official patron and payment system of the Open. Visit www.mastercard.co.uk/golf to find out more
Poulter in figures
2 Poulter's best Open finish – at Royal Birkdale in 2008
11 European tour wins by Poulter – only three Englishmen have more
2010 Highest world ranking was fifth – for four weeks in early 2010
147 His halfway score at last year's Open at Royal St George's – where he missed the cut
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