The sports bulletins kept us updated on the progress of Rory McIlroy at the Players Championship at Sawgrass. A two-under-par 70 on Saturday left him six under, just four off the lead and in prime position to chase down the leaders on the final day.
Not a dickie bird on Ian Poulter, who also shot a 70 to close level with McIlroy.
Now, I understand how news values work. Attention and interest are of course commanded by the best golfer on the planet. We are naturally curious about the world No 1 and how he might be doing.
Poulter has won just twice on the PGA Tour, McIlroy is only the third in the history of the game to snaffle 10 wins in America by the age of 25. Of the two, the money was obviously riding on McIlroy, a winner last week at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship, to go back-to-back again.
Poulter would have no complaints at that, but for him to top a poll as one of the two most overrated players on the PGA Tour, as he did last week, was rank injustice.
The other offender in an anonymous straw poll of their fellow professionals was Rickie Fowler, who managed to piss off his contemporaries despite posting the highest average finish in the majors in 2014.
Fowler’s worst outcome was fifth at the Masters. He chased McIlroy all the way home at the Open and the PGA Championship, finishing second and third respectively, and was second to Martin Kaymer at the US Open. How do you over-rate that?
I accept that Fowler’s one win on the PGA tour, coupled with his huge profile, leave him vulnerable to the “show us your medals” tendency, but not enough to attract the ire of so many, surely?
But back to Poulter. I would contend that were he to have played golf with his trap shut, he would be among the most admired figures in the game. His Ryder Cup performances alone mark him out as a golfer of some pedigree; 12 wins on the European Tour is not too shabby either.
Only 21 players in the history of European golf have a better ledger than his. At the Masters this year he was 10 under par across the weekend, carding a pair of 67s, the best finish by anyone who made the cut. Rubbish, eh?
As ever with these things, the haters are looking in the wrong direction. Instead of comparing Poulter with McIlroy, Tiger Woods and the uber elite, his detractors should look the other way at all those who have played the game professionally and returned a fraction of Poulter’s bullion.
How many careers began as inauspiciously as his, off a handicap of four while selling Mars bars in a pro shop? And that’s not plus four by the way, the kind of polished accoutrement boasted by the graduates of the American collegiate system. No, that’s a dear, old, single handicap four, the kind you see battling it out for the Sunday medal.
Poulter learned the game a million miles from the gilded country club scene in the United States. There was no money for private lessons. He progressed through bloody-mindedness and hard graft, making the most of what talent he had.
He will tell you himself he is not the purest technician in the world compared with those who came through elite junior programmes. But he gets it round well enough.
His response to the vote was to post via his Twitter account a birdie recorded during practice at the signature par-three 17th at Sawgrass. Wearing his Go-Pro camera, he picks the ball out of the hole and shouts “overrated”. It was quintessential Poulter, bombast to the fore, sticking two fingers at his detractors in a way guaranteed to attract more.
Poulter is not the first working-class boy to wear his wealth like a neon suit with flashing lapels. The fruits of his labours are shared with us in posts depicting his lifestyle gains, the big house, the bespoke cars, the private jet et al. It is not hard to see how this level of ostentation might offend those with small minds and green eyes. As always, a roll call of this nature is more a commentary on those casting the vote.
Poulter’s wisdom does not come from books. Indeed he admits to having never read one. He is not equipped to fight the intellectual fight. He intuits his way through life informed entirely by his experience of it, not by contemplation and reflection.
Inevitably, his snap judgments, often crass and ill-considered, delivered via Twitter get him into trouble.
He is thus an open goal for the politically correct seeking to score easy points, and for golfers who might have more talent but extract from it not half of Poulter’s plunder.
But there is substance beneath the bluster, as he showed again on Sunday, entering the final day at the world’s richest tournament at the shoulder of McIlroy.
Overrated? Do me a favour.
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