One of the last Tour players to emerge from the ranks of pro-shop assistant, Ryder Cup hero and 17-time Tour winner Ian Poulter has exceeded the expectations of many, except his own. Here, he reflects on a career … not quite done yet.
How did you play the next day? It must have been hard to get back ‘up’ to go again?
I chipped-in on the first for birdie (laughs).
But yes, I was flat. I was done really. It took me a few holes to get going. I had nothing left in the tank. You can’t give that energy one day and come right back the same. That morning I was taking in as much sugar as I could. Anything to give me a boost.
It was only when Webb (Simpson) shanked on the 8th that I really got into it. That was my sugar-rush. I knew he was feeling it. So it was time to turn the screw.
What have been the other great moments in the Ryder Cup?
Paris last time. Because of the atmosphere. There were so many people there. The 1st tee buzz was amazing. I went to the top of that massive grandstand the day before. What a sight. I have no idea how they will ever top that. I know they won’t win America.
Plus, on paper, we weren’t supposed to win. We were told that this was the best American team that has ever been assembled.
I never actually believed that. Look at the 1981 team.
Yeah. But that was what they were all saying. Anyway, what was really special for me was the embrace I had with Luke on the 18th green at the end. I’ll take that to my grave. It was a very special moment, you could never pay for. I hope that is a turning point for him. I know he was proud of his old man. It was so nice to have a moment with my son, especially when he had been on the plane to Oakland Hills in 2004 as a 16-week old baby.
So there are things that have happened in the Ryder Cup that mean more to me than anything else in my career.
You’re clearly an emotional wee soul. What makes you cry?
Good things. Family stuff. Both sad and happy. I cried on that 18th green with Luke. And I cried when my cousin passed away when I was only 13 years old. I don’t find it easy to talk about things like that though. We all have things like that in our lives. Because of what happened when I was 13 I haven’t shared anything like that with anyone. It’s too painful. I don’t like going there … I get upset.
Do you cry at sad movies? Were you upset when Ali MacGraw coughed for the first time in Love Story did you cry?
(laughs) I’ve never seen that one. I don’t like sad things. Some people do. I don’t. And yes, I know some of the great stories and great songs are written through emotional pain. But I prefer not to go there. I got my dose of it early. My mum and dad divorced early and it had a great impact on me. I didn’t enjoy it. And dealing with Gary’s death was awful. So I was like, ‘I’m not telling anyone anything anymore.’
So what sort of mood are you in when you play your best golf?
When my heart rate is up. When adrenaline is running. I love to hit a great shot and get a buzz going. The Ryder Cup does that for me before I even start. Standing on the first tee in a major just isn’t the same. That’s always been an issue. I need to find a way to create the buzz, which is why my feeling for the Ryder Cup doesn’t help me in regular tournaments. I can’t get the buzz.
I have no idea how anyone can play in a tournament in the week after the Ryder Cup. I can’t do it. It amazed me that guys go to the Dunhill Links. I can’t get out of bed. I’m spent.
What has been the best of your tournament wins?
The WGCs. Because of the quality of the fields. But I’ve played better many times in other events and not won. In those weeks I just haven’t holed the putts. When I’ve gone really low it isn’t necessarily the best I’ve played. Just the best I’ve scored. Take this week (in Abu Dhabi). I’ve missed the cut, but I’ve played really nicely. But I’ve holed nothing. So it is just one of the missed cuts I have every year.
You have always travelled well though. You have won on five different tours – PGA, European, Asian, Australasian and Japan. Not many people can say that.
I’m proud of that. I do travel well. But I have no idea why that is, other than to say I love to play great courses. The Sandbelt in Melbourne is a great example of that. I’ve won there. I like difficult courses too. I like to be challenged.
What do you make of the way modern golf at Tour level has gone?
It’s ‘crunch.’ Look at the top-20 players in the world today. They are nearly all crunchers.
Do you worry the way Brooks Koepka plays – and he is great – will be the only way to play?
Well, that’s the way I’m going to teach Luke how to play, which says it all. It’s all about power. But here is what is interesting. Are the crunchers going to have a really long career in golf? Are they going to be competitive in their 22nd seasons on Tour, which is where I am now. Are their bodies going to allow them to play like that for a long time?
The harder you hit the ball, the more stress you are going to put on your body. Tiger is proof of that. So I do wonder how they are going to last. Are they going to be able to play into their 40s? Look at the Champions Tour. The guys who do really well there are not crunchers. I can’t think of one. Langer dominates. Monty does well … Stricker.
On that theme, there aren’t too many guys in their 40s playing here this week. I bet it is less than ten. Do you worry that you are heading into what I call professional golf’s ‘black hole,’ between, say, 45 and 50? Too old to be competitive on the regular Tour; too young for the seniors.
I’m well aware of that. I’ve thought about it. But I don’t want to acknowledge it. Having said that, I’m hitting the ball as well as I have ever hit it. At age 44. I’m bucking the trend at this point. When I putt well, I am more than capable of contending on the regular Tours.
That might be because I have never been overly aggressive in the gym. It might be because I have stayed flexible. I haven’t had many injuries. All of that makes me wonder if a cruncher is still going to be competitive at the age I am now. I’m not sure. But I do wonder about guys like Cameron Champ and Justin Thomas. Are their bodies going to stand up to the constant pounding they get because they go at the ball 110 percent? I have no idea.
Is senior golf in your future?
I have no idea about that either.
I think you’re being a little coy.
I really have no idea. I might play for the money. I might play for the buzz. I know I will miss that. But I might get pulled into something completely different. I have other business interests.
There is surely a Ryder Cup captaincy in your future though. Is that something you are keen to do?
(laughs) It’s that simple is it?
What have you learned about the job?
Well, it would just be an honour to do it. I’m not exactly sure how I would go about it, but I’d like to have enough notice that I’d be able to think about it properly. I’d want to have a plan in place. I’d be using stuff from every captain I’ve played under too. I’d take all those good things and blend them into one.
RIGHT: Poulter, a former Australian Masters champion, is a big fan of the Melbourne Sandbelt. PHOTO: Getty Images.
After that, you’re as good as your team. If you can do a good job and give them all things they need to play well all you can then do is hope. It’s out of the captain’s hands.
I’m thinking the next available captaincy is 2024. You’ll be 48 then, just about the age most captains are. And I can see you are smiling already. But I must say I am a bit worried about what could go on at those matches. A Bethpage crowd could be brutal.
It can be difficult in America. But if that is my window of opportunity, it would be nice to see some work put in to preempt what we’ve seen in the past from American crowds. We want bigger crowds. We want people to have an awesome time. Does it get a bit over the top at times? Yes. Does it need to be controlled? Yes.
It’s all about education really. The governing bodies need to do something to make sure everyone enjoys golf events. We don’t want to see some of the stuff that has already happened. Look at the recent Presidents Cup. That’s no good for golf. And it needs to be addressed. The fans need to be educated in how to have a good time. Let’s do it the right way though. So by 2024 the crowd can be loud and raucous – but nothing more.
I’m betting on you getting the job in 2024. Although I’m sure you are not going to comment one way or the other.
(big smile) All I will say is that the sooner any captain knows he has the job, the better he is going to be. At the moment, European captains get 23 months notice. In my opinion, that’s not enough. The captain should know way in advance. That way plans can be put in place. There is so much to do. And it is difficult to do it all in 23 months.
I am looking forward to the team uniforms when you are captain …
(laughs) It’s too far out to know. It will depend on whatever clothing deal is in place. The key is to make sure everyone is comfortable.
What are you most proud of in life?
Are they like you or your wife, who does a great job of staying in the background while you get on with your golf … she plays the perfect role.
She is the best wife and the most amazing mum ever. She doesn’t want the razzmatazz. She’s not interested in being in photographs.
Where did you meet?
It was 24 years ago. In a nightclub. We were standing next to each other. My boss was chatting to her friend. So we started talking. And that was that.
When did you ‘know’?
Pretty quickly. She was a nurse. She is a carer. And a great person. She is exactly the sort of person you think most nurses are. They don’t get paid half as much as they deserve. She was the one for me. And she has been by my side for all the good and the bad things that have happened.
How lucky did you feel in 2016 when the PGA Tour screwed up the arithmetic and you kept your card rather than lost it?
It was fortunate. But my situation wouldn’t have been a complete disaster. I was still going to play in a few events. But the change meant I was able to get into better events.
I covered the Players that year when you came second. That was a big week for you.
Bonkers. A massive turning point. There was a lot going on behind the scenes that week, too. A lot to clean up. But we got through all of it in one week. On and off the course. One minute I was really struggling and the next I was finishing second in what is arguably the strongest field of the year. I didn’t do anything different on the course. But I did sort out a lot of shit behind the scenes.
Any regrets along the way?
I’ve made a few wrong turns. But not many regrets. I’d like a few shots back. My shanked second to the last in that Players would be one of them. But I made a great five.
I do regret some of the social media stuff. I’ve been in arguments I shouldn’t have been in. I’ve learned to bite my tongue. I just block the idiots. Verbal scuffles with those people are a waste of my time. It’s just not worth it.
The odd business decision has gone wrong. I should have been a bit more hands-on with my clothing line. But it’s hard to dedicate enough time to everything.
Any chance of Australian golf fans seeing you there any time soon?
There is nothing I would love more. I wish the European Tour had an event on the Sandbelt. But it’s not on the current schedule. I’d like to see the Australian Open on our Tour, too. The fans down there are awesome. And it would be great to get down there, especially with the country going through so much with the fires at the moment. I would love to be able to do all of that.
Is living in America just a matter of convenience?
Exactly. I play most of my golf there. And it is where I get to spend most time with the kids. Getting home on a Sunday night is priceless. I’ve done the ocean-hopping before. And it doesn’t work. It is brutal. Plus, Amy goes to college soon. So that is the first one out of the house. Two of the four are driving cars. It’s madness.
Where did it all go right Ian?
(laughs). It’s been good. Pretty damn good.