x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Poulter is ready to bring the noise

Golf players are notoriously finicky about noise. With Poulter you get the feeling he thrives on the cheers, and jeers, of the crowd.

Ian Poulter talks to media during the press conference at the Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai.
Ian Poulter talks to media during the press conference at the Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai.

The American crowd tried to put him off his game. But it seemed only to inspired him.

In many ways, Saturday, September 29, the penultimate day of the 2012 Ryder Cup, belonged to Ian Poulter.

The US may have ended the day with a seemingly unassailable 10-6 lead, but the Englishman's defiance, his refusal to be beaten, set the scene for Sunday's astonishing comeback by Europe.

From the moment that morning when he urged, even taunted, the boisterous crowd into raising the noise level as he prepared to tee off, to his five birdies on the final five holes, Poulter played like a man who knew that destiny was on his side.

The American crowds may overstep the mark occasionally, but they also know their golf. And they knew that with Poulter in such form, they were in trouble.

Seven weeks on, Poulter remains on a high. And today he is set to bring his own brash brand of golf to the DP World Tour Championships when he tees off, along Branden Grace, at Jumeirah Golf Estates. Although he has been one of the world's top players for some time, he seems to be enjoying the even higher profile among fans since the Ryder Cup.

"I was a marked man at the Ryder Cup, they wanted to shut me up," he said of the intimidation factor he now brings down the stretch. "That was plain and simple, everybody knew it and they couldn't do it."

Golf players are notoriously finicky about noise. With Poulter you get the feeling he thrives on the cheers, and jeers, of the crowds the way John McEnroe did when he ruled the tennis court. With his spiky blond hair, colourful outfits and love of fast cars, Poulter is part golfer, part rock star.

On the course, his form has gone from strength to strength. He finished fourth at the BMW Masters and won the WGC-HSBC Champions (both in China) and earlier this week finished second at the Australian Masters.

On Tuesday, the world No 1 Rory McIlroy likened him to the Incredible Hulk, "a big green putting machine".

Does the Englishman agree?

"I feel like I'm never going to miss, if that's what you're asking," he said. "Whether it's 30 feet or 10 feet or six feet."

His confidence on and off the course is, as you would expect, sky high. When a member of the press asked him if he would ever consider seeing a sports psychologist to "unleash his inner hulk", his response was incredulous and elicited general laughter.

"Do you think I need a sports psychologist? Are you crazy? Wow, I think people would pay me a fortune to be a sports psychologist, that's incredible."

This confidence, however, does not come at the expense of professionalism and focus, and he remains a fiercely competitive golfer, always looking for ways to improve his game.

"I would like to drive a bit further than I do, I think my mid-iron play could improve a little," said Poulter, who is 13th in the world rankings. "But I would expect myself to putt like I've been putting in the last three weeks, and that makes a huge difference."

Poulter, now based in Florida and active on the PGA Tour, has strong views on the game in general.

Asked if he should have a say on who should be the next European captain for the Ryder Cup, He said: "I'm obviously opinionated, aren't I? Some people would like that, others would not." Indeed, he does not shy away from his thoughts on the captain's identity.

"I believe Paul [Lawrie] should get the job and I believe that Darren [Clarke] should certainly get the job when his time comes up."

His snap assessment of the European Tour: "There is not much money and it's very hard to convince sponsors to put big tournaments on."

But first, there is unfinished business in Dubai, and Poulter will be hoping to banish the memory of a freak loss on this course two years ago.

As he prepared to putt for a birdie on the second play-off hole on the 18th, he accidentally dropped his ball on his coin marker, causing it to move and causing a one-shot penalty.

That handed Robert Karlsson the win and cost Poulter prize money and world-ranking points, not to mention the chance to post back-to-back victories for the first time in his career.

He likes his chances this year. "I think I have plenty of opportunities to make birdies and I'm in good putting form," he said, "so hopefully that continues this week and I can get my hands on a nice big trophy."

His fans would expect nothing less. It could be a noisy affair.