Ian Poulter’s nickname is The Postman. Why? Because he always delivers. Especially when it comes to the biennial battle between Team Europe and their USA counterparts in the Ryder Cup.
Appearing in six of the event renewals in his career since turning professional in 1996, the UK-born player has been on the winning side on no fewer than five occasions. In the 22 matches he has played, he has 14 victories, six defeats and two halves.
He has also never lost a singles game against Team USA, so that would explain why he regards the matchplay format of golf his favourite.
Now 44, Poulter has 20 professional tour wins to his name, including one on every continent that he has competed on - including three wins in America, 12 in Europe, three in Asia, one in Australasia and another on Africa’s Ivory Coast.
He tells RSNG Golf about the time one of his tweets ended in the dismissal of a US college employee, how he nearly took out a party of golfers with one shot at the age of just five, and why he chose his flamboyant dress sense…
RSNG You have an amazing record as a player in the Ryder Cup, being on the winning side for Team Europe in five of your six appearances. How does that feel? IAN POULTER, EUROPE’S ULTIMATE CHEST-THUMPING CHAMP ‘Playing in the Ryder Cup is just an amazing experience. I feel like I play my best golf during matchplay scenarios and that whole team environment is incredible for that one week every two years.’
‘I love the fact that you get to face one opponent during the singles matches on the final day, when the whole event usually reaches its crescendo and because you’re both playing the same 18 holes at the same time, you know everything that he is doing and that makes things so much easier.’
‘In stroke-play from week to week, you could be playing the best golf of your life and feeling that you have a great chance to win the event that you’re playing in that week. But you have absolutely no idea what’s going on around the course if the main competitors aren’t in your pairing.’
‘You can see their scores on the leaderboard or someone else can maybe let you know every so often, but you can’t really put them under pressure, because in stroke-play, we’re all playing against the course.’
‘I mean, you take the Saturday afternoon at Medinah in 2012, when Rory and I managed six birdies in a row. That for me personally, is simply unrivalled in my career.’
‘To be a part of that where you’re almost certain to lose the Ryder Cup, being 10-4 down and then we make a charge on the Saturday and win eight of the 12 singles matches on the Sunday to sneak it. That’s just an incredible thing that only matchplay can achieve.’
I want to look at them in the eyes and see the doubt… and I don’t even mind when people do it to me
RSNG Doesn’t that feeling take you back to the early days of golf? IP ‘Absolutely – that’s all we did as kids and even as amateurs a lot of the time when getting in as many rounds as possible.’
‘A huge part of what we did was about going head-to-head with the guy next to you, and obviously, in the manner the way the game is played and organised, it follows that it’s not a format that can be done when it comes to tournaments, so you get out of the habit of playing that way.’
‘But to a fiercely competitive person such as myself, I want to go head-to-head; I want to look at them in the eyes and see the doubt… and I don’t even mind when people do it to me, because that gives me the chance to answer them back and respond.’
RSNG I believe that you started playing golf at the age of four? IP ‘Four or five I think. It was the usual thing, swinging a club in the garden, not really knowing what I was doing… probably just trying to hit the ball as hard as I could.’
‘I do believe the more you do at a very young age the more your head start is in the sport, though. You will always get those who develop late, in any sport, but I think there is so much learnt, unconsciously, in those early years, that you’d struggle to get to any real level if you hadn’t picked up a club before you were in double figures.’
RSNG Do you remember the first time you stepped out onto a course? IP ‘Yes, I was at Stevenage golf course and it was the 11th hole, which was a par three. Only a short hole, about 120-130 yards. My Dad, thinking that there was no way I was going to reach the green – because there was a group of players in front of us right there – just told me to go ahead and hit the ball.’
‘Little did he know what was going to happen next, but I’m sure you may have guessed by now!’
‘I swung, hit it first time and the ball flew down the hill and landed just in front of the group. He made me go down and say sorry to them! I came back up the hill, ball in hand, tears flowing down my face. Not the best memories of a first shot, ever.’
RSNG How did one of your tweets get someone fired from their job? IP ‘Well, for people who aren’t already aware of the fact that this had happened – because for quite some time, I had a lot of people blaming me for this – yeah, it’s true.’
‘What happened was that my son Luke was following me around for the Valspar Championship in 2016 and he could hear that some guy was heckling me, which obviously wasn’t nice for Luke to hear. So, I carry on playing because I am trying to focus.’
‘We get to the next hole and the guy and his mates are yelling something about me not getting into the Ryder Cup team that year and to hit the ball in the water. I spoke to the security and just asked if they could either quieten the boys down or warn them that they could be ejected.’
‘Unfortunately, I hit the ball in the water, but that’s the way it goes. Well done, it worked. However, it doesn’t end there because after I had finished my round, I go on Twitter and the same boy has tweeted me with pictures of him being proud that him and his mates have been heckling me, with his employers in his bio.’
‘So, I just tweet him back with his college in the reply and just tell him that I don’t think the Florida Southern College would be happy with how he has represented them and that for a person of his stature, he could have acted with a bit more class in such situations. Turns out that they fired him, and it took awhile for the abuse towards me to die down.’
As far as what I wear goes, I’ve definitely toned it down a bit over the years as I’ve got older, and I’d like to think the look is all mine haha!
RSNG Obviously it’s your choice to wear loud and head-turning clothes on the golf course was a conscious decision, but what was behind that? IP ‘I noticed the way that some golfers who had been playing for some time before I became a professional and I quite liked a different look.’
‘We’re talking about players like John Daly and Jesper Parnevik, Seve (Ballesteros), Greg Norman with that Australian signature straw hat, with the shark emblem on it. Players like those who were great competitors and had their own styles of clothes, as well.’
‘I also saw that they had a great following in the galleries and even the golf fans who were maybe a casual viewer on TV and didn’t always get to the course to see their heroes, they loved these players. So, I decided that I’d like to be out there on the course, playing in clothes that would be noticed and not just milling in with other players.’
RSNG Is there someone in particular whose look you emulated? IP ‘Not as such – as far as what I wear goes, I’ve definitely toned it down a bit over the years as I’ve got older, and I’d like to think the look is all mine haha!’
WHAT NEXT? Read our interview with Don Cheadle on the art of golf…
Then, watch Rory and Poults on fire at the Ryder Cup.