Seven Ryder Cups in, Ian Poulter wants to feed off hostility longer still – as player and captain

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 Graeme McDowell of Europe celebrates his 3&1 win to secure victory for the European team on the 17th green with Ian Poulter (R) in the singles matches during the 2010 Ryder Cup at the Celtic Manor Resort on October 4, 2010 in Newport, Wales - Getty Images
Graeme McDowell of Europe celebrates his 3&1 win to secure victory for the European team on the 17th green with Ian Poulter (R) in the singles matches during the 2010 Ryder Cup at the Celtic Manor Resort on October 4, 2010 in Newport, Wales - Getty Images

Ian Poulter has a vision. Some would consider it a video nasty. To Poulter is would be tearjerker to end his classic love story.

“2025, at Bethpage. Phil Mickelson as the US captain, me as the Europe captain,” Poulter says. “It would be wonderful. The New York crowd going berserk. If I could choose one that would be it. I would love it.”

They call Poulter The Postman and, indeed, it shows he does deliver. But look closer at his record and it is obvious that he is more suited to airmail rather than the local rounds. There has been and almost certainly never will be a ratio like his on the road. He has played in three Ryder Cups on US soil. In 11 games he has won nine points. He was won his last eight. “That is absurd,” Lee Westwood says. “Obscene even.”

Darren Clarke played with Poulter in his debut match at Oakland Hills in 2004. “We got beat 4&3 in the fourballs by Tiger [Woods] and his mate Chris [Riley]. Poults was devastated. I told him he should get used to losing the odd game away. Thank Christ, he didn’t listen.”

In his three home Ryder Cups, Poulter has also played in 11 games. He has collected six points from those. More than 50 per cent points to games is respectable in the Ryder Cup - the average of Westwood, a bona fide Ryder Cup great, is 52.3 per cent - but more than 80 per cent on foreign turf? “It is just incredible,” says Rory McIlroy. “Something takes over him.”

Ian Poulter of Europe celebrates during the afternoon foursome matches of the 2018 Ryder Cup at Le Golf National on September 28, 2018 in Paris, France - Getty Images
Ian Poulter of Europe celebrates during the afternoon foursome matches of the 2018 Ryder Cup at Le Golf National on September 28, 2018 in Paris, France - Getty Images

McIlroy, of course, was Poulter’s partner in the Saturday afternoon fourballs in 2012 when Poulter birdied the last five holes and planted the seeds for that Sunday’s Miracle of Medinah. “I love the hostility, not when it gets silly, but when you are there, feeding off them wishing you’d miss it,” Poulter says. “Standing over the putt, knowing that if, when you hole it there is going to be uproar. I don’t want to be rude to anyone, or disrespect anything, but in those moments I cant help but bang my chest and whatever happens to my eyes. It’s pure passion. That rush of adrenaline that they say isn't supposed to help you in golf. It wouldn’t help me week to week. But in that scenario…”

Poulter has not appeared in an away Ryder Cup since 2012. He missed 2016 at Hazeltine because of a foot injury and Clarke, the captain that year, wonders if things might have proved differently if Poulter was on the course as a player instead of an assistant captain. “When you are down he provides that bit of spark,” Clarke says. “He gives his teammate confidence.”

That much has been clear here this week. Paul Casey: “Poults is the guy all the Americans want to beat - but they don’t manage it very often, do they? He is unique. He's the glue for this team. We don't lack energy, and we'll always be a very unified team, but he just adds to it so much more. You don't see what we get to see in a team room and in the locker room. This morning he just rolled through and you can just see that bounce in the step. It's infectious.”

Matthew Fitzpatrick says: “I’m just glad he’s on our side. When he's holing putts from everywhere, you just want to throw him in the lake, I'm sure. You just don't want to face that. When he's on, he's a man on a mission, he's pretty much unstoppable.”

Actually, Poulter grinds to a halt by the Monday. The tank has been emptied. “I am a physical wreck for three weeks afterwards,” he says. “Emotionally, mentally, these are the most incredible three days to play through. I can’t get out of bed. I’m spent. I’ll have cold sores, look and feel a total mess. My body will have had enough. I might look like I have all the energy in the world on Sunday afternoons, when the singles are in full swing. But by the following Tuesday I am a shell of a man. I’ve given my all.”

 In this Sept. 30, 2018, file photo, Europe's Ian Poulter celebrates after defeating Dustin Johnson of the United States during a singles match on the final day of the 42nd Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France - AP
In this Sept. 30, 2018, file photo, Europe's Ian Poulter celebrates after defeating Dustin Johnson of the United States during a singles match on the final day of the 42nd Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France - AP

How long can he go on? There have been doubts whether this could be a Ryder Cup too far for the 45-year-old. The naysayers insist Whistling Straits is too long, that his recent form did not merit a captain’s pick. Remarkably, of his six Ryder Cups he has been forced to rely on a wildcard on four occasions. His great friend Justin Rose was overlooked by Padraig Harrington. Rose has played in five Ryder Cups and qualified by right each time.

“Some players say there is more pressure on you as a wildcard - that you need to justify the captain’s faith,” Poulter says. “I just see that as extra incentive to play well. As if you need any. If it is possible that there is more pressure on you then it is good pressure. Of course I’d like to qualify automatically, but it’s like I’ve been miles behind in the standings when I’ve got the nod.”

This time he was 14th on the list, but as world No 49 he is one of Europe’s 12 top ranked players. Harrington selected him on the basis of the stats, claiming his ball-striking is “better than ever”. “It all feels good to be honest,” Poulter says. “My putting feels good.” Last year, he finished fourth on the PGA Tour’s “Strokes Gained - Putting” charts, the most significant metric of all. If Poulter is hot on the greens, all the US nightmares will come flooding back here on Lake Michigan.

One last hurrah for Europe’s grand huzzah. “I cant see me playing again in an away Ryder Cup he says. “I’ll be 49 by then and these young pups will be driving it 500 yards. I love the Ryder Cup regardless. I’d play it on the Moon - if selected. But there is something about winning away that makes it more special. I suppose that’s why Bethpage appeals so much if I am ever to be honoured to be captain.”

There is a stumbling block. Westwood is set to take over from Harrington in two years’ time and Poulter in ‘25 would mean Europe had three captains in succession from Great Britain and Ireland. The continental Europeans might grumble.

“Does it really matter if there are three GB&I on the trot? Or five?” Poulter says. “It’s about the team to me. Never about the individual. Yeah, if you look at it closely, there is a problem with all the big names from Europe that need fitting in for the captaincy.

“It’s going to be very difficult. I’m not taking anything for granted. But for me, if it happens to be Bethpage, it would be a dream. Phil Mickelson, the New York fans ultimate favourite. And me. Who probably isn’t their favourite. And they’d let me know all about it, as they always do. Fantastic. Bring it on.”

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