PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Ian Poulter heard polite applause and an occasional “Go, Poults!” throughout his back nine Thursday at the U.S. Open. But nothing broke his concentration until a boy near the 18th tee box yelled something that made the fashionable Brit turn sideways and smile.
“Ian,” the boy screamed. “I want your pants!”
Turned out, Poulter may have looked more at home on Pebble Beach’s par-5 18th hole wearing a pair of beach shorts.
Poulter played three shots from two different bunkers, then holed a slick, downhill putt from 18 feet to save par and finish his first competitive round at Pebble Beach in 1-under 70. It left him tied for the clubhouse lead while the afternoon wave was still on the course. More importantly, the roundabout par proved his patience is paying off.
“He’s played enough of these majors now to know that’s the only way it can be done,” said his caddie, Terry Mundy.
It’s just taken some time to get there. Poulter spoke Wednesday about his well-documented journey to professional golf that included “selling Mars bars and tee pegs” in a pro shop in England, playing off a 4 handicap and “eating chocolate and having ham, egg and chips every day” while dreaming of becoming a touring professional. His first major was the 2000 British Open, but it wasn’t until 2004 that Poulter, now 34 years old, played in all four majors in the same year.
His U.S. Open record has been erratic. In six national championships, he’s made four cuts, withdrawn once and had a top finish of T-12 in 2006.
But something feels different this week at Pebble Beach. Poulter arrived Monday and was enthralled with the layout and the scenery. He’s been strolling the grounds here with a quiet confidence that seems to be pulsating from the tips of his frosted hair.
“I just think it’s the fact of loving the golf course,” Poulter said. “This is the first time I’ve ever been here, and I love it. I love the fact that you don’t have to hit driver on a lot of holes. It’s positional play. I like that kind of golf. I like the small greens, therefore my short game can come into play when needed.”
Poulter got up-and-down for par from a bunker on the par-3 12th, then rolled in a 20-footer for birdie from off the front of the 13th green to get to 2 under. After a bogey on the brutal par-5 14th, Poulter parred in.
“I think my ball striking today was great,” said Poulter, who hit 11 greens and eight fairways. “That’s as good as I’ve hit it in a long time.”
In February, Poulter was en route to winning his first PGA Tour event at the WGC-Accenture Match Play. Two days before his victory, the attention of the golf world switched from Poulter’s title run to a public statement being made at PGA Tour headquarters by a player who had not been seen since a Thanksgiving car crash.
At the Masters in April, Poulter opened with back-to-back 68s and was tied with Lee Westwood for the 36-hole lead. During his meeting with reporters that Friday, Poulter, who would go on to tie for 10th, was still being peppered with questions about a player who was making his first competitive appearance in six months.
No such issue with distractions this week. Poulter is locked in. He said he’s not thinking about what score is needed to win the tournament or how other players are fairing.
See the ball. Hit the ball.
“I just am happy to go out there and play as good as I possibly can,” Poulter said. “You could play this golf course every day of the week and never get bored. It’s very special.”