Style and substance

Ian Poulter celebrates on the 18th hole after winning the UBS Hong Kong Open at the Hong Kong Golf Club.

Ian Poulter predicted victory before the final round of the UBS Hong Kong Open.

It’s a call he delivered, underscoring the unpredictable story that has been Ian Poulter’s life. Indeed, few golf fans had heard of the Englishman before the 2000 season.

Now, he’s one of the most recognizable players in world golf (with over a million Twitter followers no less). Hong Kong was his 10th European Tour win, and his second of the season. His one-shot victory over England’s Simon Dyson and Matteo Manassero of Italy moved him into the world top 10, while the €301,446 first-place check took his season earnings to just under €2 million.

And that’s just in Europe. Poulter also earned more than $2 million on the PGA Tour this year. Not bad for a guy who didn’t have a penny to his name a decade ago.

Poulter is living proof that hard work and belief in oneself goes a long way in the royal and ancient game. Nothing in the Englishman’s background pointed to him becoming one of the best players in the world.

Born in Stevenage, England, Poulter once earned money working a market stall on Saturdays. Not surprisingly, he worked a stall that sold clothes. Now, he has his own fashion line.

The £25 he made for a Saturday shift helped him finance his love of golf – a love that came from following his father to Stevenage’s municipal course. Unlike contemporaries Luke Donald and Paul Casey, Poulter did not play in the elite British amateur events. Parents Terry and Theresa couldn’t afford it.

Poulter became good enough at Stevenage to contemplate a career in golf. He turned professional with a 4 handicap and set out to become a club professional.

His first job at the Family Golf Centre, in Hitchin, England, paid £3.20 an hour for a 50-hour week. He sold tees and golf balls, and vacuumed the shop when the day was done. He was allowed all the free range balls he could hit after his shift was over, but he had to pay a green fee if he wanted to play. He also had to take a day off from work whenever he wanted to play in a tournament.

He turned professional with a “vague notion” of perhaps becoming a tournament professional. That notion became stronger when he won the 1995 Panshanger Classic in Welwyn Garden City, Nick Faldo’s birthplace. By that time he was working at Leighton Buzzard Golf Club under Lee Scarbrow. There, he impressed his boss with his can-do attitude.

“I’ve coached guys with better swings, but I’ve never come across anyone with more belief than Ian,” Scarbrow said. “One thing about Ian – whatever he believes in, he gets.”

Belief took Poulter to the top of the UK’s Hippo Tour Order of Merit in 1998. It took him to the European Challenge Tour in 1999, where he won the Open de Cote d’Ivoire. More importantly, belief earned him a European Tour card at the 1999 European Tour Qualifying School.

He started the 2000 season as a complete unknown, but with more belief than just about anyone else on tour.

“I entered every tournament with one aim – to win,” Poulter said. “Most times I had no idea what the first prize was, I just wanted to win. I hate to lose, and I don’t mind admitting it. I’m not a great golfer – my brother Danny is probably better than me – but I know how to win.”

Poulter won the Italian Open in his rookie season. Ten years later, he’s still winning. Proof that guys from humble backgrounds can go a long way in this game.

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