Poulter believes he is more than a Ryder Cup hero
KAPALUA, Hawaii – It is an eclectic mix, this field for the 2013 Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
Some, such as Charlie Beljan and Jonas Blixt, are soaking in the majestic views, perhaps still pinching themselves because it’s not like they set out in 2012 with Maui on their minds.
Others, such as Steve Stricker and Nick Watney, don’t need to GPS the route to Kapalua, their appearances in this winners-only tournament at a combined 11. Oh, and toss in Zach Johnson, Hunter Mahan, Dustin Johnson and Bill Haas as guys who are quite familiar with the Plantation Course.
Then there’s Ian Poulter. He has made the trip here for . . . well, exactly why?
“Might as well knock some of that turkey rust off of me,” said the Englishman, who is one week shy of his 37th birthday and a little more than three months removed from attaining iconic status as the reason why Europe won the 2012 Ryder Cup.
Certainly, the unforgettable five consecutive birdies at the end of Saturday afternoon’s four-ball win and the subsequent trademark “bug-eye” emotional reaction have amped up Poulter’s fame.
Nearly every tweet and every interview since has revolved around the Ryder Cup heroics at Medinah (Ill.) Country Club, and while the one-time assistant club pro is proud of his accomplishments, there is a curious aspect to his stature.
“He’s a Ryder Cup hero. That defines who he is,” Brandt Snedker said, and the reality is, a huge majority of fans would agree with the American. Part of Poulter, however, wouldn’t mind if the picture were widened.
“Am I just perceived as a Ryder Cup Goliath? I don't know,” Poulter said. “It was pretty good, is what it was. I've been blown away by how that's been perceived around the world. . . ."
Which is where the “but” comes in. It would be nice if people saw more.
“My golf over the years has been good enough – two WGC victories, 13 other (wins). I think I tweeted something this morning where there was an article put out there, ‘Ian Poulter had two PGA Tour wins and no majors. They seem to forget the 13 other tournaments around the world in which I've played all right. That bit is a little frustrating, I guess, (but) I think my golf has been pretty good over the time.”
He paused. He shrugged. He kept his arms folded across his chest, though easily seen were a series of logos that pronounce loud and clear that Poulter has clearly made it in this difficult world of pro golf. Audemars Piguet and Woburn Golf Club emblazoned on the sleeves, IJP Design and Mutual of Omaha on the chest, Cobra across the front of the visor, Schuco on the side of the visor, MasterCard on the collar, and . . .
Oh, my, how he has come a long way from folding sweaters and “chucking Mars bars down my throat” back in the pro shop. No doubt about that, but “whether (people) think I’m a bit of a clothes horse or can play a little bit of golf and chuck the odd one in there and kick some butt in the Ryder Cup, it’s up to them.”
One thing that isn’t open for debate is a line of discussion by which Poulter likely would be on one side against the viewpoints of so many others. “Johnny Miller might think I’ve well overachieved,” Poulter said, singling out the esteemed golf analyst who in this case would draw a lot of backing, “but in my eyes, I’ve underachieved. I don’t think I’ve done enough.”
Does he understand how people would disagree, that they would think he is an inspiration, having come from nowhere? He surely does.
“I’ve got nothing to back me up,” Poulter said. “There’s nothing there, there’s zero (when it comes to a stellar amateur background). There is no information, there’s no golfing history behind what it was until I first stepped out on Tour.”
But that’s for the public and for the media types and the fans and the inside golf crowd. They know about the four Ferraris, the massive home at Lake Nona, the fandom on Twitter, the glitz and the shine, the clothes line and the more than $12 million in career earnings on the PGA Tour and think the Englishman must be thrilled. He is, for sure, but he also dwells on the 40 majors in which he has played and among his six top-10s was a golden chance to win the 2008 Open Championship, and there have been a series of seconds and thirds and other top-10s he would have liked to have ended differently.
“I’m really happy with (my career),” he said. “But I definitely look at tournaments that I haven’t quite won, which I’ve let slip away. I’ve made mistakes, so therefore I feel there’s a lot of room for improvement.”
While notable friends and colleagues have opted not to tee it up here at the Hyundai, Poulter chose to play. Just don’t get too used to his face after Monday’s final round.
“I’m retiring for the start of the year,” Poulter said with a smile.
He said he’ll take six weeks off (re-appearing at the Accenture Match Play Championship), which he won in 2010, and in doing so will emulate fellow Europeans Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell, all of whom are in the midst of extended hiatuses.
“I want to be rested and I want to come out really strong through the end of March, April, May, June, which to me is the most important part of the year,” Poulter said.
In other words, Poulter is well aware of the challenge that faces him and so many others at the world-class level, especially those who have memberships on both sides of the Atlantic – so many tournaments, so little time. “The PGA Tour wants me to play as many as I can, and Europe wants me to play as many as I can,” he said. “You feel committed, but I really do have to pick and choose really carefully.”
Unlike some notable others (McIlroy, Donald, Tiger Woods and Justin Rose, for instance), Poulter did choose to land here at Kapalua, but there are no promises.
“I don’t think I’m ready, ready. I might be a little rusty. But I’m going to play and see how it goes.”
His next port of entry after Maui? Dove Mountain outside of Tucson, Ariz., for the Accenture. But as for what will follow, stay tuned.
“I’ve got my schedule planned, but I’m not telling you guys what it is.”
Suffice to say, it will include some color, some flair and a presence hard to ignore.