Analysis: Don’t count out the always-confident Ian Poulter

HUMBLE, TX - APRIL 01: Ian Poulter of England celebrates after making a putt to win the Houston Open in a playoff at the Golf Club of Houston on April 1, 2018 in Humble, Texas. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Analysis: Don’t count out the always-confident Ian Poulter

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Analysis: Don’t count out the always-confident Ian Poulter

“Expect the unexpected” were among the words of advice Ian Poulter gave a couple of aspiring Great Britain & Ireland Curtis Cup players in the Spring of 2014. Those same words perhaps describe Mr. Ryder Cup’s remarkable resurgence this year.

Poulter spoke to a small group in the Hay Room at Woburn Golf Club that spring. Poulter’s been attached to the club as its tour professional since 2003. Charley Hull and Lauren Taylor were among the fortunate few to dine with Poulter after playing a few holes with him. The two teenagers were on the GB&I Curtis Cup squad and seemed destined to face the United States at Nairn. Hull made the team while reigning Ladies British Amateur champion Taylor didn’t, for still unfathomable reasons.

The girls were looking to draw on Poulter’s match-play experience in the Ryder Cup.

“Expect the unexpected,” he said. “Don’t think you’re going to win a hole because your opponent is in trouble. Never take anything for granted in this game. Never switch off. Always be respectful, but be ruthless.”

Wise words that explain why Poulter’s the man he is, especially in the Ryder Cup.

Let’s face it, no one would have predicted at the beginning of this season that Poulter would win his first stroke-play event on the PGA Tour and come close to winning his second in the space of three weeks, climb to 29th in the Official World Golf Ranking and jump into line for another Ryder Cup appearance. Not at the age of 42.

A Ryder Cup discussion took place in Abu Dhabi this year among British golf writers over late-night cocktails. We all agreed on most of the likely European team members, and all threw in a dark horse. No one mentioned Poulter among the likely candidates, and certainly no one picked Poulter as their outsider. We figured he’d make an appearance at the match as one of Thomas Bjorn’s vice-captains. (Poulter worked in this same capacity for Darren Clarke at Hazeltine.)

Even Woburn members had written off Poulter’s Ryder Cup chances. I know – I’m also a Woburn member. I canvassed fellow members this year about Poulter making Bjorn’s team to play in Paris. Not one member thought he had a chance of playing in his sixth match. Those same members now feel their man is a lock.

Of course, Poulter never would have written off his chances of making this year’s team. This glass-half-full man is arguably the most confident player Europe’s ever produced. Former boss Lee Scarbrow once said this about the man he hired as assistant professional at Leighton Buzzard Golf Club.

“I’ve never come across anyone with more belief in themselves than Ian,” Scarbrow said. “It didn’t matter what situation you put him in, he would rise to the occasion. I teach guys and I’ll hear them say ‘if’ I make it on to the European Tour. Ian never, ever used the word ‘if.’ It was always ‘when’ I make it on the European Tour, ‘when’ I win tournaments, ‘when’ I play in the Ryder Cup team, ‘when’ I win majors. One thing about Ian: Whatever he believes in, he gets.”

That belief was there at the star of this year. Poulter opened his season with a missed cut in Abu Dhabi. Yet he stood on the practice ground the day afterward and said he was feeling upbeat about his season. He even suggested I check his odds for the following week’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

One of the reasons for Poulter’s optimism stemmed from acquiring a new driver that’s given him an extra 15 yards off the tee.

“That’s a game-changer,” he said.

He finished T-6 in Dubai. His next few performances were nothing to write home about. Then he reached the quarterfinals of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play before winning the Houston Open.

He’s currently ninth on the European Ryder Cup table as a result of his recent run. Don’t think Bjorn hasn’t clocked Poulter’s form, especially his run in the Match Play. And don’t think Poulter doesn’t expect to be on the plane to Paris this September. The flamboyant Englishman has made a career out of expecting the unexpected. Gwk

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