SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Through 16 holes at the U.S. Open on Friday, everything was looking good for Ian Poulter.
The Englishman was 3 under after making birdies at the fourth, fifth and seventh holes. He avoided the nasty rough off the tee. When he missed putts, he left himself tap-ins for par. He demonstrated a skillful short game. One shot behind leader Dustin Johnson, things seemed blissful.
Within 20 minutes, starting with his approach shot to the eighth hole (his 17th), Poulter’s lovely day turned ugly. A closing triple bogey-bogey finish left Poulter in a tie for fourth and five shots off the lead.
The club that started the downward spiral was Poulter’s 7-iron. He left his approach shot short on the eighth hole, short-siding himself in a bunker. From there, he bladed the ball with the leading edge of his sand wedge. Instead of softly landing on the green, it zipped over the putting surface and skidded into the rough 30 yards away.
“I was trying to hit the perfect bunker shot. I was trying to nip it clean. I was trying to land it half a yard over the crest to get it to check,” Poulter said. “A good bunker shot, I felt like I could hit it to about 4 or 5 feet. I didn’t commit to the shot I wanted to play, and that’s the only disappointing thing, really, about the mistake I made.”
Two chunked chips and two putts later, Poulter wrote three squares around the number seven on his scorecard.
Then, after hitting a good drive, a 7-iron approach on the ninth hole flew into fescue short of the green. Poulter’s pitch shot blasted past the hole and left him a quick 13-foot downhill putt. His effort from there stopped a foot short of the hole and he tapped in for bogey.
“Maybe it makes a few people happy out there that, you know, we kind of mess up just as good as everyone else,” Poulter said. “We’re human, right? We make a mistake. I think the best outcome for me is to put it out of my mind, to look upon the position I’m in for this weekend. I’m T-4. I feel pretty confident about my game, where my game is. I just need to make sure I don’t make any silly little mistakes.”
Poulter has every right to feel good about his game. He won the Houston Open in March to earn a spot in the Masters, had top-10 finishes at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and the RBC Heritage and a T-11 finish at the Players Championship. Poulter is ranked No. 27 in the Official World Golf Ranking and it looks like he’ll be on the European Ryder Cup team.
Poulter admitted after signing for his 72 that he has hated the U.S. Open for more than a decade, mainly because he has not had success in the tournament. But he has a different outlook this year.
“Being at home sitting on the sofa watching the U.S. Open the last couple years has been kind of frustrating,” he said. “So that’s why I’ve got the attitude this week of a little bit carefree, go out, play golf, try and enjoy it.”
For 16 plus holes on Friday, Poulter, a momentum player, enjoyed his round. Afterward, he said all the right things before heading to the range. Poulter had an early-evening date with his 7-iron.