Ryder Cup Preview: The Postman will deliver

Why Ian Poulter is Europe’s ace in the pack

Ian Poulter barely had enough money for a car with four decent tires, much less for a weekend getaway to see the Ryder Cup for the first time.

He was 17 and just starting a job at Jack O' Legs Golf Center, where his primary task was folding shirts.

No matter. Poulter rounded up two of his best mates, packed up a small tent and some cheap food, and they were on their way.

They found a house some three miles down the road from The Belfry, where the owners let them pitch their tent in a backyard garden for three pounds a night.

It turned out to be worth every pence.

"Three guys in a small, confined space, eating tin food each night and a few bottles of wine," Poulter said.

"She used to let us go in the house and wash up, and then we would go to sleep and get up in the morning and walk to the golf course. I was there when Nick Faldo had his hole-in-one. I remember thinking, 'I want a piece of that.' That to me was the turning point. It was ... 'Wow!' I had never heard anything like that.

"Wouldn't it be great to do that myself?"

That was in 1993.

Faldo and Paul Azinger battled to a draw in singles match that was meaningless except to them, and to a 17-year-old English lad in the gallery who was mesmerised by the spectacle.

By then, the Americans had clinched the cup, the decisive point delivered by a Ryder Cup rookie named Davis Love III.

Love is now the captain of the US team that will try to win back the cup Sept. 28-30 at Medinah.

Poulter, with wide eyes and wild dreams, will try to keep that from happening.

He has emerged as one of the most passionate players for Europe. In a career that seems to defy the odds at every turn, this is his fourth Ryder Cup. He not only has won every singles match, he ended them all before getting to the 17th hole.

"He just loves it, you know?" Luke Donald said. "He gets so fired up. He loves the battle over 18 holes, and I do, too."

Poulter has never felt as though he let his emotions cross the line.

That's something he won't apologise for — not in the Ryder Cup.

"It's the biggest spectacle in golf," he said. "Your team needs to hear that reverberate around the golf course. They need that roar. They need that passion. That's what makes it the best tournament in the world."

Asked what gives him the biggest buzz in life, Poulter rates the Ryder Cup behind the birth of his four children, and ahead of the time he climbed behind the wheel of a Formula One car in the south of France and took it up to 180 mph.

He reached into the pocket for his cell phone to find a picture of him driving that F-1 car.

What stands out in the photo are his eyes, which seem to be popping out of his skull. Anyone who has faced Poulter in the Ryder Cup knows that look. Poulter has seen pictures of him, and concedes that "it can be a little scary to most."

He doesn't realise he's doing it. Poulter figures it's the result of intense focus.

"I think he gets the best out of playing the Ryder Cup," European captain Jose Maria Olazabal said after using a wild-card selection on Poulter.

"The two times I had the opportunity to share a few moments with him, at Valhalla and Celtic Manor, you didn't need to motivate him.

“He pretty much, you know just by looking at his eyes that he would give everything that he had during that week."

That much is clear by the endless fist pumps and guttural screams when he holes putts from across the green or chips in for birdie. And it's evident by his words.

Poulter endeared himself to the Europeans two years ago because of a TV interview that led to a nickname at the Ryder Cup.

"The postman," Graeme McDowell said with a smile.

Poulter doesn't follow American football. He has never heard about Joe Namath and his guarantee before the 1969 Super Bowl when the New York Jets upset the Baltimore Colts.

His prediction at Wales was not nearly as famous, though no less brash.

He was on the practice range on the final day at Celtic Manor two years ago. Europe had a 9½-6½ lead going into the 12 singles matches and every point was critical.

Poulter was sent off in the fifth match against Matt Kuchar, who won the PGA Tour money list that year and was one of only two Americans who had not lost a match all week.

Tim Barter of Sky Sports dropped by for a quick interview and asked him how he felt about playing Kuchar.

"I WILL deliver my point," Poulter said, eyes bulging.

And that he did. The postman delivered.

Charging across the green after a chip banged into the pin and dropped for eagle, eyes wide as ever, he backed up his pledge with a 5-and-4 thrashing, the most decisive singles match at Wales.

"I was fired up, but it fired me up a bit more, which is good," Poulter said.

"You can't get any more fired up than what I get in the Ryder Cup. I absolutely love it."

Poulter is not always easy to love.

His confidence borders on cockiness. He was mocked four years ago because of a magazine article in which he said that when he reaches his full potential, "it will be just me and Tiger." Woods, not shy about giving the needle, passed him in the locker room a few months later and said, "Hey, No. 2."

Two years ago, there was mixed seating at the gala dinner.

As the story goes, two Americans were riding back from the dinner when one of their wives, who had been seated at a table with Poulter, remarked how friendly he seemed. Both players looked at her sideways, like she was out of her mind.

Jim Furyk smiled and referred to him as "fiery" in the Ryder Cup and good fun when they're away from the course.

It's like that with almost every player at the Ryder Cup. They wanted to win badly, but winners and losers wind up at the same party when it's over.

Still, there's something particularly annoying about losing to Poulter.

"It's irritating to lose to him or anyone, for that matter," said Steve Stricker, who lost twice to Poulter at Valhalla in 2008. "I like to compete and I like to win — doesn't matter who it is. But when it comes down to playing Ian Poulter in the Ryder Cup, I don't want to lose to him."

Stricker has seen those eyes far too often, particularly in singles at Valhalla when the Englishman started with three birdies in four holes.

"When he yells and scream, they bug out. That's why you want to beat him," Stricker said with a smile. "I've played with him a bunch outside the Ryder Cup. He's a good guy.

“He's good to play with. He's a big-time competitor. He grinds it out and he works hard. And you can tell he's working hard at it and wanting to beat you. And when you come across a guy who really wants to beat you, you really want to beat him."

Poulter likes to shine off the golf course, which adds to his audacious personality.

He has his own clothing line and was bold enough to wear all pink in the final round of the 2006 U.S. Open in New York. And who can forget those Union Jack trousers, and another pair with the claret jug, that he once wore at the British Open. Poulter is not bashful about showing off his extravagance — a recent photo on Twitter showed two of his Ferraris stacked on hydraulic lifts in the garage of his new home at Lake Nona. The house looks more like a hotel.

But when it comes to the Ryder Cup, he morphs into a world-beater. Poulter is 8-3-0, a winning percentage exceeded only by Donald (8-2-1) on this European team.

McDowell recalled a fourballs match he played with Poulter at Valhalla, with both teams firing birdies at each other. Poulter won the match with a birdie putt on the 18th hole, and McDowell said he woke up the next morning with a sore arm.

"I couldn't work out why it was sore, and then I remembered," McDowell said. "We were high-fiving each other so hard because it was so emotional. He gets the Ryder Cup in a very, very good way. He gets charged up. No one can strut around like Poultsy. It's great. He's the guy I'd love to play with again."

Rosters for the 39th Ryder Cup matches, to be played Sept. 28-30 at Medinah Country Club:

 

EUROPE

Captain: Jose Maria Olazabal

c-Nicolas Colsaerts, Belgium

Luke Donald, England

Sergio Garcia, Spain

Peter Hanson, Sweden

Martin Kaymer, Germany

Paul Lawrie, Scotland

Graeme McDowell, Northern Ireland

Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland

Francesco Molinari, Italy

c-Ian Poulter, England

Justin Rose, South Africa

Lee Westwood, England

 

US

Captain: Davis Love III

Keegan Bradley

Jason Dufner

c-Jim Furyk

c-Dustin Johnson

Zach Johnson

Matt Kuchar

Phil Mickelson

Webb Simpson

c-Brandt Snedeker

c-Steve Stricker

Bubba Watson

Tiger Woods

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