Poulters rise to fame an improbable story

By Doug FergusonApril 4, 2010, 6:03 am

Ian Poulter doesn’t see himself the way others do.

They see an Englishman with spiked hair who was brazen enough to wear all pink before a New York gallery in the final round of a U.S. Open. They see a player with the audacity to scatter golf tees with the final score – Europe 18 1/2 , USA 9 1/2 – on the driving range in Ireland two weeks after the 2004 Ryder Cup, a playful jab at the Americans.

What they don’t see is the photo Poulter keeps on his mobile phone of a rundown Ford Fiesta.

“My blue rust bucket,” Poulter says proudly as he flips through the photos until he finds it. He bought the used car in 1995 with the meager earnings from winning a small-time tournament when he worked as an assistant pro.

Ian Poulter
Ian Poulter earned his first PGA Tour win at this year's Match Play. (Getty Images)
The car didn’t look like it could go very far. At the time, neither did Poulter, a 4 handicap when he turned pro.

But that’s why he keeps the picture. It’s a reminder of an amazing journey filled with defiance, determination and double portions of confidence, all of which helped him achieve so much with so little.

Poulter now goes to Augusta National as a serious candidate to win the Masters. He is coming off his first World Golf Championship title and is ranked in the top 10 in the world for the first time in his career.

Surprising? Not to him.

“When someone hasn’t been exposed to golf at a high level early on, it becomes a shock when someone does something,” Poulter said. “Eight-five percent of the top 50 in the world played college golf, the Walker Cup, good amateur golf. There’s a background story that has them jumping on the train and going on their way.

“That’s why it’s a surprise to people why I’ve gotten so far.”

At an age when his peers aspired to play in the Walker Cup or qualify for the British Open, Poulter, now 34, was putting new grips on clubs, changing spikes in soggy shoes, folding shirts in the pro shop and giving group lessons to juniors on the weekend. Between jobs, he watched Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros on TV, believing that could be him one day.

Poulter never doubted that. Not once.

“I didn’t know any differently,” he said. “I just felt that if I worked hard enough and practiced, then I would have a chance to get out on tour and win golf tournaments.”

Few others had reason to believe him. Some even discouraged him.

His teachers mocked him for bringing golf clubs to class so he could hit balls on the football field during recess. They said he was wasting his time. The club manager at Chesfield Downs didn’t make it easy, requiring Poulter to take holiday time to play in local tournaments.

One of those was the Panshanger Classic, where Poulter shot 66-66 and won 1,800 pounds (roughly $2,700 nowadays), money he used to buy his blue rust bucket. To prove a point, he took the trophy to the shop and set it on the counter for the club manager to see.

“I was not very politely asked to remove it,” Poulter said. “He came into work and says, ‘What’s that?’ I said, ‘I’ve just won the tournament.’ And he said, ‘You can just take it off the counter.’ I got a written warning for what I said to him, and I left a week later.”

Small wonder he is perceived as brash and cocky.

Justin Rose, one of his best friends in golf and his roommate during their days in the minor tours, recalls playing golf in South Africa not long after Poulter got his European Tour card for the first time.

“My brother remembers Ian saying, ‘Now that I’ve got my European Tour card, it’s going to be easy. I’ll probably win a couple of times.’ And my brother said, ‘I just played with you and I beat you.’ But that’s the way he is,” Rose said. “And it’s served him in good stead. Now he has the game to back up the confidence. And he’s always had the confidence.”

Geoff Ogilvy also remembers playing with Poulter before his rookie season in Europe. In some respects, Poulter hasn’t changed. He was brash and funny. But his golf? Ogilvy can’t believe the turnaround.

“His game was not where it is now,” Ogilvy said. “He had a lot going for him around the greens. From where he was then to now, he is the most improved player in the world. He was a 4 handicap when he turned pro. Most guys on tour were shooting 65 when they were 16.

“But his No. 1 attribute is belief,” Ogilvy said. “He’s not afraid. It’s almost like he’s very defiant.”

Poulter is known as much – if not more – for his clothes than anything he has done on the golf course. He famously wore trousers of the Union Jack flag in the 2004 British Open at Royal Troon. Another year, he wore pants with the claret jug down one side of the leg. Ballesteros looked at them and said, “That’s as close as he’ll get to the claret jug.”

Poulter is used to hearing doubts. It’s been that way his whole life.

“There are plenty of naturally talented, better golfers out there,” he said. “I just think mentally I might be stronger. And I’ve got a lot of self-belief in what I know I can do.”

What makes his rise so remarkable is that he had so few good experiences to carry him through the struggles.

It was nothing like Rose, who had a heralded amateur career and tied for fourth in the 1998 British Open at age 17. He turned pro, then missed 21 consecutive cuts.

“What got me through it was belief that I had to be good to have the amateur career I did, and if I worked hard, I could get back,” Rose said. “If I didn’t have that, I would have struggled.”

And what did Poulter rely on? Rose just shook his head.

“You see a lot of kids, and you almost want to say to them, ‘Listen guys, enough is enough. Move on,”’ Rose said. “It just shows you that sometimes that real determined streak … I mean, it’s amazing where Ian has come from.”

Poulter is more interested in where he’s going.

He caught plenty of grief from a magazine interview two years ago in which he said when he reaches his full potential, “it will be just me and Tiger.” It was a slap at the rest of the players, suggesting they didn’t have what it took to challenge the world’s No. 1. At the Match Play Championship that year, Woods passed Poulter walking out of the locker room and said, “Hey, No. 2.”

But Poulter is rarely embarrassed over his words, his clothing, his play.

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He has done a brilliant job marketing himself through his clothing, and he believes that in time, he will be known as much for his golf. A World Golf Championship certainly helps. A major championship would change everything.

“I would say a lot of people over time would probably see me as the golfer that has worked hard on his game,” he said. “Yet you’ve still got people who don’t watch a lot of golf that might think I’m cocky, arrogant, outspoken. I’ve heard it quite a lot. I see myself as someone who, from where I come from, always had the self-belief that I could achieve things in golf at a high level. And I’m now starting to achieve those goals.

“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “But I’ve always believed that. Always. And I always will believe that.”

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.