Poulter ready to answer his critics

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Ryder CupLOUISVILLE, Ky. ' Forget the outrageous wardrobe, the gelled-up hair, the hilarious impersonations. At this Ryder Cup, Ian Poulter will be judged solely on what he does with his clubs.
 
Hit a bunch of errant shots? That would surely give credence to those who already consider Poulter to be the Lehman Brothers of the European portfolio.
 
Sink a bunch of clutch putts? Poulter could giddily tell all his critics to go jump in one of those lakes at Valhalla Golf Club.
 
Certainly, no one is under more scrutiny in bluegrass country than the flamboyant Englishman.
 
Ian Poulter
Ian Poulter practices Wednesday at Valhalla. (Getty Images)
Ill bring flair, Ill bring excitement, and Ill bring passion, Poulter said Wednesday, hardly backing down from the challenge. Ill do my bit for the team this week. Im really looking forward to it.
 
Poulter is one of the most unlikely members of either team, chosen by European captain Nick Faldo with one of his two discretionary picks.
 
The media on the other side of the Atlantic tore into Faldo, claiming the captain passed over the most deserving Darren Clarke because of his friendship with Poulter. Even the American captain, Paul Azinger, was stunned that Clarke was left off the team.
 
The fact that Poulter skipped his final chance to qualify automatically, choosing to play in a big-money FedExCup tournament in Boston rather than a European Tour event in Scotland, only fueled speculation that Faldo had guaranteed his buddy a spot on the team no matter where he played.
 
Colin Montgomerie, a longtime stalwart of the European team who didnt get selected this year, either, sarcastically asked if Poulter had a hot line to the captain that no one else possessed. Poulter lashed back, swearing that he didnt know he was on the team until Faldo called him just before the official announcement.
 
I was gobsmacked, to be honest, Poulter said. That was a difficult week. I didnt know which way the phone call was going to go and I was waiting in anticipation all morning until I got it. Yeah, I was very, very, relieved.
 
Now that hes here, Poulter does seem more at ease, though he sure looked out of place wearing the earth-toned outfit the Europeans picked out for Wednesdays practice round.
 
As he walked away from the 12th tee, someone more accustomed to seeing Poulter wearing flashier colors yelled out, Hey, Ian, wish you were wearing pink today?
 
I am wearing pink, Poulter replied with the timing of a standup comedian. You just cant see it.
 
That brought out plenty of laughter from the gallery.
 
But Poulters record is a more serious matter.
 
Other than a runner-up finish in the British Open ' his best showing in a major ' this has been a largely forgettable year. Splitting time between the PGA and Europeans tours, he hasnt finished higher than ninth in any other event. He didnt even make the cut in his last two tournaments.
 
As for Ryder Cup experience, thats largely nil as well. Poulters only other appearance was at Oakland Hills in 2004, where he split his two matches and spent most of the time cheering on the Europeans to their most dominating win on American soil.
 
So whats he doing on the team this time around? Why not Clarke, who was on the last five Ryder Cup teams and had won twice in the past four months on the European Tour?
 
Faldo was clearly impressed by Poulters showing in the pressure cooker of Royal Birkdale, where he actually pulled into a tie for the final-round lead before Padraig Harrington pulled away with brilliant shots down the stretch.
 
How I played, certainly in the Open, was a big factor, Poulter said. To play like I did, as well as I did down the back nine, that must have been a factor in him making the decision.
 
Poulter also takes issue with those who question his overall record, saying hes actually had a very, very solid year.
 
Its kind of been one of those ones where I havent finished a lot off, he said. I kind of got into a nice mind-set in the Open. I was very, very focused, and I was able to ride that focus and keep it going for four rounds. Its something I havent done for all four rounds this year. It was nice to do it.
 
One of Poulters teammates, Justin Rose, believes Poulter will feed off the criticism.
 
Ians the kind of guy that can take care of himself, said Rose, who could find himself paired with his fellow Englishman when play starts on Friday. When hes got a point to prove, he normally goes out there and does it.
 
Poulter said hes had a chance to talk with Clarke and smooth over any hard feelings.
 
He was very supportive, Poulter said. Hes obviously very disappointed with not making the side. But Darren said, You know, Im very pleased that youve made the side and youre a very worthy player of making that side. Thats the type of guy Darren is. Hes obviously taken it personally. Hes very disappointed. But on the other hand, hes pleased for me.
 
Poulter said theres no lingering bitterness in the locker room, either.
 
Maybe hell even get a chance to break out his apparently dead-on impersonation of a character from the old British sitcom Only Fools and Horses, the one that prompted Faldo to quip in the call to let him know he was on the team, Raquel, go and put your overcoat on, its time to go to the Ryder Cup.
 
The guys have been great, Poulter said. Everybody on the team is united.
 
At the 11th hole Wednesday, he stood over a 20-foot putt just as Faldo pulled up in a cart to check out the group.
 
Poulter rolled it right in the center of the cup.
 
Now, hes just got to do it when it counts.
 
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