Sport

Ian Poulter's success smells like team spirit

Ewan Murray

One would have to visit a football ground rather than a golf course to discover the source of the inspiration behind Poulter's Ryder Cup love affair.

Ian Poulter with the Ryder Cup. (Mike Blake, Reuters)

There are elements in Poulter's make-up that are hardly in keeping with golf's occasionally stuffy history. The Englishman adores engaging with crowds, loves their roar and quite clearly revels in being part of a team.

That final point was proved once again by his record of four wins from four matches at Medinah. If José Maria Olazábal was the mastermind of Europe's success and Seve Ballesteros the inspiration, Poulter was the on-course icon – and not for the first time.

"I loved them," said Poulter of team sports in his youth. "Growing up I wanted to be a footballer, but that didn't happen. My next best sport was golf and it proved a good move, to be honest. To be part of a team is very special."

Poulter is not alone in feeling that. Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Justin Rose are fellow Englishmen who have failed to win a major championship but consistently produce in the Ryder Cup. That contrasts with the United States; Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson currently hold majors but were on the losing side in Medinah. Are Europeans simply better at stepping out of golf's routinely individual format?

It would be an exaggeration to claim Poulter has never cared about the prospect of his career passing without winning a major. Nonetheless, he regards a formidable Ryder Cup record as a decent substitute. "These might be my majors and that's fine," Poulter added. "If they are, if this is it, I'm a happy man. I've got more pride and passion to play in the Ryder Cup than I have to win a major. I want to win a major, don't get me wrong, I'd like to win all of them. I've been close and, who knows, Sunday at Medinah might be that little changing factor to get me over that line.

"But if I don't win another golf tournament from here, this will go down as the highlight of my golfing career."

Knock-back
Poulter may be an Arsenal supporter, but rejection by Tottenham Hotspur at the age of 14 was the first, key sporting knock-back of his life. That point is entirely pertinent when Poulter's golfing style is taken into account: he specialises in ­making the most of his talent and defying the odds with a fearsome mental approach.

"I was such a big football fan, I had that love of the game for so long, I miss the buzz, I miss going in the crowd and being a football fan," the 36-year-old said. "There is nothing like being among 50000 people all cheering on your team. I now know what it is like to be inside those ropes, making those guys go nuts. It's truly inspiring.

"I do miss my football but it's for the best. I am able to appreciate the passion of a Ryder Cup, because it didn't work out for me in football."

Poulter's nature rendered him an obvious target for the American galleries. "It was difficult, you're on their soil, they're going to be passionate towards their team," Poulter said. "The only way to silence a crowd is to hit good golf shots and that is what happened."

The point Poulter won alongside Rory McIlroy in Saturday's fourballs was vital in the context of the 39th Ryder Cup. A day later he recovered from two down after six holes to defeat Webb Simpson. Hours later Poulter was the disc jockey in the midst of the European side's hotel celebrations. – © Guardian News & Media 2012

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