We were four points down but when I walked into the locker room everyone was singing… One Ian Poulter, there's only one Ian Poulter
21:29 GMT, 6 October 2012
When a weary but elated Ian Poulter walked into the Medinah Country Club locker room with playing partner Rory McIlroy at the end of a Saturday that left Europe’s Ryder Cup hopes in shreds, he was greeted by the most unexpected sound. As a man, the European team were singing: ‘One Ian Poulter, there’s only one Ian Poulter’.
And it was in that sublime moment that Poulter says he realised that, even with the Americans taking a 10-6 lead into the final day, Europe’s hopes of clinging on to the famous old trophy were far from over.
Poulter’s birdie on the 18th hole had claimed a precious point for a team that had been staring into the abyss for almost two days. More than that, though, the way he had strung together five successive birdies — casting his partner, the world No 1 golfer, into the shade — had given the Europeans the self-belief they needed to go out the next day and complete one of sport’s greatest comebacks.
‘We were four points behind but it didn’t feel like that,’ said Poulter last week as he looked back at the Miracle of Medinah. ‘The atmosphere within the team had been turned on its head. For two days, it had felt like a morgue, but now we had a glimmer of hope.’
Champagne moment: Ian Poulter,back at his Florida home, toasts Europe's Ryder Cup victory
/10/06/article-0-1549429F000005DC-258_634x424.jpg” width=”634″ height=”424″ alt=”Cheerleader: Poulter leads the celebrations after a remarkable turnaround at Medinah” class=”blkBorder” />
Cheerleader: Poulter leads the celebrations after a remarkable turnaround at Medinah
‘I knew going into the Ryder Cup that they wanted to shut me up. They don’t like my outlandish behaviour, my fist-pumping. But you know what It’s the Ryder Cup and that’s the passion I have seen from the competition over the years. I have the right to do my job and I’ll do it to the best of my ability. Sure as hell, I’m going to celebrate a putt. I’m sorry, but that’s me enjoying the moment, enjoying the atmosphere.
‘I have massive respect for all their players; these are guys I play against week in, week out and they’re among the best in the world. But in Ryder Cup week I don’t want to talk to them. It means too much.
‘There’s no malice in anything I have ever done in the Ryder Cup. I’ve done nothing that I feel guilty about. I have simply gone out there and played my heart out. I’ve won my matches and I have a fantastic record that I’m damn proud of. And if they don’t like me for that, well, I’ll still sleep pretty good tonight.’
Poulter’s passion for the Ryder Cup was matched by the emotional side of Jose Maria Olazabal’s captaincy, which brought with it the echoes of his great friend, the late Seve Ballesteros.
‘Jose spoke to us for about 15 minutes at our hotel on the Wednesday about what it would mean to him to take home — he used that word — the Ryder Cup,’ recalled Poulter. ‘/10/06/article-0-154C3CA5000005DC-913_634x426.jpg” width=”634″ height=”426″ alt=”Team effort: Europe's golfers and skipper Jose Maria Olazabal pose after one of sport's great comebacks” class=”blkBorder” />
Team effort: Europe's golfers and skipper Jose Maria Olazabal pose after one of sport's great comebacks
‘He reminded us what it would mean to Seve and that we should play with pride and try to put our hands back on the trophy. At the end, we were going to the gala dinner by coach and Jose asked if we would like him to put on a video of past Ryder Cups for the journey. Paul Lawrie suddenly spoke out, “God damn, man, I’m 43 and I can’t cope with this. I need some tissues…”
‘It was one of those defining moments, everyone started laughing. It was so funny for Paul, who’s such a quiet man, to say that. But it was what everyone was feeling. Everyone needed to catch their breath. But we knew then that we really had to do it for Jose.’
And so they did, making the scoreboard a sea of blue on the final day as American expectations of a rout were turned on their head. Poulter reveals that, when it was all over and the ritual handshakes had been observed, the two teams went their separate ways without sharing a traditional beer on Sunday night. It was, apparently, the decision of the Americans not to socialise.
‘Obviously, one side is elated and the other is completely depressed,’ he said. ‘We normally get together for a drink afterwards. But it didn’t happen, which was a shame. We played incredible golf against one another, some of the best I have ever seen. We were outplayed for two days, but we played them off the park on Sunday. The Americans were very upset, very emotional on the back of the 18th green. There weren’t many who had a dry eye.’
US captain Davis Love III did venture into the European team room to congratulate Olazabal and his players, as did a number of the team’s wives. But the American players kept their distance.
On the charge: Poulter tees off on the 18th before beating Webb Simpson in the singles
Poulter appreciates how they must have felt. Although he has now been on three victorious Ryder Cup teams, winning 12 matches and losing just three, he was a member of the only European team that has lost this century, at Valhalla, in 2008. ‘It hurts to lose,’ he said. ‘I know how badly they have taken this defeat and it’s going to stay with them for a while.’
Had any of the American players been here on Thursday morning, they would have seen an altogether different Poulter from the one who has become their Ryder Cup nemesis. Poulter and his wife, Katie, who have four children, were guests as the Governor of Florida, Rick Scott, performed the dedication ceremony at the new, $400million Nemours Children’s Hospital, close to their home. Poulter raised $104,000 by hosting a charity golf day, and a fourth-floor waiting room area there has been named in honour of ‘Ian and Katie and the Poulter Family’.
Katie was a nurse before having their children, Aimee-Leigh, now 10, eight-year-old Luke, three-year-old Lilly, and baby Joshua, just eight months old. ‘We have four healthy children, so if it’s possible to do anything for poorly kids then you are going to do it,’ said Poulter. ‘We’ll run the charity day next year.’
Poulter first bought a property in Florida four years ago but he had rented one for nine years before that. ‘I like the lifestyle, I have great practice facilities at Lake Nona and it’s almost always sunny!’ he said.
He has worked hard for all he has achieved. He recalls how, as a penniless assistant golf professional in Hertfordshire, he stayed in a tent with two friends in a field two miles from The Belfry to watch the 1993 Ryder Cup.
‘We were eating tinned food and a little old lady used to let us go and wash at her house each night,’ he said. ‘She felt sorry for us and gave us a bottle of wine as well.
Passion: Poulter, Graeme McDowell and Justin Rose lead the fans in chorus
‘The atmosphere was electric. I was hooked from the start. I watched Davis Love play Colin Montgomerie, but it was too dark for them to finish, so they walked in after the 17th. I ran under the ropes and rushed up to Monty, and said, “Colin, can I have your golf ball, please” I was a cheeky 17-year-old!’
The ball he begged from Montgomerie is displayed at his home alongside his trophies and other memorabilia, including his hotel key from his first Ryder Cup, in 2004. ‘From staying in a tent to nicking my room key, I think you can safely say I’m addicted to the Ryder Cup,’ he said, smiling. ‘I keep absolutely everything. This is my story, this is my life.’
If one moment encapsulated Poulter’s willingness to play the Americans at their own game, it was his behaviour on the first tee last Saturday, when he followed Watson’s lead in orchestrating the crowd into a frenzy. Predictably, the crowd bayed at Poulter like a mob. Poulter turned to his playing partner Justin Rose and said: ‘Sorry, mate, but I had to do it.’
Poulter chuckled at the memory. ‘Justin usually controls himself really well, but he looked at me, sighed and said, “I don’t know what your heart-rate was like, but mine was going mad”. Actually, my heart was thumping so much I could hear it. But it was the only way, it had to be done.’
One by one, Donald, McIlroy, Lawrie, Westwood and others brought home points until Martin Kaymer holed the putt that retained the Ryder Cup, and Francesco Molinari claimed a half with Tiger Woods that won the trophy outright.
‘Winning it for the team, for Jose, for Europe meant absolutely everything,’ said Poulter. ‘I still can’t properly comprehend what we did.’
Pertinently, nor can the American team who failed to silence him, or beat him, over three truly memorable days at Medinah.