London: Ian Poulter won’t reveal the exact words Europe’s Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal spoke to him in the aftermath of the miracle at Medinah. But he is sure they’re going to act as inspiration as he seeks to pull off the amazing at Augusta.
“When it comes to self-belief, as you well know, the tank was pretty full before Medinah,” said the irrepressible Poulter. “But what happened that week and what Jose said to me just meant the tank got an awful lot bigger.
“I think people would expect what happened at that Ryder Cup to help when it comes to winning majors, but I believe that it helped more than people think.
“As for what Jose said, that just finished everything off for me. It was a private conversation so it wouldn’t be fair to talk publicly about it. Let’s just say, it was about ability and the art of performing under pressure, and when a double Masters champion and someone who played with so many of the greats says it to you, it just makes you want to go out there and get your hands on one of these majors.”
With victories on five continents, two World Golf Championship titles and being unquestionably the greatest Ryder Cup player of his generation, what else is left for the 37-year-old?
Twenty years ago, he was a not-so-promising assistant pro, watching his idol Seve Ballesteros win the Masters for the second time on television. Now it is Seve’s best friend Olazabal who should be Poulter’s guiding light this week, and not just for his rousing words. In deed as well, for the Spaniard won two green jackets in exactly the manner the Englishman can win one.
If you had to pick one player from the recent past who Poulter most resembles, it might be the man from the small Basque fishing village of San Sebastian.
Olazabal couldn’t live with the longest drivers of the ball such as Greg Norman, but beat them all with his short game and sheer indefatigability. Sound familiar?
Back home at Lake Nona in Florida last week, Poulter was bringing a surgeon’s precision to his practice routine.
The second shot at the 10th at Augusta is always played off a downhill, sidehill lie, and so he practised that one for a couple of hours.
The second shot to the 13th calls for an uphill, sidehill lie, so he worked on that one for a couple of hours, too. Most of the time, though, was spent on distance control from 100 yards in — you really do have to land the ball on a space not much bigger than a hand towel to prevail at Augusta — and shots on and around the greens.
“One of the many reasons to love going there is we know exactly what to expect and what to work on in the build-up,” Poulter said.
“For this year’s US Open at Merion, I wouldn’t know what the first hole looked like at the minute, but for the Masters, you get used to the place and I feel really comfortable there. I love the questions it asks, the shotmaking skills needed, and the feats of imagination required in trying to put the ball in the right spot.”
There are many great stories that could be written at Augusta this week. But, come Sunday afternoon, wouldn’t it be something special if the miracle at Medinah has given way to the marvel at the Masters?