One would have to visit a football ground rather than a golf course to discover the source of the inspiration behind Ian Poulter’s Ryder Cup love affair.
There are elements of Poulter’s make-up which 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 Jose Maria Olazabal 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,” says 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 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 adds. “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.”
Poulter may be an Arsenal supporter, but rejection by Tottenham Hotspur at the age of 14 was the first, key sporting knockback 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 explains. “There is nothing like being amongst 50,000 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 says. “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.
One of the great aspects of golf is the lack of a formulaic approach, technically or in the way players behave. Donald appears more introverted than Poulter but displayed admirable spirit in claiming Europe’s first Sunday point. Few can dispute that Donald is continually impressive in the way he goes about his work.
Rose produced critical Ryder Cup moments, holing birdie putts on the 17th and 18th holes against Phil Mickelson to trigger a result which had the Europeans believing, probably for the first time, that they could retain their trophy.
“On a personal level I need to take that forward and let it grow,” Rose explains. “The fact that my point meant something, it ended up being the best day I’ve ever had on a golf course. I was very happy with the way my match finished. If we were to have lost 14-13 I would have come away thinking we gave it a great run.”
Europe did more than that.