Sport Golf

Monday 19 February 2018

Poulter focuses on positives as Major window shortens

England's fiery Ryder Cup hero will never give up fight to break duck but insists he's already surpassed wildest dreams, writes Ewan Murray

Ian Poulter: ‘It would be nicer to be a multiple-Major winner . . . But it would be nice to be a Major winner’
Ian Poulter: ‘It would be nicer to be a multiple-Major winner . . . But it would be nice to be a Major winner’

Ewan Murray

Given the emergence of Ian Poulter as such an icon of the Ryder Cup, any conclusion of the Englishman's career without a Major championship would hardly provide serious damage to his reputation.

Poulter almost acknowledges as much. The mistake, though, would be any assumption that his hunger to succeed in one of golf's top events is less ravenous than ever.

"I know my window is getting shorter with every one I play," Poulter says. "You don't have to be a mathematician to work out that Rory McIlroy is going to have more chances at 25 than I am at 38. The clock is ticking. It would be nicer to be a multiple-Major winner than a Major winner. But it would be nice to be a Major winner, at the minute!

"If I look at what I have achieved in the game of golf, if I had to put the clubs away today I would be a happy man. At least I can sit down, have a beer with mum and dad and the kids and say: 'Wow, you know what? What an amazing career that has been'. I would be proud of my achievements.

"I would like to look at the trophy cabinet and see one of the four in there. But if it wasn't? It wouldn't bug me. I wouldn't sit there at night and cry. I would love to win one but is it make or break? No. I would still say right now that I have done a lot in the game."

Poulter's latest attempt begins on Thursday, at a US Open where the attritional nature of Pinehurst should suit his approach. "I like my chances. I like to think I will be going into the Majors this year having a chance. In the last five years I have had a run at a couple of Opens, I have had the lead at Augusta National, so I am tapping on the door without smashing at it. I am close. Things need to align themselves. You have got to perform well, need a little bit of the rub of the green at the right time and it will happen."

Poulter deserves the utmost respect, simply for pushing his talent and personality to the limit in order to succeed. A frustrating start to 2014 can be explained by back and shoulder problems he opted to play through. Even in the US, where there are golfing wounds over the Ryder Cup damage he caused at Medinah, Poulter gains nods of approval. "As painful as that 2012 defeat was for the US, they always respect a fighter," he says. "They respect someone who will go out there and give it absolutely everything."

And yet, there is personal sacrifice. Poulter is a father of four but spends more than half the year on tour.

"It is really difficult, that is the honest answer. The kids are 12, 10, five and two, there is a nice age gap there. It is becoming more difficult because you realise how quickly the 12 years have disappeared. In six years' time, she'll be off to college and out of home; that is scary.

"I have loved being a dad, loved being a family man and I have enjoyed all of that so much that the weeks away are painful. There is definitely a sacrifice. We are fortunate that we earn very good money but on the other end of it, if you look at it, I am envious and jealous of the people who have a nine to five job. They get to spend every day with their kids. I'm not sure people look past the money values to see what the dislocations mean on the other end. I wouldn't change it because I have provided for them in a way that I couldn't have ever dreamed of.

"We are all secure and have an incredible life. But it is really difficult, as husband-wife and mum-dad. As good as FaceTime is, they still expect you to walk through the front door. You see them cry when they see your suitcase packed because they have got to know what that means. It is really hard."

Later this year, Poulter will inevitably again be at the centre of the Ryder Cup. He refuses to concern himself too much with that for now, or the seeming certainty that he will be asked to captain Europe at some stage.

"I am 38, so that is a long way off," he says. "If [you were] asked one day then why wouldn't you? You would love to. I love the team atmosphere and I love the team sport. I guess once you are too old to be part of the team as a player then being a manager, being a captain, is the next level."

Further down the line, the team concept attached to golf's return to the Olympics appeals.

"I'm not sure there's any sportsman in the world who wouldn't want a gold medal. That's obviously still a little way off. If I am in the position to compete and I am there, then obviously I will give it as much as I can. To hold a gold medal in the Olympics would be pretty special.

"I wouldn't say it is the pinnacle in golf right now because it has just been put back in, but in years and decades to come, it might be perceived as the next big thing after the Majors. It is so early to tell how it will be received. And it is so difficult to fit into the calendar as well – the schedule around it is going to be chaotic. 2016 from July onwards is going to be crazy."

In the here and now, Poulter's eyes are firmly fixed on Pinehurst. If golf truly rewards those who best combine battling qualities with talent, the odds are in favour of that door being smashed down soon.


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