Sport Golf

Sunday 17 December 2017

Poulter must follow path laid down by Donald

Karl MacGinty

NEW world No 1 Luke Donald deserves huge credit for fearlessly facing up to the issues that held him back and correcting them.

Now, Ian Poulter must do the same.

Poulter may not be as naturally gifted as Donald, but he's blessed with irrepressible spirit and, at times, a near-infallible putter; as he showed last week when overcoming his fellow Englishman in the Volvo World Match Play final in Spain.

And as he proved at the Ryder Cup in 2008, by winning the 2010 Accenture Match Play in Tucson and as Europe's leader in the field against the US in Wales last year, nobody's tougher than Poulter when it's mano-a-mano.

The days when he was most famous for his garish fashion sense are long gone and now Poulter's golf makes the headlines, usually for the right reasons. Yet last Friday, a serious chink in Poulter's armour was once again exposed as he lambasted the Ernie Els revamp of Wentworth, saying the West Course had become "too difficult", "unfair" and was no longer "fun to play".

"I don't like this golf course, end of story," said Poulter, whose mood wasn't helped by a double-bogey seven moments earlier at 18, where his ball rolled off the putting surface and into the 'stream' that now guards the green. He shot 74 that day and, after closing with a level-par 71 on Sunday, finished tied- 18th in the BMW PGA on two-over par, eight away from the play-off.

It's not the first time this season he has railed against the design of a tournament course. On the eve of the Volvo Champions in Bahrain, he was scathing in his criticism of the Royal Golf Club's crazily contoured greens, saying they were almost impossible to play.

As ever in golf, this would become a self-fulfilling prophecy as Poulter racked up a calamitous 35 putts in a first-round 72. Though usually aggressive on the green, Poulter left a succession of putts short of the cup that day. He gave his all but, judging by our brief chat in the media centre the previous day, the Englishman had convinced himself he couldn't putt well on those greens before a ball had been struck in anger.

Poulter's tirade at Wentworth last Friday angered Els, who said: "When a guy blames the golf course for his bad shots, I don't take that lightly. We'll have a word when it is suitable, when Ian's calmed down a little bit, and maybe reflects on the week, because his comments have done a lot of damage to the flagship event ... I'm not going to take this craziness, it's uncalled for."

Yet Poulter does more damage to himself by letting golf courses get to him. There's no such thing as 'unfair' in this game. "As long as you come into the tournament knowing it's going to be tough and you play with that mindset, you shouldn't have any grumbles," Donald said.

The 'new' Wentworth presents a challenge befitting a championship that the European Tour hopes will rival America's Players Championship at Sawgrass as the notional 'fifth Major' and that philosophy worked out when the world's No 1 and No 2 made it to sudden death on Sunday.

Two years ago, an American journalist created the wounding term 'Luke Donald Disease of Underachievement' for a phenomenon in which golfers are satisfied with winning few cups, but pots of money.

Last Sunday, as he added Europe's greatest prize to the 2011 Accenture Match Play title and brought his tally of top-10 finishes to 14 out of the last 15 tournaments, Donald displayed the perfect balance of ambition and ability. There have been many changes in his life. Becoming a father to Elle last year, was hugely significant, Donald says.

Linking up last summer with David Alred, the 'motivational coach' who counts Jonny Wilkinson and Ronan O'Gara among his most prominent rugby clients, has been hugely significant. "Dave's already been a great influence, but I've a great team around me," he said. "My coach (at college in Chicago), Pat Goss has been with me for 14 years, John McLaren has been on the bag for 18 months and I've a great team working on my fitness."

Yet Donald is at last fulfilling his potential because he's so much tougher mentally than before. It's an area Poulter needs to explore.

Irish Independent

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