Exclusive: Ian Poulter reveals his Ryder Cup secrets

News & Tour

Mr Positive meets Mr Negative. Poulter is the postman who always delivers, Mark Townsend is the pessimist who invariably chokes. This is what happened when they met.

At a recent golf day Lee Westwood was asked who, out of all the greats in the game he has played alongside over a professional career that has spanned two decades and included eight Ryder Cup matches, was the most confident player he had ever encountered. 

The question had barely reached its conclusion before Westwood answered, with a chuckle, “Poulter, without a doubt”.

Ian Poulter hasn’t spent years training his brain, he just happens to be like he is. He doesn’t see problems, he sees opportunities. 

Delve a little deeper and he doesn’t rattle off banal statements about ‘one shot at a time’ or, even worse, ‘you can’t win it on Thursday but you (sure as hell) can lose it’ after a 71. 

Ahead of the 2010 Ryder Cup singles, he removed his headphones briefly to tell Sky’s Tim Barter that ‘I will deliver my point’. 

Taken slightly aback, he was asked to confirm what he had just said. 

The same five words were repeated.

He did win his point against Matt Kuchar – his team-mates now call him The Postman (because he always delivers) – by a margin of 5&4. 

It was his third straight point. He added four more without reply at Medinah as he heaved Europe, almost single-handedly over the first two days, over the line.

It is reassuring, even in the professional world, that he’s a one off. For this amateur, racked by self-doubt and insecurities, he is mildly terrifying. 

MT: Were you born positive?
IP: I guess I probably was but you can learn anything in life. I just think that if you need to believe anything it is that you are going to learn. If you have any doubt in that then it is hard to then have any trust and you will always be second-guessing yourself. Whether you see a sports psychologist or whoever, providing you commit to it and trust it then that’s OK.

MT: You don’t have a sports psychologist?
IP: No.
MT: Do you read books, like Rotella?
IP: I don’t no, nothing, never.
MT: So it all comes from inside?
IP: It’s a pure hatred to lose, I really want to win. I’m a full, never-say-never guy and if you fully believe that and have the commitment level to trust it then there’s no reason why somebody else is more qualified than you to be able to do it. So why shouldn’t you be able to achieve big things? Most people doubt themselves and that’s where the issue comes from.

MT: What’s the ideal start? Mine would be bogey to take away the pressure of a par or, worse still, birdie. (Looks confused). 
This sounds a bit alien to you doesn’t it?
IP: That is utter lunacy.
MT: Yes.
IP: (Exhales) I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous in all my life.
MT: I know.
IP: You are there to try and birdie every single hole on the golf course. That is it in a nutshell. Why should you be expecting to make bogey?
MT: To get in a comfort zone.
IP: No, that’s not a comfort zone. Opening up with a bogey would send me into a spiral of anger. The fact of making birdie is that you have done your job, if you haven’t done that then you shouldn’t be happy with yourself, you should be working hard to make a birdie on the 2nd. Making bogey should not be a relief to then start playing golf.

MT: My ideal outward nine would be four or five over, so there would be some signs of something good, and then to start scoring well. That seems to be how a lot of people that I know think.
IP: That’s not a good position to be in. I know exactly the type of player you are talking about. If that guy was four under on the front nine he would then crap himself and ruin his scorecard on the back nine – as opposed to the guy who shoots four under on the front nine and five under on the back nine.

MT: What about the tendency to protect your score?
IP: Why would anybody ever try to protect their score? 
MT: Because they’re scared.
IP: There is nothing to protect. What has just happened you have no way of fixing. Whether you are five under or five over the only thing you can keep doing is play the next shot. It is irrelevant if you have just made double bogey or eagle. If you are thinking about getting to the 18th to sign something then you are off your rocker.

MT: In the early days you must have thought about a possible winner’s speech 12 holes in?
IP: Yep. I don’t mind the fact of thinking about a winner’s speech as it shows you are confident and you obviously believe you can win. I wouldn’t be worried about the guys who are thinking about a speech.

MT: What about those of us who would think about it in a negative way?
IP: I’ve been there but you have to realise that everybody wants to be in your shoes if you are up there. Whatever you say, whether it is right or wrong, everybody still wants to be in your shoes.
I expect to hole every putt as long as it’s not something crazy. You should be at a level where you are always looking to hole every putt" MT: When amateurs hole a 20-footer we tend to say we had ‘a feeling’ that we were going to hole that. Presumably you have that feeling quite a lot?
IP: I expect to hole every putt as long as it’s not something crazy. You should be at a level where you are always looking to hole every putt.

MT: So you would never think about lagging a putt? How about a downhill 20-footer on the 13th at Augusta National?
IP: You are never thinking two putts but you are trying to make sure that you aren’t stressing yourself for an easy two putts, if that makes sense. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you have to hole a six or seven footer.

MT: Dave Pelz says a putt 17 inches past the hole is the optimum pace…
IP: I see it rolling in at a good speed and I’d be comfortable if it went three feet past the hole.

MT: If I hit some good drives and someone comments that I’m driving well, I then get it in my head that something bad is bound to happen. 
Do you ever… (looks even more confused than before) …this doesn’t happen to you does it? 
IP: No. I’m absolutely the opposite. If I have hit five great drives with that club then I want to hit it the rest of that day.

MT: Amateurs are affected a lot by their playing partners. Are you?
IP: Very rarely. Unless someone is being really annoying – which is so, so rare – then you really shouldn’t be affected by anyone.

MT: If they do, how do you stop yourself being irritated?
IP: If you are allowing that then it’s your fault. You don’t have to watch them hit a shot. 

MT: Do you always watch your opponent/playing partner?
IP: I do but you don’t have to. If you find yourself getting drawn in then don’t watch it.

MT: How long does it take you to forget a bad shot? I tend to let things linger for at least three holes, often more.
IP: That is very damaging. I am pretty instantaneous. I could be angry, not that I’m thinking about the shot still, but that would be gone by the time I am ready to hit my next shot. It has to leave. It can’t stay with you. 

MT: You and your caddy discuss every shot in great detail. How often do you go into a shot not 100 per cent certain of everything? 
IP: If I haven’t committed to a shot then we will discuss it but that doesn’t happen very often. 
It happens every now and then and that is a mindset fault, the wind might drop or pick up and you haven’t trusted it, and that will happen.

MT: Do you like to visualise shots?
IP: Every shot: full visuals. Drives, chips, putts, the whole lot. I pick a finishing distance and then a starting line so I visualise where I want the ball to land and a line right off the clubface.

MT: What if you have just hit a shank? 
IP: It doesn’t bother me. It is irrelevant. It is so close to the sweet spot that you shouldn’t change what you are already doing. 
What causes a shank is to come over the top and outside the swing plane so, providing you don’t do that, it won’t happen. Most people try and compensate and they hit another one. Their process after the first one isn’t good.

MT: At the Masters once you hit a couple in one round. How much did it play on your mind?
IP: It didn’t, it’s gone, it’s irrelevant. I had one at the 4th off the tee and one with my approach to the 15th where I was way out to the right and then still nearly made birdie.

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