Ryder Cup star Ian Poulter opens up about his journey and experiences in golf’s greatest event
Ian Poulter lives and breathes the Ryder Cup.
His performances in the biennial match have defined his career and made him a hero for Europeans – and a villain for many Americans.
He’s been an integral part of Team Europe for nearly two decades and the star of many of the incredible moments that have lit up the event in that time.
The Englishman’s passion and energy inspire teammates and fans alike, and he always delivers when his continent needs him.
Here, ‘The Postman’ discusses his amazing journey in the Ryder Cup…
Why do you think you’ve performed so well in the Ryder Cup?
One of my biggest memories is going to the Ryder Cup as a 15-year-old and really loving what it meant from a fan perspective.
Being a kid who loved sport, and team sport, I absolutely loved the team atmosphere.
I just said to myself ‘I need to make this Ryder Cup team, I want to be a Ryder Cup player, I want to be inside the ropes. I don’t want to be watching it from outside. I want to make it something I enjoy, I love, and I do to the best of my ability’.
That’s really how I look back upon what took me to wanting to be a Ryder Cup player.
Your first match was a fourball alongside Darren Clarke against Tiger Woods and Chris Riley in 2004. What was it like starting off against Tiger in America?
I was extremely nervous.
Bernhard Langer asking us to sit out the Friday was difficult and just built the anxiety, so when it was time to go and play, it happened to be against Tiger and Chris.
Obviously that was going to be a very tough match for me.
The buzz was incredible – I’ve never felt that much excitement ever before.
Even losing that match, in some respects it was actually a blessing.
It made me more hungry and fired me up even more to be able to go out and make sure I don’t lose many more matches.
You were a captain’s pick in 2008 (and 2012, 2014, 2018 and 2021). Does it feel different to when you qualify automatically?
You feel like you owe it to the captain.
He’s given you the nod, he wants you to come and play for a reason.
You feel indebted that you need to be able to deliver on what he’s asked you to do.
It’s a very difficult position to be in, but you kind of forget about it once you’re there and get into the mindset of taking every hole as it comes and every match as it comes.
I’ve had some great play in those Ryder Cups to give those captains a bit of payback for inviting me to play.
You had three different partners in 2010. Why do you think you’ve been paired with so many different players through the years?
Every Ryder Cup you get asked who you’d like to play with and who you don’t want to play with, because you can’t possibly get on with everyone.
But I’m the type of guy, in a team environment and atmosphere, if the captain needs me to go and play with somebody then I’m going to go and play with them.
For me, it’s more about being a team member and team player.
I know a couple of players who have kept their partners very much the same throughout, but I feel I’ve got myself in a position where if I’m asked, I’m happy to even take someone under my wing if it might be their first run-out in a Ryder Cup.
I’m comfortable in that situation.
I want to help out and do everything in my power to put a point on the board.
Do you think your role in the Miracle at Medinah is the defining moment of your career?
It has to be one of the moments.
I’m in my office now talking to you and on a mannequin happens to be the Saturday afternoon outfit that was gifted to us by Olazabal.
I’ll probably be more known for that Saturday afternoon match than anything else I’ve done in golf.
What are your memories of that incredible Sunday?
I remember chipping in on the 1st for birdie and I think Webb Simpson actually rolled a putt in for birdie as well.
Then I remember I was struggling for six or seven holes – I literally had no energy.
Not that I was deflated, I just felt that I spent so much energy on the Saturday that I didn’t have an awful lot left on Sunday.
I got a new lease of life on the par-3 8th when Simpson shanked it.
I knew at that point I had an opportunity to stamp some authority down. And that’s exactly what happened.
We got that boost early on Sunday afternoon, we saw the board go very blue in those first four matches.
Because of that, it was fully game on at that point.
We turned that whole tide around from Saturday to the first four or five matches on Sunday, and we were really in a strong position.
Once I got the job done, it was like where do I go now, who do I support, which buggy do I jump on?
Once I got done with my match the nerves started, because I wasn’t in any control at all over what the outcome was going to be from that point on.
I was like an absolute nervous wreck.
What did you learn from being a vice-captain in 2016?
It was great.
Any time you have the opportunity to learn a bit more about what the Ryder Cup is from behind the scenes, it’s always fascinating.
It was a very different dynamic, really turning into a support role.
What do you want me to do? Who can I help? Who do you want me to go and talk to? Who do you want me to gee up? Who needs a cup of tea?
Your whole mindset changes from being in that situation.
I’ve enjoyed being on that other side.
There’s something very rewarding about being able to help in a support role for those players who know you very well, and you feel like you can help them out.
What did it mean to you to be back in the team in Paris?
It was a massive honour and privilege.
It was emotionally draining because it had been a few years since playing one.
What a Ryder Cup it was.
Seven-thousand fans were seated around the first tee and you probably had 12,000 more fans lining each side of the fairway, so the amphitheatre Paris National gave us from a spectator point of view was one of the best we’ve seen in a Ryder Cup.
The course lent itself to us, and Thomas Bjorn had it set up in a way that we would feel very comfortable and it might intimidate the US team, which it did.
It clearly rattled them and they were on the back foot pretty early on.
How do you feel your role and stature in the team room has evolved over the years?
Obviously, my first one in Detroit, Darren put his arm around me to take me into the arena, as such.
I’ve felt that I’ve been that person to be leant on at times and for me to be able to put my arm around somebody.
There’s been a wonderful transition of coming out of a rookie Ryder Cup into a player who plays very well in the Ryder Cup and has got a lot of points.
Even though my world ranking isn’t as strong as a lot of other players on the team, I feel like I bring energy to the team and a different dynamic.
Everybody’s personality inside that team room is very different, and you can’t have 12 people all the same because it just wouldn’t work.
You need a blend to create a great team.
How much satisfaction does it give you to be unbeaten in six singles matches?
The Ryder Cup has become such a big part of my life that I just love every moment of it.
Being that pain in the ass to the opposition has been great.
If I think back to a number of years ago, where perhaps people saw me as somebody they could dislike, hopefully they’ve understood in the last number of years that it’s not done with any malice or hatred, it’s done purely for the passion and love of competing in a team environment.
That’s what gets me excited.
What would it mean to you to be Ryder Cup captain one day?
It would be an incredible honour. It would be very emotional.
To have seen Seve, Olazabal, Faldo, Monty, Woosie and all the guys you’ve looked up to and respected through the years and have gone on to be Ryder Cup captains, to think one day you would be given that opportunity would be a pretty amazing honour.
Would you swap all your Ryder Cup success for a Major victory?
Nope. Nope. Nope.
I’m very happy and content. I’ve had a great career.
I still think I’ve got some value to add, but I wouldn’t change any of what’s happened.
I wouldn’t take anything back to swap it for anything.