IAN Poulter, Europe’s Ryder Cup talisman, made a frantic 9,000-mile dash from Florida to Hong Kong last night after being faced with the embarrassment of leaving himself ineligible for next year’s match at Hazeltine.
After slipping out of the world’s top 50 in the latest rankings issued on Monday – he dropped from 46th to 51st – the Englishman suddenly found he’d not qualified for the upcoming WGC-HSBC Champions event in Shanghai.
He would therefore be unable to play the 13 events required for European Tour membership. Only members can qualify for Europe’s Ryder Cup team and, fortunately for Poulter, he was able to secure an 11th-hour invitation into the Hong Kong event, the final regular one of the season before the lucrative Final Series, starting at Fanling tomorrow thanks to an American.
Rich Beem, the former US PGA champion who now does some commentary work for Sky Sports, had been due to play in the tournament, but, on learning of Poulter’s predicament, he agreed to step aside to let the 37-year-old fulfil his membership obligations.
“That’s what you call cutting it fine, passports arrived 7:15am, taking off at 9am to make flight to Hong Kong,” said Poulter in posting a picture on his Twitter account of a FedEx parcel. Revealing his enormous debt of gratitude to Beem, he added: “Thanks to @beemerpga for giving up his invitation to allow me to play in Hong Kong. Where would you like me to take you for dinner?”
Poulter, of course, inspired Europe’s “Miracle at Medinah” fightback on the outskirts of Chicago in 2012 when he birdied each of the last five holes in the Saturday afternoon fourballs.
He was unable to reproduce those heroics after needing one of Paul McGinley’s wildcards for last year’s match at Gleneagles but still made a contribution in helping the home team to a 16½-11½ victory.
With the likes of Englishman Andy Sullivan, now a three-times winner on the European Tour this season, and Dane Thorbjorn Olesen having laid down early markers in the battle for spots in the side for Hazeltine, Poulter is far from certain to make his sixth appearance in the event.
However, European captain Darren Clarke will be pleased nonetheless to still have him in the running as the battle for spots prepares to hot up in the four events that make up the Final Series, starting in Turkey next week.