He’s back where he belongs in a Ryder Cup. Not in the shadows as a vice captain, as was the case at Hazeltine two years ago. Centre stage is where Ian Poulter thrives in this event and that’s where he is aiming to shine once again for Europe.
In truth, the Englishman wasn’t firing on all cylinders when he partnered the local hero, Stephen Gallacher, in the opening sesssion at Gleneagles in 2014 and was then overshadowed for the remainder of that contest by the likes of Justin Rose. He then had to settle for being one of Darren Clarke’s assistants in Minnesota after an agonising arthritic toe sidelined him for five months.
There seemed little hope of Poulter hauling himself back in the frame for this contest when he lost his PGA Tour card in April last year but, after being handed an unexpected reprieve, it has been onwards and upwards for one of the game’s most charismatic characters.
Helped by a win on the US circuit this season, the 42-year-old deservedly secured one of Thomas Bjorn’s four wildcards and, boy, did Poulter bound into the media centre at Le Golf National with a spring in his step, declaring that he is more excited for this week’s match than on his debut at Oakland Hills in 2004.
“I guess when you are at the low of lows – and that wasn’t that long ago – there is a little voice in the back of your head that says ‘You might not get back to as good as you were’,” said the Florida-based player. “But I was at a PGA dinner December 2016, and I was asked a question on stage: What’s left for me in golf? And you know, I answered ‘I feel I’ve got more wins in me’. And I said then, ‘I’m going to make the team in Paris’.
“That’s been a goal for the last 18-20 months. It’s been something which has kept me going from a motivational standpoint. It was difficult being vice captain last time, knowing how much I’ve helped the team in the past and I wanted to help the team in any way I could.
“So, while vice captain was a great role, I felt this time around that I really wanted to make the team. I felt if I work hard, if I refocus properly, restructure things then I definitely could make this team, which I have. So I’m pretty proud.”
The smile on Poulter’s face said it all when he was asked if he planned to enjoy the atmosphere this week just in case it’s his last appearance against the Americans on home soil. “It won’t be,” he replied, quickly. “I would like to think I’ve got more in me, I’ll say that. I really do.
“I think how I’ve played this year is hopefully the start of me kicking forward again to play in some more. The reason I answered it that way is that I don’t want to think that this is my last hurrah. I would like to be part of Team Europe moving forward, and I would like to play some more.”
A straw poll of the 2012 US team at Medinah, where Poulter famously provided the inspiration for Europe’s record-equalling last-day fight, unanimously voted him the opponent they least wanted to lose to came as no surprise at all to him.
“Funny, that,” he said, laughing, before adding: “I take it as a huge compliment. It’s a daunting position to be in to know that everyone really wants to take you down but, quite frankly, I want to take them down just as much. That’s why this week is so special.
“You can be friends week-in, week-out – good friends – but when it comes to the Ryder Cup, there’s something extra special there, and it means so much to want to win and have to win.”