By Mitch Phillips
PARIS (Reuters) – In the 91-year history of the Ryder Cup, through decades of total American domination, the man with the highest percentage record is neither Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus nor 37-match Billy Casper. It is Europe’s Ian Poulter.
Of all the players to have participated in a minimum of 15 matches, Poulter’s win percentage of 72.22 — from 12 victories, two halves and four defeats — is the best of the lot.
His exceptional record has helped capture four of the five Ryder Cups he has played in, the Briton winning four singles matches while halving the other, and emerging victorious in eight of his 13 pairs matches.
Blended in to those remarkable figures is the less quantifiable but arguably equally vital energy and confidence he brings to the team.
Poulter’s image is of the chest-thumping, roaring celebrations and exhortations so beloved by team mates and home fans yet so hated by rivals that he is routinely named as the player the Americans most want to beat.
All that comes from someone who has never won a major and whose individual achievements pale in comparison to many of those lining up alongside and against him in Paris this week as Europe seek to win back the trophy.
“It’s different,” Poulter said with a shrug on Tuesday when asked to sum up what makes the biennial event so meaningful and why it brings out the best from him.
“The Ryder Cup, there’s something extra special there, and it means so much to want to win and have to win,” the 42-year-old added.
“Walking to the first tee at Augusta, walking to the first tee at St Andrews, walking to the first tee in The Ryder Cup is that different. That’s very hard to explain to someone who hasn’t had to hit that tee shot before.”
With a monster 270,000 fans expected over three days of competition and huge football-style stands surrounding the key holes, the atmosphere and noise levels will be off the charts.
Some players, particularly rookies schooled on the “quiet please” routine of the regular tour, will find it intimidating.
Poulter feeds off it.
“It’s going to be loud this week, and obviously home support here I think is a huge factor in this, and it’s why we have been successful for so long in Europe,” the Englishman said in reference to Europe’s unbeaten home run since 1993.
“When you look at the stand on the first hole (which holds 6,500) or when you look around, it’s a perfect golf course to surround every hole with a lot of people.
“On home soil, there’s definitely help, to get behind your team is a big part of trying to win that trophy.”
Poulter served as a vice-captain two years ago after being ruled out with a foot injury and needed a wild card to make this year’s team but, whatever his form through the season, that selection would have been the easiest decision of captain Thomas Bjorn’s life.
And while his presence acts as a huge lift for the home team, Poulter is undoubtedly the potential opponent at the top of nearly every American’s wish list.
“I take that as a huge compliment,” he said. “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.”
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips; Editing by John O’Brien)