Eight years ago, a twig of a Brit with a cockney accent walked into my office at La Costa. The young man with spiky blonde hair claimed to be a professional on the European Tour and just wanted to have a look at the course under tournament conditions. It was the week of the 2002 World Golf Championships—Accenture Match Play, and he wasn’t high enough in the World Ranking to qualify for the event. In fact, he was so unknown to the American golf scene that we asked for identification when he requested a credential.
He turned to leave with pass in hand, opened the door to find a torrential downpour, and changed his mind. “Can I join you, then?”
And, with that, Ian Poulter plopped himself on my floor and watched the tournament on television as a spectator.
Today, he topped countryman Paul Casey four and two to hoist a Walter Hagen Cup of his own, securing his first win on US soil.
It’s been a long time coming.
On that rainy afternoon in 2002, Poulter made himself comfortable, saying he was in Southern California to practice and wanted to cheer on his countryman Justin Rose. He admitted to missing home and said he’d just become a father for the first time. When we asked if he had photos, he pointed to my computer.
“Does that laptop have AOL? They’ve sent me new photos today, and I can’t seem to get to them from the hotel.”
I started to give him my seat.
“No, no,” he said. He instructed me to get online, gave me his username and password, and we downloaded photos of his new daughter Aimee. He beamed.
Since then, Poulter has famously become a solid two-tour player, a clothing designer, and a Twitter fanatic.
Poulter notched a runner-up performance at The Open Championship in 2008, was the highest points scorer on either team at the 2008 Ryder Cup, and catapulted to at least No. 5 in the World Ranking with today’s win at Dove Mountain.
Along with wife Katie and their three children, he divides time between Orlando and Milton Keynes, England, filling garages at both homes with his collection of sports cars.
In a GolfWorldUK issue, Poulter made a different kind of splash, posing naked behind his golf bag on the cover. Even those who don’t know the difference between a birdie and a bogey can recognize the flashy golfer for his fashion choices. True to form, Poulter, whose mother managed a clothing store, won his first American championship wearing head-to-toe pink.
His intention is not to shock. Rather, he tips his hat to the snappy dressers of golf’s past. It’s a happy coincidence that his first American trophy is named for the dapper Hagen, and Poulter lists Payne Stewart among his role models.
“For me it’s a business and one that I’m very passionate about,” Poulter says. “And I take pride and care how I present myself on the golf course.”
Poulter’s genuinely friendly nature attracts fans on the course and Internet alike. He has nearly a million followers on Twitter, more than any other player, and his frequent posts often include photos of everything from life on the range with his fellow pros to ironing his trademark trousers in his hotel room.
He’s funny. Earlier in the week he tweeted a question to Titleist: “Can you make me some pink balls for my nice pink outfit?”
He’s also generous, passing out tickets and signed souvenirs to fans who tweet him back.
In what has always been a tight-lipped sport, Poulter brings a fresh sense of honesty. In March, he declared, “I know I haven’t played to my full potential and when that happens, it will be just me and Tiger.”
He’s taken a giant leap toward reaching that potential by becoming the first Englishman to win a World Golf Championship event. With Woods out indefinitely and one quality win under Poulter’s bedazzled belt, anything is possible.
Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. And, next time he pops into the office, we certainly won’t require I.D.
Photo: Ian Poulter of England during a practice round prior to the start of the 111th U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club on June 13, 2011 in Bethesda, Maryland. (Keith Allison, Creative Commons)
Photo: Keith Allison, Creative Commons