It’s the Monday of Hong Kong Open week and Ian Poulter is a happy man. We’ve just left the Omega flagship store in Causeway Bay where the 33-year-old Englishman sat through a rather inane press conference and photo op. Now free from fielding such questions from the local golf media as, “What’s your favorite colour, Ian?” and “Do you think you can win the Hong Kong Open?” (the answers, in case you’re wondering, were “pink” and “yes” respectively), Poulter, decked out in an all-black ensemble and silver Swarovski necktie, is admiring some wild and wonderful garb hanging in the window of Jean Paul Gaultier. “Blimey,” he says in that jovial Estuary English accent of his, “I could spend some money in this place.”
This isn’t Poulter’s first trip to Hong Kong. At the 2004 Open he carded rounds of 70 and 76 to miss the cut by some margin. But much has changed over the past five years. Whereas before he was known as an outspoken clothes horse who could play a bit (all mouth and trousers, screamed the British tabloids), he’s now risen to the highest echelons of the sport. At number thirteen in the world rankings and with a win just two weeks before at the Barclays Singapore Open, Poulter is truly backing his showmanship with substance.
“I’ve become much more consistent in recent years,” says the man who shot to global attention at the 2004 British Open by wearing a pair of Union Jack slacks in the first round at Royal Troon. “I’ve never been short of confidence, but I do believe that if I apply myself and concentrate properly, I can do anything. This is certainly the best form I have ever been in.”
The records agree. Solid displays at this year’s Majors – the British Open was the only event where he finished outside the top twenty – and a runner-up finish to Henrik Stenson at the prestigious Players Championship in May were his highlights of 2009 prior to the win in Singapore. But it was at the British Open the year before where Poulter really made his move. A gutsy 69 on the final day at windswept Birkdale, which he calls his best ever round, moved him into championship contention, only for Padraig Harrington to play flawlessly down the stretch to edge him into second place. That gritty performance, however, was enough for Nick Faldo to somewhat controversially select him ahead of long-time campaigners Darren Clarke and Colin Montgomerie as one his two ‘wildcard’ picks for the European Ryder Cup team. To his enormous credit, Poulter put the selection hysteria behind him and played with a passion that his teammates could have done well to replicate. With four wins out of his five matches, he was the highest points scorer from either side.
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