GLENEAGLES Scotland (Reuters) - Ian Poulter has become the symbolic beating heart of Europe’s Ryder Cup team, the man the home players and fans will look to and player the Americans want to beat so badly it hurts.
And he is absolutely loving it all.
Rarely, if ever, has a player produced such sustained brilliance in the biennial tournament while at the same time struggling to make an impact on the regular tours as Poulter has in recent years.
Seldom can one player’s performance — and demeanor — have had such a defining impact as Poulter’s did two years ago when he was so instrumental in Europe’s fightback from 10-4 down to take the unlikeliest of victories.
The statistics are impressive enough, but still tell only half the story.
Poulter has won 12 of his 15 matches, including all four singles, in four Ryder Cups. That 80 percent success rate is the best by any European ever and the best by anyone from either side who has played in at least three tournaments.
He has won 11 of his last 12 matches, including seven in a row.
Since the last of them, however, success has been scarce, with a solitary tournament victory a month later and a dire 2014 including only one top-10 finish.
His selection as one of Paul McGinley’s wildcards, however, was never in doubt and the 38-year-old Englishman is champing at the bit to repay his captain’s faith.
“I just can’t wait to get that buzz again at Gleneagles. Everything else just feels like a disappointment by comparison,” he said in a recent interview.
“If you think of it as a 10 for the Ryder Cup, I’d still only give it a three for playing in even the Masters.
“The trick is to feel that pumped up, but to keep your focus. For me, getting to that state of intensity actually helps me perform. I don’t know why.”
Intensity should be engraved in dayglow capital letters on Poulter’s golf bag as his fist-pumping, eye-popping, throat-roaring exhortations have become etched into golf’s rich memory bank.
As popular as that makes him with his team mates and fans, it sets him up as the man the Americans most want to take down.
“They all want a shot and that’s fine, I accept my scalp is a big one,” he said.
Both captains have sought to play down the individual importance of Poulter this week, with stock “it’s worth one point, the same as any other match” answers, but nobody is buying.
Highlights from Medinah have been running on the huge screens dotted around Gleneagles and even now, two years on, watching what unfolded remains difficult to take in.
The U.S. had steamrollered the first day-and-a-half and were leading 10-4 with two matches still live on Saturday evening.
Poulter and Rory McIlroy were two down after 12 in their fourball against Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson but Poulter unbelievably birdied the last five holes to take the match and give Europe a huge lift just when they so desperately needed something to cling on to, as they ended the day 10-6 down.
Poulter entered the team room to the sound of his team mates chanting his name, football-style, and they duly completed the greatest comeback of all on Sunday.
“I think my abiding memory is the same as everyone else’s — ‘how the hell did that happen?’” said Poulter, whose deeds that weekend have been immortalized in music by the BBC Philharmonic orchestra’s “Symphony of Medinah”.
“Everyone was watching that last putt and you could see what it meant to us all. And I think it sowed a tiny seed of doubt as well, because until that moment the Americans had to be thinking they’d won.”
Now Poulter is over his injury niggles, fully rested and ready to go again.
“I was hitting some balls with him and I’ve never seen a guy so charged up 10 days before a Ryder Cup,” team mate Graeme McDowell said this week.
“Literally, the guy is just fizzed. It’s very infectious to be around that type of passion. He embraces the Mr Ryder Cup role so he will be ready.”
Editing by Ed Osmond