Strutting peacock Poulter walks the walk again
CADDIE'S ROLE:The Englishman's display on the final day in China showed his genuine class
Ian Poulter undoubtedly talks the talk when it comes to golf. On Sunday last week in Shenzhen, southern China, he also walked the walk, with an impressive seven under par final round that gave him a two -shot victory.
We were paired with him in the penultimate group for the final round on the Jose Maria Olazabal-designed course at the Mission Hills resort in the more rarified air of a region that is known as the factory of the world. With a north wind blowing for most of the week and the most idyllic conditions I can remember in China for half a decade, with unprecedented blue sky, the course and surrounds looked spectacular.
The course is cut out of a dense mountain and the warning in the locker room about the presence of snakes on the course is because there is dense jungle beyond the manicured Mission Hills.
The 2012 HSBC Champions winner didn’t visit the undergrowth over the weekend, with a pair of 65s in the final two rounds. Despite a 60 and 61 on Saturday from Brandt Snedeker and Lee Westwood, no close pursuer went that low in the final round. The 12 and 11 under par rounds are a testament to the talent of the modern golfer.
The Olazabal course was not particularly easy; there were plenty of opportunities with five par fives but with a primed tournament set-up, the course was still demanding.
Poulter played impressive golf throughout the day despite administering many lectures early on in the round to the unruly Chinese crowd , each one armed with phones or i-Pads and determined to use them at the most inopportune time for sensitive golfers. The vociferous Englishman’s attempts at controlling the wealthy Chinese proved futile – it was their country and they were going to behave exactly as they wished.
By the back nine, Poulter had changed focus from the clicking phones and honed in on the click of his ball on the putter face as he holed many key putts on the inward nine.
As ever with top players and, particularly with them in the final round and in form, it is not their ball-striking that leaves a lasting impression but their short game. Poulter got up and down at least five times from greenside traps, with most of his sand shots ending up in gimme positions. His bunker play was worthy of a champion.
On the 17th green, which he missed in the worst possible place, he didn’t get up and down but he played a chip that was as good as he could have done under the circumstances.
Given the geography of the Mission Hills resort, which has been moulded on a cut and fill technique, with many holes effectively in man-made valleys, there was an unpredictable wind pattern. Wind to golfers and their bagmen is a source of much contention. Despite compasses, wind maps and weather reports, gauging the wind direction can put a huge strain on the relationship.
The penalty for miscalculating a capricious draught, apart from landing long or short of the pin, can often mean earache for the rest of the round. Despite the improvements in the caddie and players’ yardage book , you still need to make a choice and doing so in the heat of battle in the final round makes those choices even more difficult. We look at the clouds, we observe the tree tops, glance at movement of any nearby lake, a flag flying visibly in the distance. If a spectator is smoking we may even clutch at the direction the smoke exhaled from his nostrils is drifting in. We were using all the tricks of the trade last week at the HSBC Champions to somehow try to make an educated guess about where the wind was coming from when your player was hitting a shot over water to a tight pin on to firm greens. There were many long, lingering looks by nervous caddies as their player’s ball was in mid-flight.
Tacitly pleading with the ball to get up, get down and sit and somehow defy the whimsy of the local inexplicable wind.
It had been some time since I had witnessed the denouement to a big event first hand. What struck me was the innate understanding that seasoned players have of their own games.
Despite the routines these golfers go through each time they play, only experience can let you deal with the sensation of being in one of the final few groups on a Sunday afternoon with the possibility of victory clearly on your mind.
Ian Poulter may well be an attention-seeking peacock who is not afraid to let you know where he is. But he is a very good golfer who understands his ability and how to guide himself safely to victory when the opportunity presents itself, as it did last Sunday.