Once upon a time, Ian Poulter was so immersed in chasing a Major title that he did whatever he wanted, it seemed. Like at Royal Troon, in 2004, when he donned a pair of Union Jack trousers that prompted telephone calls of complaints to the R&A.
Poulter wasn’t for listening, though.
“They’re just a normal pair of trousers, it is just that they are pretty colourful,” he responded, citing that all of his own sporting heroes were also colourful personalities.
Ronnie O'Sullivan. Muhammad Ali. Pele. Payne Stewart. They all got a mention at the time. He added: "There are too many boring characters who don't have much spark apart from their golf game."
Since that time, Poulter has livened up the Ryder Cup – like his inspirational deeds at Medinah in 2012 – but fallen flat in the Majors. A runner-up finish behind Pádraig Harrington here at Royal Birkdale in 2008 was as good as it got, and in fact getting to play any Major at all in recent years has been something that has been beyond him.
In his last two Open appearances, in 2014 and 2015, he missed the cut. And his last appearance in any Major before teeing up here was actually at the 2016 Masters. Since then, five major championships – the 2015 US Open, British Open and US PGAs and this year’s Masters and US Open – had gone their merry way without Poults.
Yet, the old hunger and desire has manifested itself over the past two days. In wind and in rain, Poulter – who earned his place in the field after coming through final qualifying over his home course at Woburn – has stuck manfully to the task at hand, and a second round 70 for a midway total of three-under-par 137 has left him poised to mount an attack over the weekend.
When he finished his second round, some questions ran ahead of the present. Poulter refused to be sucked in.
“I think it’s going to be difficult for me to talk about that right now. For me to use up some mental energy thinking about holding that Claret Jug come what Sunday night, there’s a lot of golf to be played between now and then. I’m very focused on what I’m doing right now.
“I’m going to love to grab that thing with two hands, if I can. So I would like to talk to you Sunday evening and tell you how it feels, if that happens, rather than tell you right now exactly what it would feel like. I think you can guess how good it would feel like after the year I’ve had.”
That year, as he referred to, has included fighting tooth and nail to regain his playing privileges on the PGA Tour. Using a medical exemption to get into a limited number of 10 tournaments to earn $345,634 or 218.42 FedEx Cup points, it seemed that the Englishman had come up short in his quest . . . . only for him to get a reprieve after fellow-pro Brian Gay, who was in a similar boat, realised the PGA Tour had wrongly modified the points criteria. His card was safe, and he could focus again on contending and his season turned-around with a runner-up finish in the Players Championship in May.
Now, though, he is where he wants to be: contending in the Major championship closest to his heart.
“I’m definitely enjoying my golf right now because of what’s happened. So I wasn’t in this position in 2008. I came from a bit further back to get myself in position and had a pretty strong Sunday. I’m in a good frame of mind. I feel confident. The large confidence tank that was empty a few months ago is starting to fill up. And I like it when it gets full up. I I play some of my best golf when I’m pretty confident. And I’m excited for this weekend. I can’t wait,” he confessed.
Poulter’s own self-belief has enabled him to overcome many obstacles throughout his career, one which has given him Ferraris, Lamborghinis and more to store in his garage in Florida. You suspect, though, that the small Claret Jug would represent a bigger show of his worth than any of those material goods.