Poulter leads the charge as European golf speaks with one voice

Azinger’s comments about Fleetwood and the PGA Tour touched a nerve

 Ian Poulter and Tommy Fleetwood  celebrate Europe winning the 2018 Ryder Cup  at Le Golf National  in Paris, France. Photograph:  Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Ian Poulter and Tommy Fleetwood celebrate Europe winning the 2018 Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in Paris, France. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

 

He has been the beating heart of Europe’s Ryder Cup team for close to two decades. Ian Poulter may have resided in Florida for 11 years but one staunch defence of his home continent and golf tour has re-emphasised the Englishman’s attachment to home.

“I am totally European,” says Poulter. “That is why I wear the shirt the way I do when I play in the Ryder Cup. I think all the European players still feel that way.”

Golf has spent this week in the rare grip of controversy. Paul Azinger, a former captain of the USA Ryder Cup team and now a television pundit, riled many in Europe with comments made as Tommy Fleetwood chased victory at the Honda Classic on Sunday.

The Englishman is a five-time winner on the European Tour and the 10th-ranked player in the world, but Azinger brushed his CV aside.

“You’re trying to prove to everybody that you’ve got what it takes,” said Azinger. “These guys know, you can win all you want on that European Tour or in the international game and all that, but you have to win on the PGA Tour.”

Azinger even used the example of a journeyman American but previous Honda Classic winner, Mark Wilson, to emphasise his point and seemingly belittle Fleetwood.

Social media exploded. Poulter led the charge, branding Azinger’s sentiment as “embarrassing”. Lee Westwood insisted the American was “disrespectful”. Thomas Bjørn, who guided Europe to Ryder Cup victory in France two years ago, said Azinger was “at best ignorant, at worst arrogant”.

Rory McIlroy who, like Poulter, lives in Florida, was soon on the scene.

“His comments were a little nationalistic,” McIlroy said. “A little: ‘America’s the best.’”

At a time when Europe does not feel particularly united, its golf community spoke in complete unison. The European Tour launched the careers of McIlroy et al which means while they may now pursue riches in the United States, respect and gratitude remains.

“No, I don’t think we do,” replies Poulter when asked whether European golfers receive enough credit in the US. Which is, of course, strange given Team USA’s Ryder Cup struggles.

Speaking as he prepared to participate in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Poulter added: “The European guys who play here play both tours. It’s very easy to play 28 events a year as an American who doesn’t want to travel. They have the option to play in so many more tournaments and, potentially, ‘weaker’ fields because the best guys don’t play every single week.

Big ones

“The top 50 in the world play four Majors, four World Golf Championships, the Players Championship. That’s nine. They probably play six more. The six more are generally also big ones, FedEx Cup Playoffs for example, which all have the strongest fields.

“So when it is like that, the percentages say it is harder to win. If you are the guy who plays 28 weeks on the PGA Tour, you will have more options to win. So it’s not easy for us Europeans, playing here, to figure as much as – if you want to quote Zinger – Mark Wilson.”

The joy of Poulter is he is never likely to adopt separate personas in private and public. He remains a fan of Azinger despite this deep-rooted position.

“It was the way he said it,” Poulter adds.

“And I texted him; he didn’t mean to say it the way he said it, that’s what he told me. I don’t think he worded it very well and because of that it didn’t come across well. It almost dissed the European Tour, the players and the fact that Lee Westwood has won 40 times around the world where you’d only credit two as being on the PGA Tour. You’re talking about a guy there who doesn’t keep a full PGA Tour card, who has played in Europe his whole life.

“It was a condescending way of saying what he said. Even with Zinger as a friend of mine, I took offence to it because I didn’t like the way he said it and it came across. I think he probably would regret that now. I think the European players objected to it and rightly so.

“When we come and play, we are generally playing the tough events. To flip it the other way, let’s have a look at the Americans’ record in Europe when they have come to play. That’s also not very good, is it?”

Almost seven months have to pass before the Ryder Cup tees off again, this time at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. It feels a stretch to suggest the words of Azinger should feature prominently in the backdrop to that joust. But what he did was prove a point; that when it comes to golf, Europe continues to speak as one.

– Guardian

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