Sobel: Ian Poulter’s Professional Gamble Paid Off with Electric Ryder Cup Career
Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Ian Poulter stands on the 18th green during the final round of the WGC – Bridgestone Invitational golf tournament at Firestone Country Club – South Course.
- He owns a 12-4-2 career record in the Ryder Cup, including a 4-0-1 mark in singles.
- None of it would've been possible if not for his bet on himself when he turned pro.
The business of being a professional golfer is, essentially, one huge gamble after the next.
In team sports, athletes sign mega-contracts and receive guaranteed salaries, independent of future performance.
In golf, a player must foot the bill for airfare, hotel, meals, coach and caddie fees, knowing that two days of unsuccessful play will result in a net loss for the week.
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For every pro golfer traveling the world in a private jet, there are a thousand mini-tour players just hoping to scrape together enough winnings to pay for gas to the next tournament.
For every pro collecting ungodly sums of FedEx Cup bonus money, there are a thousand just hoping their rent checks don’t bounce.
Within this industry of gambles, perhaps none has paid off more than the major risk Ian Poulter took as a teenager.
You know him as the brash, outspoken, cocky lightning rod of the European Ryder Cup team, a player whose passion becomes palpable every two years when the team competition is on the line.
He owns a 12-4-2 career record in this event, an unparalleled winning percentage that’s highlighted by a 4-0-1 mark in singles matches.
That’s an amazing accomplishment for a player whose talents have rarely vaulted him into the world’s upper echelon over the years. While prominent Hall of Famers have regularly struggled in this format, Poulter has continually exceeded even the most outsized expectations.
It’s even more amazing considering the story of his foray into professional golf and the massive gamble he took on himself.
As Poulter recently recounted on Golf Channel’s “Feherty,” he really had no business turning professional when he did.
“I was horrible,” he insisted. “I got my handicap down to 4 at the age of 17. I was working part-time in a shop at the local golf club and literally didn’t play an amateur tournament for two years, so then at the age of 19, I was doing the handicap certificates for the golf course, so I printed a couple off and signed as the club pro. I forged a signature and sent it to the PGA, they accepted me off a 4-handicap and I guess the rest is kind of history.”
It’s especially been history at the Ryder Cup. Perhaps more than any European player since Seve Ballesteros, the former 4-handicap professional is synonymous with this event.
Images of his eyes bulging with emotion or his fists pumping skyward after another momentum-shifting birdie are legendary, the kind of histrionics that make him Public Enemy No. 1 on American soil and the favorite native son on home turf.
Once again this week, Poulter will attempt to peacock-strut his way around the proceedings, talking the talk and then walking the walk to back it up.
He was never supposed to get to this point.
Other players in this week’s event were can’t-miss kids, phenoms from birth who never had to worry about forging a signature to turn professional or picking up about 10 strokes after that point.
Those players never had to gamble on themselves.
Not like Poulter, who in poker terms went all-in with 7-2 off-suit as a teenager, only to defiantly win the entire pot when his outlandish bet somehow paid off.
Imagine that, a former 4-handicap pro becoming one of the greatest Ryder Cup performers of all time.
It sounds too good to be true.
For those backing Europe during the lengthy tenure of Poulter’s continued success, it’s a true story that they hope has another happy ending this week.