Thanks to an out-of-the-blue invitation by the fine folks at Ferrari, I had a front row seat (well, a seat just to the left) for an evening with Ian Poulter. We dined on steak and lobster at CordeValle, a Rosewood Resort, and 36 hours later, we later teed it up at Monterey Peninsula Country Club’s superb Shore Course. Here are 10 things I learned:
1. The man can talk Ferraris all night. He owns six of them, including his personal favorite, a 288 GTO. That may have changed, however, as the day after we played golf, Poulter purchased the new LaFerrari for just under $1.7 million, the fastest production car Ferrari has ever produced. At 963 hp, it is expected to do zero to sixty in less than three seconds.
2. The fastest he’s ever traveled is 175 mph, on a test track in West Palm Beach, Florida. He once gunned it to 160 mph on a quiet country road in England. The only two cars anywhere near him happened to be police cars. “Well, that was very stupid,” Poulter told the officers, who agreed. Poulter got them laughing and they let him off with a warning.
3. He doesn’t feel the slightest guilt about indulging his passion. “I loved cars as a kid. Had pictures of them up in my room. I always drove heaps of crap. A $400 Vauxhall Astra was my first car. Blew up the engine. Then came a $200 Ford Fiesta. The engine wasn’t even 1 liter. It blew up. Fifteen years ago, I was earning $200 a week. When I bought my first Ferrari, I felt like for the first time I had achieved something. Being able to provide for my family is the most important thing. I do that. And I have my cars. I don’t feel guilty in any way, shape or form.”
4. Poulter took delivery of his first Ferrari sight unseen. “I told myself that after I won my first European Tour event, I’d buy a Ferrari. I won the Italian Open in 2000 — 90,000 pounds — and after paying my caddie, my taxes, my other expenses … I didn’t have enough money for the car. So I vowed that after I won my second tournament, I would buy the Ferrari. I won the Moroccan Open the very next year — 70,000 pounds — still not enough. Bollocks this: I told my agent that when I got my third win, I’m getting that car, no matter what it costs. It happened to be the Italian Open in 2002. Perfectly appropriate. I had my agent buy the car and deliver it to my home. Did I test drive it? No. I trust the brand. If it’s got that horse on the hood, it’s going to be great.”
5. His nerves kicked in to the extreme when he drove a Ferrari Enzo on a test track at 150-plus mph with no insurance. Did it compare to the adrenaline rush he felt at the 2012 Ryder Cup? “No comparison. Ryder Cup. It’s impossible to describe. There’s no feeling like it.”
6. For a player of his stature, he’s played surprisingly few of the top courses that aren’t featured as tournament venues. I asked him which Top 100 English course he preferred, Ganton or Woodhall Spa? “Never played either of them. You’d be surprised at the places I haven’t played. I worked in a shop for eight years. I wasn’t running around playing golf.” Which courses are at the top of his list to play? “Pine Valley. I’ve heard that’s magic. Old Head in Ireland. And I’d like to play Bandon Dunes.” Fresh off an inspired third-place finish at Muirfield at the Open, Poulter loves links golf most of all. “You can play the same course seven days in a row and it’s never the same.”
7. Just before our dinner, he finished a round at Cypress Point. “It’s lovely — wonderful. But it’s short.” Poulter made an eagle, three birdies and 14 pars to shoot 5-under-par 67. “I handled the par-5s and most of the other holes were wedges.” What did you hit into 16, I asked. “3-wood.” I love Cypress with every fiber of my being. But maybe it is too short for today’s pros.
8. Poulter doesn’t play much social golf. “I’ve played maybe five rounds this year, other than tournaments, charity events or corporate outings. Same as last year. I refuse to play unless there’s something on the line.”
9. He’s into quality, period. “I like nice things. Clothes, shoes, cars, classic course designs, building architecture. I can see doing more course design as the years roll on. I really enjoy my clothing design business.” If he had one outfit to wear in a golf game with world leaders? “It would have to be a tartan, from my current collection (IJP Design). Color? That’s a hypothetical. I can’t answer that.”
10. For all his brashness and past controversies, Poulter couldn’t have been more patient, gracious and accommodating with the cast of high-handicap characters with whom he was paired at Monterey Peninsula’s Shore Course on Saturday. He put on an exceedingly warm clinic and took every opportunity to toss out compliments, advice and humor on the course. Love him or not, he’s one of the game’s greatest and distinctive personalities. Golf could use more Ian Poulters — but it’s very cool to have at least one.