Born eleven days after Tiger Woods, Ian Poulter was the anti-Eldrick, the star no one saw coming — except Poulter himself. Turns out, unwavering self-assurance can be very rewarding. The day we caught up to him at Orlando's gated golf course community of Lake Nona, Poulter, 35, was between shoots for Cobra and Jaguar. He was still basking in the glow of Europe's victory in the Ryder Cup, where Poulter went 3-1. The Cup has kinged Poulter, who with his wife, Katie, has three kids, along with a sprawling Lake Nona home under construction, luxury cars and a customized golf cart with "Poults" emblazoned on the front. He has more than one million Twitter followers. As he prepares to defend his title at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Tucson in February, Poulter has never been hotter. He owes it all to the Ryder Cup, match play and his self-belief. In the Lake Nona clubhouse, the Englishman talked about his match play dominance, stroke-play struggles, his cult following on Twitter, and what pole-vaulting has to do with golf.
You're 3-0 at the Ryder Cup in singles, and 18-7 at the WGC-Accenture Match Play. Impressive, but you've got just one win on Tour. Why?
I've yet to transfer that to a stroke play event. Obviously, something's different. What that difference is.. I've been trying to think about it, and I guess it's the fear of losing within 18 holes, or the excitement of winning as quickly as possible. Seventy-two holes is so different than when you've got 18 and that stopwatch is running.
You've said you inherited your competitive streak from your dad.
My dad has got a passion for not losing. I've got a passion for not losing. He's not a good loser. He doesn't take it well.
You don't have a mental-game coach, right?
I'm mental enough. They would need to go see their own psychologist after having some time with me.
You get into a very focused state when you compete. How do you get into that state, especially for singles?
It's a focus thing. I don't do anything different. I don't practice any different. I think about what needs to happen, about the golf course, about certain holes and pin positions. I collate all the information and build that into an intensity that I want to hold for the week.
Are you sharper for a singles event at the Ryder Cup than at the Match Play?
Yes, by a mile. There's nothing close. Nothing gets me any more prepared than the Ryder Cup. I got the bug when I was 17 at the Belfry in 1993. I stayed in a tent three miles down the road with two friends. We walked to the course every day. I saw Nick Faldo make a hole-in-one.
When you were a club pro, your boss said you were the most confident person he'd ever seen. Johnny Miller said the same thing during last year's Ryder Cup. Is anyone more confident?
There might be, but I haven't met them yet. I work under the philosophy "never say never" — in business, golf or whatever. I don't understand how your whole brain works, but I understand it's really powerful. What fascinates me is when you apply yourself and when you focus properly, what can happen. Your focus shrinks, but your target widens. You can log it — the best golf anybody's ever seen is in the Ryder Cup, every time. Why is that? You get more hole-outs in three days than you do in a month otherwise. It's bizarre.
Is beating Tiger in match play still on your to-do list?
I guess. I haven't beat him in match play, yet. I'd like to at some stage. He fascinates me that way. He's someone who's been able to control his intensity to a level that far outweighs anybody else.
You live your life out loud, with the Twitter posts and filming your kids eating breakfast cereal out of the Ryder Cup. That kind of stuff draws criticism. How do you respond?
I don't like being criticized, but I use every bit of criticism as a positive energy. It can be damaging, it can hurt, but I've used it to spur me on to better things. I've always been pretty honest in every interview, so that draws a little bit of hate from people. You can't please everybody.
Paul Azinger and Bubba Watson tweeted that they liked your 'Breakfast with the Ryder Cup' tweet. Is there honor among tweeters? Do they have your back?
You know what? I sweat and pour out enough passion in that Ryder Cup, and if I've got that trophy for two days, I'm going to have some fun with it. I think I've got the right. It's not disrespectful. I'm not disrespecting anybody. A little bit of fun shouldn't be any problem at all. If anyone's got a problem with it, that's their problem. There were a lot of people who found it fun.
Do you read all the comments online?
Yeah, I do.
People are angry on the Internet.
No, they're not.
Not necessarily about the Cheerios in the Cup, but people who bother to comment are often the angriest ones.
What about all the good ones? I would say the ratio is 95 percent good [comments] to 5 percent [negative]. As I said, you can't please everybody. You get the ones that are stuck in the mud.
The head of the Belfry called the cereal in the Cup disrespectful.
Hang on. Gary Silcock? I mean, he's not the head of the Belfry. He's the general manager. [Silcock is the Belfry's director of golf.] I don't know him. What's it got to do with him?
Just that he commented on it.
The papers asked him because they probably couldn't get hold of the people they wanted to get hold of. He was as good as they could get. Over the 83 years it's been going, do you think Cheerios is the worst thing that's ever gone in the Ryder Cup?
Or the Claret Jug.
Stewart Cink put coffee in there. It was in a Nike commercial.
Twitter is a technology that's tailor-made for celebrities. You can take out the middleman of the media.
Absolutely. It's fascinating to be able to get hold of a million people instantly. That to me is truly bonkers. I've got a hold of a lot of people through Twitter, personalities, sportsmen, which on a normal day-to-day basis I wouldn't be able to get hold of them. Jack Wilshere, the lad who plays for Arsenal, for instance.
Every shot you hit is on TV. You're on Twitter. Ever want to just be a private person?
I have that here. It's a gated community. The only people here are members or members' guests. It's very respectful in here. Not that I want to lock myself in.
You must get recognized constantly outside the gates.
The last two and a half years has stepped it up an awful lot, since I finished runner-up to Padraig [Harrington] in the '08 Open, since that ['08] Ryder Cup, the WGC-Match Play, and this Ryder Cup. My profile is a lot bigger than what it was in the States.
Have your endorsements gone up?
Yep. That's part and parcel of being a top-20 player. It's good. It's not offensive in any way, shape or form. The odd autograph or photograph is not a problem. I take the kids to Disney. I'm recognized. That's all good, all fine.
Off the course, as a person, what's your biggest strength and your biggest flaw?
Strength? My mental strength — being able to stay positive in all things. Biggest flaw as a person? Never being able to say no.
Do you wish you'd said no to this interview?
No. It's hard to say no sometimes. If you look down the range, media people like yourself find themselves in a position where I know they're eight or 12 feet behind me waiting for a moment to step in. If I hit some shots and step back to my bag, they walk in. Do they walk in on Tiger or Phil? No. They have that bubble.
You need a better bubble.
I guess. The reason that's happened is because I never say no. And I always speak my mind. That's one of my flaws.
How about your flaws as a golfer?
I have a concentration problem. It's why sometimes I don't perform. I've let something slip into my brain that I shouldn't think about.
What's the last book you read?
Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times, and it's the only book I've read. I have read one book.
That can't be true.
I swear on my life, on my kids' life, that that's the only book I've ever read.
Why that book?
I read it on my honeymoon. I knew I was going away to sit on the beach. I can't sit still for more than two minutes without the urge to do something. I find sitting on the beach the most boring thing in the world. My wife bought me the book.
Did you like it?
It was fascinating. I bizarrely got into the book. The reason I never read books, and you can ask my old English teacher, is because I can't remember what happened five pages before. I couldn't take it in. I find it very difficult to read anything for a period of time and actually suck it in, unless it's interesting. I've got no interest in fictional books. Why would I want to read one of them? It's made-up. An autobiography is interesting because I can relate to who that person is. I'm easily distracted, so I had to work at that [in school].
Is it ADD?
I don't know. I read magazines. I would never get tested for it. But there's other stuff to be doing.
What about TV?
No. I watch sport. If I stay in a hotel for a week, I'll go the whole week without turning the telly on. My brain's busy doing something else, like this house [in progress] I walked through this morning. I can tell you where every light switch and socket is.
And of course you tweet a lot. Your most famous tweet was a video you shot in traffic on your way to the third round of the 2010 Masters, where you and Lee Westwood were about to play in the final twosome Saturday.
That got a lot of hits. It was kind of a Turner & Hooch thing. This dog was massive, in the passenger's seat. We rolled the window down to say hello to the driver, and the dog's arm went over the door like a passenger does. It was funny.
That was pretty much your only highlight that weekend. You salvaged a top-10 but not much more.
It didn't happen. [Augusta] has been my friend and it's been my enemy. You don't have to do a lot wrong on a couple of holes to get a poor score going. I did it several years ago, the year Immelman won , I had a horrendous Sunday, got off to a shocking start with three doubles in the first eight holes, and now I'm chasing my tail. I like the golf course. I think I've got a good chance around that golf course.
Johnny Miller recently questioned your ballstriking.
Sure, but doesn't Johnny Miller question everybody's ballstriking? He's paid to be controversial, and he is.
You tweeted about it recently.
I led the statistics in greens in regulation for all the events I played in Europe [in 2010], so I said I hoped he didn't choke on his corn flakes. No, if he wants to make a jibe about my ballstriking, that's fine. I hit 17 greens in regulation today. It was unfortunate that I putted like Johnny Miller: four three-putts.
Let's go back to TPC Scottsdale, 16th hole, at last year's Waste Management Phoenix Open. You knock it to seven feet, miss the birdie and get jeered. Then you 'get something off your face' with your middle finger. You stand by that explanation?
Is there a rule as to what finger you have to use? I guess it can mean a number of things, right?
Killed two birds with one stone: You got something off your face, you got something off your chest.
Right. Whichever way you want to take it.
What's worth getting fined over?
I've been fined for a number of things. None of them have been worthwhile, because I've done something wrong.
Speaking of doing wrong, a rules infraction at the Dubai World Championship in November may have cost you the tournament, which would have been your second win in two weeks. In the playoff with Robert Karlsson, your ball fell out of your hand and landed on your lucky coin, your ball marker. When it moved, you were penalized a stroke. Is it still your lucky coin?
Yeah, it's in my pocket now. I had it made just after [winning] the Match Play. I had it made by a jeweler. It's got my kids' names on it: Aimee, Lilly and Luke. It was expensive. It's platinum and diamonds.
Should the Rule be changed?
Yeah, I think it's a silly rule. It's different if I was trying to shove [the marker] forward to gain an advantage. There's no common sense there. The R&A is probably saying [the Rule] is there to protect others, but to be penalized a shot when you haven't tried to do anything wrong doesn't make sense.
What did Robert say when it happened?
[Laughs.] "Thank you very much."
Were you gutted by it or…
Or did I laugh about it? Of course I'm gutted by it. It potentially cost me 20 World Golf Ranking points and a whole lot of dollars.
American fans are probably not crying for you. Tell them something about you that they don't know.
That I really am a nice guy. A lot of people don't know the work I do for charity, one of which is Dreamflight. To see 192 seriously ill children be brought from the U.K. to Orlando to experience the parks, to get out of their daily troubles and let them hold the Ryder Cup — it's pretty special. You can't please all of the people all of the time. People think I'm overconfident, and to some people that comes across as rude.
How would you like to be remembered?
As a world-class golfer, as someone who has given back and is a good guy.
Not as county champion at pole-vaulting, which you were as a kid?
How about that, eh? That's different. I won. I didn't lose. It was match play, competing against someone else. He wasn't going to get up higher than me! That was for sure. I was getting up higher than he was. That's match play, baby. That's match play.