Ian Poulter is many things to many people—Ryder Cup monster, tartan-wearing dandy, up-by-the-bootstraps success story, free-spending apostle of conspicuous consumption, and troll-baiting Twitter star, to name just a few. Poulter, 37, is also a doting father of four who has been with the same woman going back 18 years. On a recent weekday, the former pro shop assistant from Milton Keynes, England, let SI follow him during a typically action-packed day in his adopted hometown of Orlando. Along the way Poulter revealed the passions, insecurities and grand ambitions that make him one of golf’s most compelling characters.
After hitting the snooze button once—but only once—Poulter reaches for his phone, a morning ritual. His wife, Katie, rouses Aimee-Leigh, 11, and Luke, 8, while Lily-Mai, 4, and Joshua, 18 months, sleep peacefully. Meanwhile, their dad lies in bed checking his Twitter feed, which reaches 1.48 million followers. “It’s an addiction,” he says. “I need to stop. I can’t help it; I read every single reply. Ninety-nine percent of them are positive. Actually, more than that. But there are low-life scum out there who love to mouth off. They’re jealous, sad, waste-of-timers. They have no drive in life to better themselves, they just want to tear down people who are successful. To be honest, I feel sorry for them. But I’m not putting up with their bulls—.” He resolves to take a two-week break from Twitter.
Barefoot, in black gym shorts and a black T-shirt, Poulter pads into the kitchen, where Katie is serving the kids pancakes. He fixes himself a double espresso. Ian used to drink eight or nine Diet Cokes a day, but six weeks ago he quit cold turkey. He opens his laptop and surfs the website of the Daily Mail to keep abreast of what’s happening back home.
Poulter brews another espresso. “There are so many chemicals in Diet Coke,” he says. “This has to be a healthier way to get caffeine. Right?”
The nanny arrives to help with the little ones as Katie is whisking the two older kids off to school. Luke wears white pants and a tucked-in white polo, his otherwise vanilla outfit enlivened by a snakeskin belt with an oversized buckle in the design of the English flag.
Poulter’s manager, R.J. Nemer, who flew in the night before from Cleveland, also arrives. He and his prized client belly up to a round table in the kitchen. It is quickly littered with three laptops, two tablets and three smartphones; no wonder the removable leaf in the middle of the table reveals a half dozen electrical plugs for charging all the devices.
In addition to owning his own clothing line, IJP Design, Poulter has endorsement deals with 13 companies. He and Nemer plunge into an ornate scheduling discussion, trying to juggle interview requests, corporate outings, charity appearances, family vacations and overseas tournament invitations. “Managing Ian is like running a small business,” says Nemer. Poulter gets most animated when Nemer presents an invitation to sit in the Royal Box at Wimbledon for a third straight year. “It’s just silly,” Poulter says. “I grew up watching Wimbledon on TV, and they’d always pan the Royal Box, and there would be celebrities and icons of sport. It looked so glamorous. To go and sit there now with Katie, it’s crazy. I never, ever take these things for granted.”
Nemer also mentions details pertaining to Poulter’s favorite charity, Dreamflight, which annually brings a couple of hundred terminally ill children from the U.K. to Orlando for 10 days of fun at the amusement parks. Every year Poulter hosts a fund-raising tournament for Dreamflight at Woburn, his home club in England, and he’s usually waiting on the tarmac when the chartered 747 touches down in Orlando. He and his family are regulars at many of the outings. “I’ll never forget the dinner at which Ian got up in a grass skirt with all the kids and did the hula dance,” says Patricia Pearce, the cofounder of Dreamflight. “Or the time he jumped in with them to swim with dolphins. That man has such a big heart. The kids can feel that, and they light up around him.”
Still barefoot, Poulter strolls outside to greet the small army that has gathered in his driveway. For the photo shoot for this article, SI has brought in two photographers, a clothing stylist, a hair-and-makeup stylist and four assistants. Two of the glass doors on Poulter’s garage are open, revealing a white Ferrari FF (license plate: IANS FF) and a white Rolls-Royce Phantom (IANS RR). The crowd migrates into the Art Deco dream house, which the Poulters moved into last fall after nearly three years of construction. Ian micromanaged every detail. “I went totally mental,” he says. Like the man himself the house is stylish and eclectic, stuffed with surprises.
Above the fireplace is a moody black-and-white photo that was a gift from Dennis Hopper. Poulter became buddies with the iconoclastic actor-artist after they were paired together at the Dunhill Links. He stayed at Hopper’s house in Venice when playing in the L.A. Open, and Hopper traveled to England when Ian and Katie renewed their vows. One of Poulter’s most prized possessions is a signed painting of Nelson Mandela. Poulter was deeply moved to meet Mandela at a tournament in South Africa, and he outbid Ernie Els for the painting at a fevered auction more than a decade ago.
“That was back when I had no money,” he says. “But when I want something, I have to have it. Full stop.” Poulter gives a tour of the screening room, its walls filled with killer memorabilia (solid gold putter from his hero, Seve Ballesteros; a $100 bill signed by Arnold Palmer). Next door is a swank bar, one entire wall covered in alligator skin.
It is clear that for Poulter, this is more than a house—it is a temple to his success. His golf career began in the pro shop at Leighton Buzzard Golf Club, where he was paid 150 pounds a week. His first car was a beat-up Vauxhall Astra, which expired after three months and was then replaced by a dumpy Ford Fiesta. His first home was what he calls a “£29,000 maisonette.” Katie, toiling as a nurse, covered most of the bills. “I made so little working in the pro shop, all I could do was buy the groceries,” he says. “So I’m very proud of this house and all the finer things in life we get to enjoy. My parents are proud. Katie is proud. No one gave me any of this. I’ve busted my ass to earn every bit of it. People like to turn it into a negative, but shouldn’t they be inspired? I was always inspired by the success of others.
“I believe you should surround yourself with things that you love, that make you happy and remind you of your success. That gives you the drive to keep achieving great things.”
Poulter banters with the hair-and-makeup stylist, Yolando Winters, who expresses disappointment that he has retired the spiky, dyed hairdo she had glimpsed by way of Google. “I’m done with that cheesy look,” Poulter says. “I’ve grown up. I want something more polished.” He calls his new ‘do “the Beckham comb-over.” A long discussion about hair products ensues, with Poulter swearing by a gooey, viscous gel called Fudge. “It’s the best thing that’s ever been made, and I’ve tried ’em all,” he says. “They stopped making it, and I bought every jar I could find—I have four dozen upstairs. I figure it will last me two years. Then I’ll start panicking.
Final preparations are being made for the photo shoot. The wardrobe stylist, Christine Sonnenberg, has brought in tens of thousands of dollars in designer clothing, but after inspecting every garment, Poulter disappears to his vast closet and returns with his own blazer. Trying to cheer up Sonnenberg, he says, “The shirt and tie you picked bring the whole thing together.” Poulter’s clothing obsession began at Leighton Buzzard. “He was always meticulous in the way he folded the sweaters,” says an old colleague, Phil Abbott.
It was dissatisfaction with the prevailing golf togs that inspired Poulter to found IJP Design seven years ago. At one point during the day Nemer mentions that the company’s designers would like more input in scripting Poulter’s outfits during tournament weeks. “Nobody tells me what to wear,” Poulter says, ending the discussion.
During a break in the photo shoot Poulter retreats to the kitchen, cooling off with a homemade smoothie featuring spinach, kale, celery, apple, pear, lemon juice and ginger. He simultaneously works a phone, a tablet and a laptop. He checks his Twitter feed, again.
While more photos are being taken, Poulter surveys the crew to see if anyone is hungry. Without waiting for an answer, he instructs Nemer to order in sandwiches for everybody.
Poulter gobbles up a turkey sandwich while signing a couple of dozen Masters flags for a corporate sponsor. He labors over every signature, then adds a sketch of a flagstick. “Ninety percent of the guys on Tour, you can’t read their names,” he says. “Why even bother? It’s not that hard to make a little extra effort for people.” When he is finished Nemer asks him to add “Best Wishes” to each flag. Poulter begins to grumble but is cut off by his agent: “Ian, DBAC.” That’s their coded reality check for whenever Poulter starts acting like a diva. It stands for Don’t Be A C—.
Poulter finishes adding “Best Wishes” to the flags and reflects on a disappointing Masters; he shot 76–75 for his first missed cut on any tour since September 2011. “I drove it poorly, simple as that,” he says. At the 18th tee on Friday he gave his misbehaving driver to a kid standing nearby. Katie has another explanation: “I think he was too excited. He wants so badly to play well in the big events, sometimes it affects him.”
The short week at the Masters was especially disappointing because Poulter had a few special guests on hand. One was Andy Day, a Leighton Buzzard member who once staked the aspiring pro with £1,500. As an enduring thank you, Poulter has invited Day to each of the nine Masters he has played in. This year he also imported Abbott, his old mate from the pro shop, who says he was “chuffed to bits” by the invitation. “That’s Ian,” he adds. “He’s never changed. His lifestyle surely has, but he remains the same down-to-earth person he always was. He hasn’t forgotten where he comes from.”
Having finished the last of the photos, Poulter is back on his laptop. He checks Twitter again, then goes to his favorite website, Ferrari.com. As he explains, there are five Ferrari supercars prized by the most avid of collectors. He owns three of the models: a 288 GTO, from 1984 (in fact, it was the first one built); a ’90 F40 (with exactly 1,283 miles); and a 2002 Enzo. Poulter is pursuing a ’96 F50, and he’s on the waiting list for the soon-to-be-released LaFerrari, a 963-horsepower beast that has created a frenzy in the car world. It will carry an estimated selling price of $1.5 million.
Poulter loves his toys like a kid with a Matchbox car, but he can also cite reams of data that collectible Ferraris are appreciating in value faster than almost any other commodity. “You can buy a Fabergé egg, and it just sits there on a shelf,” he says. “These cars are just as beautiful, but you can have fun with them and they get more valuable every day. They’re a passion of mine for sure, but also an important investment.”
Poulter skips up his steel and glass staircase to change clothes for a trip to the driving range. To walk into his closet is to experience sensory overload. Throbbing rock music is playing through hidden speakers. There are three large drawers just for belts, which he matches to the color of his sunglass frames. A glass case displays 42 watches, many of them bejeweled. Clothes of every imaginable style and fabric hang on IJP logo hangers, each uniformly spaced, a tic that drives Katie crazy. “He definitely has some OCD,” she says, “and it comes out with the clothes.”
Poulter is milling around his “golf studio,” which occupies two of his six garage bays. “It’s like a tour van without wheels,” he says. There is an indoor hitting area with cameras and a launch monitor, a grinding wheel to work on his wedges, and various other contraptions for tuning his clubs. Three dozen large leather golf bags are stuffed with old clubs, and some 40 putters sit in an adjacent cubby. “This room gives me an advantage over most of the other guys,” Poulter says. Even if that’s not true, he believes it, which is just as important.
Poulter roars off in his souped-up golf cart, heading for the driving range at Lake Nona Golf Club, which is about 500 yards from his house. With his stereo pumping hip-hop, he tests 10 shafts to find a replacement for the discarded driver. He sets up a Trackman launch monitor, which feeds data onto his iPad. The numbers are helpful, but his eyeballs are the final arbiter. He is looking for a “nice, tight, two-yard draw.”
As always, Poulter works in solitude; he hasn’t had a swing instructor in years. While screwing in a new shaft, he explains, “You’re all alone out there between the ropes. You better be able to figure out your swing by yourself.” This self-belief impresses even the world’s best players. “If golf was a game based purely on talent, I don’t know if Poulter would be top 10 in the world,” says Luke Donald. “But because of his cockiness—shoulders back, that walk and talk—he gets a lot out of his game. I think it’s good for anyone to watch him and emulate that in a way. You have to hold yourself high, and he does that very well.”
“Killed that one,” Poulter says, to no one in particular. He has moved on to testing new three-woods, and he has just flown one 257 yards into what he calls a 15-yard wind. Poulter has won a dozen tournaments around the world, including a pair of World Golf Championship events, but he knows his individual accomplishments are not commensurate with his Ryder Cup heroics. Searching for an extra edge this season, he remade his bag, changing out the shafts in his irons, which allows him to hit the ball higher and thus attack more pins. He dropped a hybrid and added a gap wedge, part of a new emphasis on wedge play. He routinely spends an hour hitting wedges to precise distances. “I want to ingrain the different feel of 112 yards and 114 and 117,” he says. “The only way to do that is to put in the work. There are no shortcuts.
Poulter returns home, getting hugs from Luke and Aimee-Leigh, who are back from school and bouncing basketballs through the house.
Poulter heads to his home gym to work out with trainer Mitch Sadowsky. They started an intensive, five-day-a-week program a year ago, and Sadowsky says Poulter’s fitness level since then is “like night and day. He’s as motivated an athlete as I’ve ever been around.” The workout is interrupted when Joshua crawls into the gym and starts playing with the weights.
Adjacent to the gym are both a snooker table and a pool table. Poulter won his first billiards tournament at age eight, and he can still recite harrowing play-by-play of the championship match. Workout over, he takes on his son in pool, barking helpful bits of advice: “Pop that in with a bit of top-middle!” Luke does just that and is in control for most of the game, at least until his dad, suddenly interested, pockets four balls in a row. Eventually only the 8 ball is left. Luke blows a chance to end the game and then buries his face in the crook of his arm. “He never, ever misses on the 8 ball,” he says of his dad. True enough. Afterward Poulter offers his version of a pep talk: “You need to learn to win. No one is ever going to hand it to you.”
Poulter has agreed to do another photo shoot in the soft evening light. Between poses he looks ahead to the Players. He likes his chances because the course is “fiddly,” which is to say quirky, and that plays into the hands of this preeminent chipper and putter. Poulter knows the only thing missing from his résumé is a major championship, and the Players is the next best thing. “It pisses me off that I haven’t won one,” he says. “I still have a burning desire to win more golf tournaments. Big-time tournaments.”
A late bloomer, Poulter is convinced his best golf is still in front of him, and his friend and neighbor Graeme McDowell can’t argue: “Ian Poulter personifies how in this game there’s no recipe, there’s no path to success. The path to success is varied and difficult. Superstars in their teens can become lost at sea. Guys can really mature late in life in this game, like he has.”
Luke goes out to play a few holes, with Aimee-Leigh at the wheel of their golf cart. She has no interest in playing herself. “Golf is stupid,” she says. “It’s boring, and the clothes are lame. I’m a girlie girl—they need golf dresses. If I could wear a short, strappy, puffy dress, then I’d play golf.” She wants to be a fashion designer when she grows up. With her encouragement, IJP Design is in the process of expanding its line of women’s clothing.
Nemer has headed to the airport, and the photographers and their entourages are gone as well. It’s a lovely twilight, and the Poulter family gathers on the back lawn, along with the two dogs. Josh waddles around in his diaper, taking heroic swings with his plastic club, which elicits spasms of laughter from the others. “He refuses to walk for anything else,” says Katie. “He’d rather crawl. The only time he’ll walk is if he has his golf club.” All the while Poulter can’t stop smiling. This bucolic scene calls to mind a line by Henry Wheeler Shaw: “Money will buy you a pretty good dog, but it won’t buy the wag of his tail.”
Time to pick up dinner. Poulter slides into the sumptuous interior of his FF, its seats upholstered with IJP tartan. “I remember when I was a teenager, I saw on TV a feature on Greg Norman, and he was driving a white Ferrari Testarossa. I thought that was as cool as cool could be. Who didn’t want to be Greg Norman?”
Poulter walks back into the house with a sushi dinner, only to be informed he forgot to pick up the chicken nuggets and French fries requested by the kids. He heads out again, adding strawberry milkshakes to the order as penance.
After bath time Katie puts the kids down for bed. Her hubby slips away to his closet to box up the winter collection of clothes and hang the new spring-summer items. Thirty pairs of pants, 60 shirts and 30 sweaters find a new home, and the equivalent number of out-of-season items are banished to the golf studio. “I have to be busy, or I go crazy,” he says. “There are no days off. I don’t like to take an hour off.”
Exhausted, Ian and Katie head to bed. Naturally, they stay up and watch two episodes of Homeland.
Lights out, at last.
The next morning Poulter will report that he cannot remember having had any dreams. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, since all his dreams have already come true.