'The best is yet to come'

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 November, 2011, 12:00am


It's early morning Orlando time, and Ian Poulter is up and on the move. The British golfer has a lot on his mind today which is, really, the way it has to be every single day when you have chosen the path of the modern-day professional athlete.

Poulter's schedule reads like the perfect template for what pro sports now demand. There's a corporate engagement just ahead, out on a local golf course, there's his own practice to fit in and then there's some more gym work to do, too - always, now, more time in the gym due to both the demands of the game and due to basic common sense.

'You have to look after yourself, it's as simple as that,' says Poulter.

'I started out for seven years, from 17 to 24, working in a pro shop so the gym was not really part of my make-up. To be honest, I really don't enjoy it, but you need it to ensure your longevity, and so these days I go in there more and more.'

It's all part of the preparation, Poulter says, and the 35-year-old world number 25 certainly needs to come prepared when he hits golf courses over the next few months - and indeed over the next year. As we speak, Poulter casts his mind forward to his next trip through Asia, which begins with the Mission Hills World Cup starting on Thursday in Hainan - where he is partnered with long-time friend and neighbour Justin Rose - and then there is the matter of his defence of the UBS Hong Kong Open.

Last year, Poulter strode into town with his game face well and truly fixed and focused. He had mentioned to Graeme McDowell that before taking to the Fanling fairways he thought the tournament might just be his for the taking, and how prescient a claim that proved to be. A steady start on the Thursday with a three-under 67 was followed by a Friday that produced a round for the ages - a 10- under 60.

Not even the minor earth tremor that caused a few knees to tremble on that day - and some champagne glasses to wobble in the hospitality marquees - could put Poulter off his game. He closed the tournament with a 64 and a 67 for a stunning 22-under 258, always somehow managing to keep the chasing pack a club length away.

'I have been coming to Hong Kong for some time now, and it has always been a nice place to visit and to play,' Poulter says. 'To come back as defending champion is something special. I have flirted with 59 a few times in my career and to do that in Hong Kong again last year was a fantastic experience. It is a golf course that suits me and the way I play.'

Poulter says that means the Hong Kong Golf Club's Composite Course calls on players to draw on every aspect of their game. 'It's a classic course,' he says. 'It's an older style and not just a banger's course.

'You really have to get out there and play your shots and I like that in a golf course - being tested - and we don't get a lot of chances to play that type of course these days.'

Poulter has watched at first hand the development of golf throughout Asia - he took part in the Shui On Land China Golf Challenge and the HSBC Champions in Shanghai this month - and he believes the growth of courses and of the game in the region bodes well for its continued expansion.

The growing strength of Asian events is certainly reflected in the line-up for this year's Hong Kong Open as Poulter will face a field boasting the likes of world number two Rory McIlroy, the in-form Rose, and major winners Padraig Harrington, Yang Yong-eun and Italian hotshot Matteo Manassero.

'If you look at the number of Asian golfers and golf courses being built, you can see the game is coming ahead in leaps and bounds throughout the region,' he says. 'Having the sport in the Olympics in 2016 is a huge boost, too, for Asian golfers and will give them something to work even harder for. It's an exciting time and an exciting thing to watch.'

Representative golf is something that Poulter has long held close to his heart. The World Cup in Hainan will be the fifth time he has competed in the tournament for England and he was, of course part, of the European Ryder Cup team who last year beat the Americans 14 1/2-13 1/2 at Celtic Manor, Wales - the third time he has taken part in the game's top team event.

Next year sees Ryder Cup action return to American soil - it will be played in September at the Medinah Country Club outside Chicago - and Poulter freely admits it is an event that is already looming large in his thoughts and his plans. And that's sure to add some extra spice to play at the Hong Kong Open, too.

Gathered here this year are no less than eight of the 12 players who took part in the victory for Europe in Wales last year alongside the man who will captain them in the United States, Spain's Jose Maria Olazabal. They no doubt will be looking to impress the man in charge.

'It's still a way off, but it will be at the back of our minds for sure,' says Poulter. 'Everything I do over the next 12 months will hopefully put me in the picture because for a golfer there is nothing like the Ryder Cup. Every event from now is pretty much orientated towards getting there and being part of it all again.'

And in case the world was ever left in any doubt as to how Poulter was feeling about anything, there's the little matter of the man's Twitter account to turn to. With more than 1.2 million followers, Poulter has established himself as the world's most followed golfer - fair play to him, too, considering the Englishman was among the first golfers to embrace the social media revolution and every day sends a regular stream of updates on what he's up to, from his work on those fairways to his highly successful Ian Poulter Design fashion line.

'It's a great way to make a connection,' he says. 'It's a way of letting fans know what you are doing, in practice and at the gym, and you can have a lot of fun with other golfers.

'It also helps with various business promotions that we do, but the number one reason I do it is because I enjoy it. It's just great fun.'

After winning the Hong Kong Open, Poulter carried his form through to last year's season-ending Dubai World Championship, where he lost in a play-off to Martin Kaymer. That result ensured a career-high fourth placing in the lucrative Race to Dubai and eighth in the world rankings as 2010 drew to a close.

But it has been a strange sort of year for Poulter since. In May, he added the World Match Play title to the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship he won last year, thereby becoming the first player to win both events, held on opposites sides of the Atlantic. And then it was slim pickings the rest of the way.

The Englishman recently claimed that the fact he was knee-deep in the process of having a new multimillion-dollar home built in Orlando had taken up too much of his time - and his attention. But there were strong signs of a return to form at the HSBC Champions, where Poulter finished tied for 13th.

And the house, Poulter says, is now all coming together and should be ready for his family to move in come March.

'It's been a disappointing year,' Poulter says. 'But I am looking now for a strong finish and think the best is yet to come. I've been working hard on my game and in the gym lifting weights, so I feel fresh and ready to go.

'Looking back to last year I had a couple of chances to get that 59.

'You go birdie, birdie, birdie and then come to the 15th you realise what is happening and it's a great feeling. I was so focused I didn't even really notice the earth tremor. But that's what this game is all about, the days when it comes together. There's just no other feeling like it.'


Twitter followers


age when first hit a golf ball


tournament wins as a professional