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In the swing: love him or loathe him, Poulter remains a breath of fresh air

The outlandish Briton deserves credit for helping to bring golf into the 21st century, writes Neil Cullen in this week’s column.

Image: Sergio Torres/AP/Press Association Images

IAN POULTER IS a man who polarises opinion. While Paul Azinger proclaimed him the best matchplay golfer in the world , others find him a little too much to stomach.

As we saw with his win this weekend at the Volvo World Matchplay, there is no doubting that he is an extremely solid golfer; a very good golfer, in fact. Eleven Tour wins including a WGC event last year attests to that. He has also been in the top 20 in the world rankings for a couple of years now.

Poulter has achieved all that in a unique, extravagant, brash manner. Anyone who watched his semi-final win over Nicolas Colsaerts at the weekend will see just how vocal, loud and expressive he can be on the golf course. For some, this is a breach of etiquette – within the boundaries of what might constitute punishment, but expressive enough to be a breach from the norm. Golf is a sport to which the norm is so often conformed, predominantly because it has been engrained from a young age rather than the rules themselves being barometers of socially acceptable behaviour.

Poulter is different, he does things his own way, and this is the side of him that many people like. He shakes up the establishment, causes a bit of a stir. Remember when he wore those famous Union Jack trousers at the British Open in 2004? The tournament officials actually received complaints, but Poulter wasn’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers. “There are too many boring characters who don’t have much spark apart from their golf game,” he said.

That was almost seven years ago at this stage, and think of how fashion sense in golf has changed in the intervening period. White trousers are common place – there was a time when beige was as bright as you’d see. Ricky Fowler can come out dressed entirely in orange and while the commentators may complaint about having to wear shades to dim the brightness, his colour scheme is not deemed too outlandish. People have become accustomed to it.

And the game needed that. Golf has traditionally been associated with conservatism and many of the game’s rules remain archaic. The game was always on the radar, but it took Tiger Woods to bring it to the forefront of people minds. From that point, it is guys like Poulter who have moved it on and taken the focus and reliance away from one individual.

Now when we watch golf we see animated characters who express their personalities on the golf course, even if it is only in the way they dress. It broadens the appeal of the sport and adds a dimension that it so often forgotten, but which should be one of every sport’s founding principles, fun.

Ian Poulter’s confidence is another issue entirely. He is a melange of confident, arrogant, proud, deluded, and full of belief. This cocktail of traits was summed up nicely when he said “Don’t get me wrong, I really respect every professional golfer, but I know I haven’t played to my full potential and when that happens, it will be just me and Tiger.”

That was long before Tiger fell from grace and, since the weekend past, out of the world’s top 10. He claimed subsequently that the quote was taken out of context, but why was he even saying it in the first place? If he really does believe that, then you have to admire his confidence. Some might argue that was an arrogant statement, and in some ways it would be difficult to argue against that, but isn’t it refreshing? Doesn’t it add spice and candour to the debate?

Whatever your thoughts on Poulter’s character, his colour schemes, or his golf game, he has certainly introduced a different dimension to the sport, one which intertwines personality and success.

Honourable mention

Michael Hoey carried the torch for Ireland this week with his win at the Madeira Islands Open.  Last week’s column focused on three of Ulster’s finest – well, add another to your list. In winning in Madeira, Hoey picked up his second European Tour title – his first also came on Portuguese soil at the 2009 Open de Estoril. With Darren Clarke’s win last week, this is the first time two men from Ireland have ever won two weeks in a row on the European Tour.

Here he is summing up his final round:

“It was just very very tough,” he said afterwards. “I had to dig really deep, especially after I hit one in the rocks on 13, and I thought ‘that’s it now, I’ve thrown this thing away completely’.

It’s a crazy game. But I somehow managed to make a good swing on the third shot, and holed the putt for bogey, which was huge, it kept me in it. Then I birdied the next, and just parred in after that.

The main thing was my putting, I made virtually all the six to seven footers on the way in.

Read more of Neil Cullen’s weekly golf columns >

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