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Poulter's wildcard should be his last

ESPN staff
August 29, 2012
Ian Poulter received one of Europe's two wildcard picks © Getty Images
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Jose Maria Olazabal's decision to hand Ian Poulter a wildcard selection for the forthcoming Ryder Cup was as inevitable as it was totally justified - but if the Englishman finds himself in the same situation next time, he does not deserve to be so lucky.

Twice now, twice in succession in fact, Poulter has been unable to qualify for Europe's team for the biennial competition on merit - instead needing to be handed one of the captain's valuable picks for the 12-man team, based on his remarkable record in the competition and undoubted matchplay poise.

"I think every one of you pretty much guessed that Ian was going to be there," Olazabal admitted after the announcement was made. "He's had a great Ryder Cup record.

"He was playing well, he had some issues early in the season. He got ill and he couldn't play as much as he could, but his attitude and his spirit in the Ryder Cup team has always been great. He's one of those players who likes to be in that situation."

The decision was not hard to make - if there was no qualification criteria at all, Poulter would probably be picked third or fourth for most people's European squads - but it did nevertheless come with something of a disappointing undercurrent, just as with two years ago.

Poulter has now forced two European captains, Olazabal and Colin Montgomerie, into burning a valuable pick on him when it could have easily been avoided. Twice Poulter has entered the final week of the qualification process with a viable chance of making the team on merit, but twice he has now eschewed that possibility in order to play in America, where the individual potential financial rewards are greater.

In effect, Poulter has twice prioritised his chance of that $10 million FedEx Cup jackpot over his Ryder Cup participation - knowing that his past record in the competition and overall matchplay CV makes him almost impossible not to pick.

Some would call that calculated - others might suggest it is a touch cynical. Whatever the case, after getting the nod he reacted, somewhat misleadingly one senses, as if he did not share the general perception (he was 1/66 with bookmakers) that he was guaranteed a pick.

Taking to Twitter, Poulter responded: "I am just thrilled to get the call last night from Jose which was a great moment, and I'm going to be thrilled to, again, pour some passion over the holes at Medinah and I'll try my best."

The somewhat awkward qualification system for Europe is designed to put a premium on European Tour participation while accepting the realities of the modern, worldwide game - to the point that international players like Luke Donald and Lee Westwood (who play on the PGA Tour as much as anywhere else) qualify through the world points list, while European Tour loyalists like Paul Lawrie and Francesco Molinari secure their place through the European Points list.

Ian Poulter's passion and record in the Ryder Cup cannot be questioned © Getty Images
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All hopefuls, however, have to be European Tour members to get on the team. That is why Carl Pettersson, despite being European, was ineligible for even a wildcard selection - the Swede unavailable for the squad despite one PGA Tour win in 2012 and a strong challenge at the US PGA Championship.

If you are to represent Europe at the Ryder Cup, the powers-that-be want you to be a European Tour member too. Yet, twice in succession, Poulter has now snubbed that tour at a crucial juncture for his own (potential) personal gain.

Does that really make him markedly different from Pettersson?

It is not as if Poulter could not have skipped last week's Barclays Championship (where he finished in a tie for 36th) and still win the FedEx jackpot. People have missed playoff events in the past (Jim Furyk did it in 2010, in fact, while Jason Dufner is attempting to do it this year) and ended up in the winner's circle.

Showing up at Gleneagles and attempting to dislodge Martin Kaymer (who is in such bad form at the moment that Olazabal would probably have appreciated the German not being in the team) would at least have indicated Poulter sees a Ryder Cup place as a privilege, not something approaching a right.

In the end, though, Poulter's record overruled any other lingering concerns.

"I think he gets the best out of himself playing the Ryder Cup," Olazabal said on Monday. "The two times I had the opportunity to share a few moments with him at Valhalla and Celtic Manor, you didn't need to motivate him.

"Just by looking at his eyes you could see he would give everything he had during that week."

Next time, however, it might be nice to see Poulter adopt that attitude in the weeks leading up to the event too.

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