• ESPN meets Ian Poulter

Poulter aims to make sacrifices pay dividends

Alex Perry
November 13, 2013
Poulter heads into this week's season-ending World Tour Championship with a shot of winning the Race to Dubai © Getty Images
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Ian Poulter. Poults. IJP.

Fourteen-time Tour champion. Two-time World Golf Championship winner. Ryder Cup performances so valiant the word 'hero' just doesn't seem enough. And this week in the running to win the Race To Dubai, should he come at least third in the DP World Tour Championship and current leader Henrik Stenson finishes no better than 38th.

But while many fans see professional golfers as having their dream job - jetting around the world, playing the finest courses and, for the better players, earning plenty of money doing it (a $1 million bonus awaits the Race To Dubai winner) - what we rarely see is the sacrifices these players make.

And though we may have plenty of nicknames for Poulter, to his four children he's simply 'Dad'. And, along with adoring wife Katie, they bring out the softer side of the fiery Englishman. The side we're not privy to on a day-to-day basis.

"Being a successful golfer is the best job in the world," he tells ESPN, sinking into an armchair in a cosy corner of Woburn Golf Club's stylish clubhouse. "It brings the luxuries in life which you could never dream of."

Poulter shifts his facial expression to suggest there is a 'but' coming.

"But the sacrifice is you don't get to see your kids for 30 weeks of the year. I have four beautiful children and a lovely wife - and it's hard to break myself from them to go and play golf sometimes."

Away from golf, Poulter spends time working on his clothing label, IJP Design © IJP Design
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Poulter pauses for a moment, and then reveals the one question he dreads every time he packs his suitcase: 'When are you coming home, daddy?'

"It's pretty horrible to be honest," he adds. "Sometimes it's a week, sometimes two or three. But during the Asia swing it can be a month."

Does this affect his decision to play in some tournaments?

"It can't," he says, shaking his head. "My job's my job and I have to play golf to provide for my family in a way that I couldn't do if I was doing a nine-to-five job. I'm fortunate that I'm good enough at my job to make a nice living. We all reap the rewards of that when I get back and I get some time off.

"We're a completely normal family. Completely normal. What you see is what you get. When we did the videos of us eating cereal from the Ryder Cup trophy - that's just the way we are.

"When I'm at home, I'm just relaxing. I lay on the sofa while the kids jump all over me. You don't realise how little time you do have until you're having fun with them. I love spending time with them and it's a shame I don't get to see them growing up on a day-to-day basis."

The Hitchin-born star's rise from assistant pro at Chesfield Downs Golf Club to chief tormentor of various US Ryder Cup sides is well documented. But does he miss anything about those days?

"Not at all," he laughs, then thinks about it again. "Nope. Nothing.

"I don't miss changing dirty spikes on dozens of pairs of shoes each day. I don't miss the club member who comes in with his shoes which he's had for 45 years and they stink and need new spikes - but his old spikes are so old they've rusted in and you've got to file them down to get a pair of pliers at them to wrench them out. That's a two hour job right there and all he pays you is £3.20 for a new set of spikes. I don't miss any of that.

When I'm at home, I'm just relaxing. I lay on the sofa while the kids jump all over me. You don't realise how little time you do have until you're having fun with them.

"But I loved my time in the pro shop. I had a brilliant time. I enjoyed going through all the PGA exams but it was time to get out and prove what I could do on the course."

Is there any truth in the rumour he once holed out on the putting green from inside the pro shop?

"Yes, it's true," Poulter says, reminiscing. "I think I won a KitKat. It would have been an orange KitKat too. They were great."

You don't have to see too many clips of Poulter to know the man is enormously passionate about everything he does - whether he's on the course, working in his clothing range, IJP Design, fawning over his car collection or following Arsenal Football Club. But I bet you didn't know this.

"I love art. I absolutely love art. I'd love to start buying some clever art. It's definitely something for the future. I would love to get some original stuff by [satirical graffiti artist] Banksy, but there's time for that."

And how about alternative careers, or life after golf? Poulter's eccentric dress sense is almost infamous. Inspired by his mother, who was a manager at fashion chain Dorothy Perkins, Poulter's most controversial moments included a pair of trousers at the 2006 Open Championship emblazoned with the Claret Jug, and the time he teed up for a practice round wearing the football shirt of his beloved Arsenal.

The obsession led to Poulter starting his own clothing label. But how much time does this take from his game?

"Not much at all," he says. "We've got a great team in both the UK and US offices to help build the brand and the designers are doing a fantastic job. The clothes look fresh and the new designs are coming along great - and we're very excited about the women's range which has just been launched."

So with the career, all the passions and a booming apparel business, does Poulter get any downtime?

"When I'm not doing any of those things or with my family, I'm watching sport," he says. "Frustratingly, I haven't been to an Arsenal game in two years. I tend to be in England during pre-season and I'll be in the States from August until May or June. That's the whole season done so I can't get to any games.

"But my career is important and I'm in the gym a lot and, of course, practising to get better."

Reflecting, he adds: "It's so tough being away from the family. But this is what you have to do."

I have interviewed Ian Poulter on a number of occasions in my career and never seen see this side of him. As we wrap up, Poulter turns the conversation briefly to football. I ask him if he would give up golf to be a footballer.

"I'm 37 and doing alright thanks," he says with that steely glare which is all too familiar. "If I was a footballer I'd be in a Zimmer frame. What a stupid question."

Ah. He's back.


Alex Perry tweets at @AlexPerryESPN

Poulter was talking to ESPN on behalf of his clothing brand IJP Design. Visit IJPDesign.com for more information.

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