“There is something fascinating about it that makes its participants fist pump in a way they never do in any other golfing circumstance. It’s such drama, so intense. Look at Seve, Faldo, Monty: it’s amazing to see what happens to people. I really don’t think I’m any different.”
Poulter is now defined by the Ryder Cup. It has turned him – a man without a major win – into the most feared competitor of his generation, a player who embodies the team ethic which has propelled the European side to victory in four of the five tournaments in which he has participated. Even when he is not playing well.
By his standards he had a less than stellar tournament at Gleneagles last month, losing his first fourball match, playing with rookie Stephen Gallacher, 5 & 4 to Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, and was promptly rested for the afternoon. The following morning he was paired with Rory McIlroy and they had to battle for their half with Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler. Then in Sunday’s singles he managed to grab a half against Webb Simpson.
Europe had already won the match by that stage but that half, he admits, was so important as it ensured that his undefeated singles record was maintained.
“2014 was not a good season to reflect back on,” he says. “I was 12th in the world at the start, now I’m 40th. It was a real shame I had injuries. But you learn from that, I understand myself more. I’m a more experienced player. I’m in shape, I feel strong and at 38 I’ve got a lot of time left. [Miguel Ángel] Jiménez is still winning in his fifties. I can keep looking to get it right.”
Jiménez, incidentally, is a name likely to be in the frame when it comes to selecting the next Ryder Cup captain at Hazeltine in Minnesota in 2016. And Poulter is excited by who might be next in line to lead Europe in the competition. “There’s a few good candidates out there. Darren Clarke was in the mix last time, Jiménez could do it, Thomas Bjorn too. It’s on US soil next time, so you’d need someone who’s played a lot of golf there. It’s up to the committee, but if they were to ask me, I’d say go for Darren Clarke.”
And one day, it might be him. “Would I like one day to captain the Ryder Cup: are you kidding me?” he laughs. “There is nothing I would like more. Not yet though. At the moment, if you don’t mind, I’d like to play in a few more.”
He may have failed to score a whole point in a Ryder Cup for the first time but he did not dim his passion for the event, the team experience. “We play for ourselves week in week out. You become ridiculously selfish, all you are concerned about is yourself and your performance,” he explains. “Then, all of a sudden, you’re doing it for other reasons. You’re playing to help a team, to help a cause, help a continent if you like. It changes your perspective completely.”
Nowhere was Poulter more transformed than in Medinah in 2012, a Ryder Cup he is far happier reflecting on. With Europe facing ignominy, with their captain José María Olazábal unleashing a rant at the players over their poor showing, with the partisan American crowd baying for his blood, Poulter produced the most astonishing match in the competition’s history as he and McIlroy somehow turned around their Saturday fourball match against the effervescent Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson.
If the pair had lost, effectively the cup would have been the Americans’. Victory, however, kept the Europeans clinging to the window ledge, their nails dug into the brickwork, still in with an outside chance. Poulter’s final putt to win the point delivered a momentum that lifted his team to a turnaround that was later deemed to be miraculous.
“I have ignited the fire,” Poulter writes of his return to the team room, where he discovered his colleagues chanting his name like a football crowd.
Looking back on it, he says he can remember every last detail of that round: the noise, the light, the wind direction, the smell. The fact the watching Michael Jordan – in a failed bid to put him off his stride – punched him as he made his way between greens. And then there was his winning putt, which he recollects in his book with spine-tingling relish.
“It was a moment,” he says. “I’m not sure I knew it was going to happen. You never break it down when you’re playing – I need to birdie the last five to give us a chance – you just try to hit every shot. I didn’t think: ‘Yeah, I’m definitely going to putt this’. I just knew I had to. From a global, visual, dramatic spectacle perspective, the Ryder Cup is as big as it gets. Not just in golf, but in sport. So to be able to have helped the turnaround in that fashion was, yeah, the highlight of my career. It was big.”
What Poulter demonstrated as he addressed the putt which changed everything was an unparalleled ability to produce in the most testing of circumstances. Unlike many an England footballer faced with a crucial penalty, he sank it with a chilling lack of nerves. Yet he has never sought any psychological assistance to help him master the most mentally challenging sport.
“I think I understand what any psychologist would say to me, if I had discussion with him for several hours,” he says. “I know you won’t believe this, but I’m a very reserved person. I’ve kept a lot of things inside and don’t want to reveal them to anyone, least of all a psychologist. I prefer to deal with things myself. I find it interesting to try to work it out for myself. I work out processes that I think will help.”
And he is never short of processes. Poulter admits in the book that he suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It has at times been an obstructive condition, like the occasion when he went close to meltdown during the building of a new home in Florida, a project he attempt to micromanage to an almost comical degree. But he believes OCD has been ultimately beneficial in his golf.
“It probably has helped,” he says. “Call it a tendency, a habit, a trait, it’s something I’ve always had, I’ve always wanted the best. From the outside it can appear funny. I’m obsessed with how things look in the house, how my clothes are displayed in the cupboard, how my trousers are ironed. But when it comes to golf, it always keeps my mind fresh, keeps me focused on always wanting to improve. I want things to be perfect. I suppose you could say, I’m proud to be a perfectionist.”
No Limits, by Ian Poulter is out on Thursday, Oct 23 in hardback, £20.00, Quercus