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Ian Poulter must learn to play the Luke Donald way


Ian Poulter

Ian Poulter

Dave Martin

Ian Poulter

New World No 1 Luke Donald deserves credit for fearlessly facing up to the issues which held him back and correcting them.

Now Ian Poulter must do the same.

Poulter’s not be as naturally gifted as Donald but he’s blessed with irrepressible spirit and, at times, a near-infallible putter, as he showed last week in overcoming his fellow Englishman in the Volvo World Match Play final.

As he also proved in adversity at the Ryder Cup in 2008; by winning the 2010 Accenture Match Play in Tucson and as Europe’s leader in the field against the US at Celtic Manor, nobody’s tougher than Poulter when it’s mano-a-mano.

The days when he was most famous for his garish fashion sense are long gone. Now Poulter’s golf makes the headlines, usually for the right reasons.

Yet last Friday a serious chink in Poulter’s armour was once again exposed as he lambasted the Ernie Els revamp of Wentworth, saying the West Course had become “too difficult”, “unfair” and was no longer “fun to play”.

“I don’t like this golf course, end of story,” said Poulter, whose mood wasn’t helped by a double-bogey seven moments earlier at 18, where his ball rolled off the putting surface, ala Westwood in Sunday’s playoff, and into the ‘stream’ which now guards the green.

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He shot 74 that day and, after closing with a level par 71 on Sunday, finished tied 18th in the BMW PGA on two-over par, eight away from the play-off.

It’s not the first time this season he’s railed against the design of a tournament course.

On the eve of the Volvo Champions in Bahrain, for example, he was scathing in his criticism of the Royal Golf Club’s crazily contoured greens, saying they were almost impossible to play.

As ever in golf, this would become self-fulfilling prophecy as Poulter racked-up a calamitous 35 putts in a first round 72.

Yet Poulter does more damage to himself by letting golf courses get to him.

The ‘new’ Wentworth presents a challenge fitting for a championship which the European Tour hopes will rival America’s Players Championship at Sawgrass as the notional ‘Fifth Major’ and the philosophy worked out when the World’s No 1 and No 2 made it to sudden death on Sunday.

Two years ago, an American journalist created the wounding term “Luke Donald Disease of Underachievement” for a phenomenon in which golfers are satisfied with winning few cups but pots of money.

Last weekend, as he added Europe’s greatest prize to the 2011 Accenture Match Play title and brought his tally of top-10 finishes to 14 out of the last 15 tournaments, Donald displayed the perfect balance of ambition and ability.

There have been many changes in his life.

Becoming a father, to Elle last year was hugely significant, Donald says.

Linking up last summer with David Alred, the ‘motivational coach’ who counts Jonny Wilkinson and Ronan O’Gara among his most prominent rugby union clients, has been hugely significant in helping Donald acquire “the mentality of the assassin — one shot, one kill.”

Yet Donald is at last fulfilling his potential because he’s so much tougher mentally than before.

It’s an area Poulter needs to explore.

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