GOLF

“People threatening you is not a pleasant position”

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Ian Poulter during a practice round at St Andrews (Getty Images)

Ian Poulter would normally ride a tidal wave of blue support ahead of an Open Championship, but golf’s Civil War has split loyalties and even infiltrated the scorched fairways of the Old Course. The 46-year-old was among defectors from LIV Golf who sought an emergency injunction to ‘reduce’ their suspension from the DP World Tour in order to play in last week’s Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club. Their appeal was successful, but the outcome for Poulter was not entirely positive. He opened last Thursday with a scorching round of 78 before a barely soothing 72 condemned him to a missed cut. His unshakeable pride forbids him to “give excuses for poor performance”, but the ructions have been tiresome. “There are definitely factors,” Poulter says. “To be honest, it’s up to everyone to decide what distractions were in play last week.”

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It’s clear the Englishman is keen to take solace from Storm LIV at St Andrews this week, where conditions are far more idle and the depth of the story defends against the superficial arguments of the present. At times, admits Poulter, it has been difficult. He had to stop checking comments on his social media in recent weeks due to the abuse he faced for his decision to line up with the Saudi-backed breakaway. “There were a lot of nasty remarks from the time I watched it and it’s not very pleasant,” he says. “People threatening you is not a nice position, which is why I haven’t watched that much.”

Poulter insists he has no concerns about receiving a backlash in person at St Andrews and is determined to “play golf and enjoy my week”. His family comes to see him, just like in 2000 when he played his first Open at the Old Course, and he is no different from the hordes of professionals who are keen on the landscape. “Top five [courses] I’ve played before,” he says. “I love everything about it. It’s so iconic. My feelings have remained the same since my first tee shot 22 years ago.

Poulter’s form may have declined – he’s currently ranked 104th in the world, a fact that won’t be helped by LIV’s current lack of ranking points – but there remains a steadfast belief that he is not yet too late to get his first major. “My ambition is to hold the Claret Jug on Sunday,” says Poulter, who will give behind-the-scenes access to his work to the Recast streaming service. “I haven’t won a major yet, so if you were a bettor, you wouldn’t be making me win this week. I’m going to be an absolutely massive underdog, but that shouldn’t stop you believing you have a chance. [Phil] Mickelson at age 50 won a PGA Championship. If ever that burning desire just doesn’t seem to be enough or if you think you have no chance of winning, now might be the time to put the clubs to rest.

A cynic might suggest this would actually result in a defection to LIV rather than a retirement, but Poulter has been candid in wanting to continue playing on the DP World Tour alongside the Invitational Series, a right he feels has been hard-earned for two decades and 390 tournaments on the circuit. “I have been one of the most committed players on the European Tour and certainly one of the most successful dual card members in the last 19 years where I have had two circuit cards,” he says. . “My commitment to the European Tour is still exactly the same.”

Whether Poulter can continue to do so in the future should be decided by lawyers rather than players. Yesterday again, the the wall street journal reported that the PGA Tour is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into potential anti-competitive behavior and no doubt there are still many reams of legal paperwork to be executed. If LIV Golf is to succeed, however, there remains a slim chance that he could eventually reopen the door to Poulter resuming his signature role as a Ryder Cup hero, albeit as captain rather than the beating heart of the European team. “I would love this opportunity,” he says. “I’ve always been committed to being available for that.”

Some might call it having your cake and eating it; others believe it is the right of players as independent contractors. “I know where I play golf,” he says. “Whether people choose to take this opportunity is up to them, but obviously I will always fight for my playing rights and what I believe in.”

Like the courtroom drama to come, however, that’s a battle for another day. “There were a lot of surprises [at how everything has unfolded] but that’s a much longer topic that I’m just not going to get into,” he says. For now, this week will revolve around The Open. You get the impression that Poulter is as keen as those concerned with the sport’s separation.

Recast is a subscription-free live and on-demand streaming platform that gives fans easy and affordable access to the sports and entertainment they love, and pays publishers for every view. Visit Ian Poulter’s Redesign Channel here.

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