Even if Ian Poulter qualifies for the Ryder Cup in September, he could refuse to play. That was the startling claim the Englishman made here in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday as tensions mounted around LIV Golf.
Poulter, 47, is perhaps Europe’s most celebrated player in the biennial fight since Seve Ballesteros, starring in five winning teams in seven appearances. His role in inspiring the Medinah Miracle, the incredible comeback in Chicago in 2012, earned Poulter the nickname “Mr Ryder Cup.”
But joining the Saudi-funded circuit last year in a £22m deal, Rory McIlroy, among others, accused Poulter of threatening his legacy. Stung by the insinuations, he revealed on Yas Links that he “doesn’t know where my head is anymore” when it comes to his career-defining event.
“Not really,” Poulter said. ” Your [the Ryder Cup] the only thing that has mattered to me for 20 years. You all know that. But when you feel things change, you might feel a little different. I would love to rate. If I play or not, it would be something else. I have not given up on anything. If I win these two weeks, who knows?
The problem is that this fortnight – first the Abu Dhabi Championships which start here on Thursday, followed by next week’s Dubai Desert Classic – could be the last time Poulter appears on the local circuit of which he has been a member for 23 years.
There is a court hearing in the UK next month where it will essentially be decided whether the DP World Tour has the power to ban Poulter and LIV’s other golfers, including Lee Westwood and Henrik Stenston.
However, even if the judge sides with the Rebels and they are allowed to play on, Poulter doesn’t expect Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald to hand him one of his half-dozen wild cards, regardless of how he’s competing. .
“I certainly don’t expect to get one of the six picks,” Poulter said. “Not in any way, shape or form. Which is also a shame. What does that tell you? What is the story there? You’ve said enough for me to know what you know. That in itself is scary.”
Poulter confirmed that neither he nor Westwood nor Stenson have been invited to play in Wednesday’s pro-am.
“And I don’t know if they’ll put me on TV, but that doesn’t bother me anymore,” he said.
“Look, 2022 was full of big distractions. And my entire focus for 2023 is to have as few distractions as possible, play good golf, and have fun. It was a tough 2022 with everything in the public domain. And as frustrating as it is for me, when I feel like some of it is really unfair, it’s been easy to let things boil over inside. Because the whole story hasn’t been told.”
Poulter is trying to keep a low profile, but agrees that his social media presence makes him tough. Last week was a case in point, when he earned widespread ridicule for criticizing the Tour’s failure to tweet birthday greetings to Sergio Garcia, the Ryder Cup’s all-time leading points scorer.
“We always do those petty things, don’t we?” he said. “From time to time we fight petty with petty. These things happen. Over time I have said a lot of nonsense. But that was just highlighting meanness with meanness. Should I have said it? Yes and no. All I did was highlight one fact. There was no other reason.
“It’s unfortunate. But I have to change who I am. Things aren’t turning out the way they should. I have to be careful. Which isn’t what I’ve always done. I always said what I said, I got slapped when I said something wrong, I took it on the chin and I moved on. Now I don’t allow myself, except for the occasional comment, to get slapped.”
Poulter’s challenge here has been affected by the lack of arrival of his clubs.
“I’m going to play a couple of holes now with a half set that made up for me,” he said. “I’m going to walk around the course and chip and putt. I will do my preparation today without my clubs”.