HUMBLE, Texas — Coming off a grueling week at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play, Ian Poulter returned home to Orlando and weighed the options of playing the Houston Open versus taking a week off to rest.
“I always need some time off,” Poulter said. “You play a lot of golf in a short period in match play and you’re under pressure a lot so it’s very draining.”
Poulter ultimately made the decision to play on Tuesday because he felt his game was in such good shape that he could contend in Houston.
Lucky for Poulter, the decision to play produced one of the biggest wins of his professional career, and a return to the Masters.
The win was a fitting end to a roller-coaster two weeks that saw Poulter’s emotions run the gamut.
One week ago in Austin, Poulter was informed after his Round of 16 victory, over Louis Oosthuizen, that he was in the Masters field. Less than 10 minutes before his quarterfinals match against Kevin Kisner, Poulter was told that, in fact, there had been a mathematical error, and that he’d need to win to get in.
Poulter went on to lose 8-and-6 to Kisner.
“I was a little warm under the collar,” Poulter said. “Some people getting in my head space, which is never good.”
Poulter admitted the mathematical error continued to bother him during Thursday’s 1-over 73 — a round that had him so frustrated, he packed his bags in preparation for a missed cut on Friday.
“I was kind of forcing things, trying to force my way into [the Masters],” Poulter said. “Didn’t work, had to rethink it, had to blow the cobwebs out Thursday night and reset and go again.”
The mental reset proved to be the turning point for Poulter, who played some of the best golf of his career over the next 54 holes, moving from 123rd after Thursday’s first round into a tie for the lead with 18 holes to play.
Fairytale endings aren’t guaranteed on the PGA TOUR. But in Poulter’s case, his week ended with a finish straight out of a movie script.
Holding onto a two-shot lead as he made the turn, Poulter watched as Beau Hossler buried four straight birdies to take his first lead of the final round with three holes to play.
The momentum was swinging Hossler’s way and Poulter couldn’t seem to find a response. But instead of panicking and trying to force things, Poulter stayed patient and waited for his opportunity, one that would come on a stage he’s thrived on in the past.
Needing a birdie on the last to force a sudden-death playoff with Hossler, Poulter used the same putter that helped him produce a vital point during Europe’s dramatic 2012 Ryder Cup victory to bury the 19-foot birdie putt.
Hossler’s triple-bogey on the first playoff hole took some suspense out of the ending, but it didn’t take away from the fact that Poulter is finally back on top after going six years between TOUR wins.
“It’s been a long road the last couple of years with injury, questioning whether I’ve got a PGA TOUR card or not, and then obviously having some form and not quite finishing off in the past,” Poulter said.
It was nearly a year ago that Poulter hit the lowest point of his professional career at the Valero Texas Open.
Playing on the last start of a Major Medical Extension — foot surgery put him on the shelf for four months in 2016 — Poulter stood outside the scoring area after missing the cut in San Antonio and began to assess his future without a PGA TOUR card.
“That’s as low as I’ve ever been,” Poulter said. “That’s as far down the world rankings as I’ve been. Questioning whether you’ve got a card or not isn’t very good for your mental strength.”
The lows in life teach us a lot about ourselves and our resolve. For Poulter, he can now look back on that week in San Antonio as the turning point in his career when things started to change.
While a modification to the requirements for Major Medical Extensions gave Poulter an unexpected lifeline he wasn’t expecting less than a week later — he was granted full status for the remainder of the 2016-17 season — he began the process of working with agent Paul Dunkley to simply his life and concentrate on bettering his game.
The change almost produced near-immediate results as Poulter finished runner-up to Si Woo Kim at THE PLAYERS Championship. A year later, Poulter validated his hard work on and off the course with a week that he called one of the best of his playing career.
“Disappointment kicks in at some stages,” Poulter said. “But you know what? At times you have to dig deep. When you want something bad enough, then you have to go right down to the bottom and grab hold of what you can and come back up.”
Instead of donning a headset for Sky Sports next week at Augusta, Poulter will tote his clubs to play in his 13th Masters Tournament. It’s moments like these that have Poulter excited about making the most of his second act.
“The journey continues,” Poulter said. “I’ve had 19 good years on TOUR and I guess I’ve got another couple coming. So there’s life in the old dog yet.”