Ian Poulter: Hates to Lose

As usual, Ian Poulter kept the Media Center reporters at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship mesmerized and entertained with his oft times witty and unyielding opinion on losing. He began by providing an overview of how he’s been playing of late and a soliloquy on the his favorite form of golf, match play.

Always nice to play match play.  It’s no big secret with me.  And hopefully it comes at the right time of year.

So form has been a little disappointing out of the first few tournaments of the year.  I would have expected to play a lot better than I’ve shown.  I’ve worked very hard in the off‑season and nothing over the early weeks has paid off.  So I’m hoping it pays off this week.

It’s one of the purest formats in golf.  You can play fantastic, be 6‑under par and be going home.  You can shoot level par and be staying.  So you just have to do enough to dispatch your opponent, and hopefully I can do that tomorrow. 

He had been given the first tee time of the morning, 7:25. Did he have any issues with that? Well, the truth is that most players don’t care about their tee times because they can’t do anything about them anyway. So just check that off as another thing you don’t have to have on your mind when you show up to play:

I like my sleep, which means I’ll be in bed at 6:30 tonight.  It makes no difference really, I guess.  It’s not like it’s going to drop five inches of snow tonight [a humorous allusion to last year’s surprise snow storm out of nowhere].

And we’re going to be a little chilly in the morning.  I think the temperature out there is quite nice.  At 7:25, I think it’s probably 50 degrees.  So a sweater for the first couple of holes and T‑shirt from then on [even though he lives in Orlando, he’s a Brit at heart].

So with his almost crack of dawn tee time, there are some advantages:

It’s good.  It’s good any day of the week or any day of the month, to be honest.  It would be nice to get out there.  It would be nice to get the juices going in match play, which happens for me.  So hopefully I can — I can get out there early and get back in the clubhouse early and have a nice lunch.

This isn’t really hubris on his part although it could be mistaken for that. It is imagining his future in his mind and speaking life into it. Notice the use of the word, “hopefully.” The power of intention is the foundation for achievement in any endeavor. It fuels the required commitment and, in turn, the effort.

I remembered that he had had that first time before and thought it had been just last year?

I guess I’m in that unlucky slot, I guess you could call it.  I think I had it the year after I won, I think.  I don’t remember what my time was last year.

But there is the matter of having fresh greens all the way around?

Best time in the morning, apparently, so my granddad tells me.

His reputation as a match play winner, particularly in the Ryder Cup, came up. Why did he think he was so good at this rather arcane — at least for professionals — form of the game? And this is where his “hate to lose” thread began to come up.

I hate losing.  Sorry.  I hate losing.  Absolutely hate it.  Really detest it badly.  Really badly.

When did it become apparent to him that he felt that way?

Early days in football I was a bad loser.  Back then as a kid, I hated it.  I didn’t like to lose a football match.  I didn’t like losing a pool match.

I don’t know any great sportsman that’s a great loser, to be honest, providing you do it in your own space, I guess, and relieve the anger without anyone seeing it, then that’s fine.  I’ve always taken defeat pretty bad.  I don’t enjoy it.  I enjoy winning a lot more.

This is where anger first became an element of his emotional chemistry. Up until then, it had been about hating losing, not being angered by it. Someone asked how hating to lose related to stroke play?

Yeah, there’s obviously more people at play, 154 other guys on any given normal week.  You can come up against a lot of great players in those 154 others, which just managed to play better than you.  One‑on‑one, you can see what you have to do right in front of you.  You’re playing somebody, you’re in control of your golf ball and you can see what they’re doing with theirs.

So it is easier in match play to keep control of the game, I guess, rather than four rounds of golf.

So that created an opening for me to ask him about this whole anger thing:

Q.  Coming down the stretch and you’re behind in the match and you hate to lose, can you tell us a little bit about what that feels like?

I haven’t been down that often (laughter), but it’s not very nice.  You have to dig deep.  And you have to be aggressive and hole putts at the right time and turn those matches around.

Q.  And the anger doesn’t get in the way of that?

No, not really, no.  Not that I’ll show you, anyway.  Or try not to.

Q.  Could you tell us how you dissipate that?

Usual, count to ten.  There’s ways of controlling myself on the golf course and not having everybody see it.

With his predictable hard-charge at the end of the season, how is he able to explain whey he gets off to such a slow start each year?

I didn’t struggle to get out of the blocks last year.  I finished fourth.

I don’t know, to be honest.  I’ve worked exceptionally hard in the off‑season.  In fact, I’ve worked harder probably than what I worked to get ready for the back end of the year.  So it doesn’t make sense sometimes.  It hasn’t quite clicked in the first few tournaments like it clicked in the last four tournaments in the back end of last year.

And maybe certainly match play might be the spark that I need to get going.  It’s not for lack of a commitment to practice.  I’ve been pretty committed to hit a lot of balls at the start of the year, do a lot of gym work to try to get ready for 2014, and hopefully try to win a Major and put myself on the Ryder Cup team and all of those things.  But I’ve played three tournaments and it hasn’t quite worked out.

I would be expecting it to turn around very, very quickly and turn into some real good stuff.

But, alas, the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. He lost his match to Rickie Fowler in the first round, 2 and 1, and he was on his way back to Orlando, presumably filled with hate and anger.

Hopefully, in time, Poulter will come to see that it isn’t the hate and anger that’s working for him, it’s the intensely focused mind-state they sometimes trigger. When you’re able to get into that deep presence, emotions pretty much disappear and are replaced with a much sharper awareness of what’s happening right now, in that moment, as if nothing else existed.

That kind of clarity is what creates breakthroughs in performance.

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