Such is the bond between the two Ryder Cup veterans, Ian Poulter needed little persuasion from tournament host Paul McGinley to commit to this week’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
World number 36 Poulter returns to Ireland for the second time in three years having previously not played the Irish Open since 2006, yet when his friend, former European team-mate, and 2014 Ryder Cup captain McGinley came calling to play Lahinch, the Englishman was more than happy to trust the Dubliner’s judgement that this week would be right up his street. Theirs is a relationship dating back 15 years when both played under Bernhard Langer in the famous victory over the United States at Oakland Hills.
“It goes back a long time,” McGinley said, “2004 we played Ryder Cup together in Detroit, Oakland Hills. Right through Seve Trophies, Royal Trophies, more Ryder Cups together, and then as the captain, I chose him.
“We’ve been great friends, I’ve always admired him. I’ve admired his spirit, his heart, his competitiveness more than anything else, and he’s a loyal friend as well as everything else.
"When I became host last year, he was one of the guys I spoke to very early on and he just gave me that wink he gives, you know, ‘leave it with me’ and sure enough, he’s delivered on that.
“I owe him a lot, to be honest. He was a tremendous part of the team in Gleneagles (in 2014), a very important part of the team, not just on the golf course but off it as well.”
McGinley is convinced the Alistair MacKenzie-designed Lahinch layout is tailor-made for the 43-year-old.
"This is a golf course you’re going to really enjoy,” the host told Poulter during a Skype conversation between the pair during the tournament media launch at Lahinch in April.
It’s not a massive golf course, just over 7,000 yards long. It’s a real shotmaker’s golf course, a thinking man’s golf course. There’s lots of course strategy out here. I sent you a WhatsApp earlier about MacKenzie, who designed Augusta, Royal Melbourne, those kinds of courses where you’ve played well in the past.
The Englishman, nicknamed the Postman because he always delivers at Ryder Cups, has not played since missing the cut at Pebble Beach last month in the US Open and Poulter promised: “I will have had four out of five weeks off, so I’ll be fully fresh, fully ready, fully prepared, and really looking forward to it.”
McGinley knows that whatever the performance, Poulter will certainly deliver as a crowd favourite for the Lahinch galleries this week.
“He’s charismatic. He’s a well-known name, he’s a character. He’s the fella you’ll see up in the town in the middle of the night. Well, not the middle of the night but having a pint. And he’s incredibly focused about his golf. As much as you see all the bravado and all the talk, behind it all, it’s incredible, at Ryder Cups he’s not a guy who’s shouting like a Braveheart, standing on the rooftop or standing on a chair and beating on the heart, ‘what we’re going to do tomorrow’. He’s not that kind of guy.
“He’s actually very quiet behind the scenes. He sits quietly, normally got a hoodie on with the hood up, sits listening and looking down as a captain you’re looking around the room at different players, you just see those eyes of his, they pierce through you and he’s drinking in every word.
“He’s a very loyal part of the team to everybody. He’ll have a quiet word with this guy, a quiet word with that guy. I’ve a lot of respect for him as a human being away from being a golfer. His heart is in the right place. I know sometimes it goes over the edge and people get the wrong impression of him but his heart is really in the right place.”
McGinley also thinks his friend, tied for 12th at the Masters in April, is also in the right frame of mind to put in a serious challenge for the title this weekend.
“He’s playing the best golf of his life, I really do. I watch his form very closely and every week he seems to be in contention. He’s got a second wind in his career ever since he came second in the Players Championship a couple of years ago. They (the PGA Tour) made a miscalculation with the numbers (for his tour card eligibility) and gave him a reprieve and he’s taken advantage.
"It’s almost like he’s got this turbocharged boost from it. He’s not one of the longest players off the tee but he’s still competing and when it comes to the big tournaments, the major championships, they’re not really about big hitting, which is an irony of the PGA and European Tours, which is a lot about big hitting. That’s not and hopefully that’s keeping him going because a major championship is something that would look really good on his cv and would be deserved, particularly for what he’s achieved in those Ryder Cups.”