AUGUSTA, Ga. -- There are times when you must be embarrassingly wrong. For a golf writer, it's the journalism gods' way of keeping you honest.
The night before the first round, I was riding in a car with, among others, Marty Hackel, Golf Digest's Fashion Director, when the name Ian Poulter came up. The man also known as Mr. Style admires Poulter for his clothing line, love of the limelight and solid game, in that order.
Personally, I have always thought of Poulter as a bit of a cartoon, and said so. To me, he's never been good enough to back up the garish clothes he wears, or doesn't wear (see his recent Golf World UK photo spread), or the words that pop out of his mouth, most notably, "I know I haven't played to my full potential, and when that happens, it will be just me and Tiger."
My perception was that Poulter was no better than 40-something on golf's official World Ranking, yippy with the putter, a fringe qualifier for the Masters.
Marty was sure he was no worse than 30th, and probably much lower. When we got to our rented home we looked it up. Poulter, to my amazement was 24th in the world. Let me just say that it's tough watching a guy who wears a lot of pink denim jumping around trash-talking at your expense.
Of course, it only got worse on Thursday morning, when Poulter rode a hole-in-one on the 16th to a 70 and the early lead. When Mr. Style walked by, he gave me the business again.
I decided to escape by going to Poulter's post-round interview, where I ended up gaining a new and improved perspective. I gave more weight to the fact that the 32-year-old Englishman comes from the tough London suburb of Hitchin, where he tried to make up for his late start in the game by taking his clubs with him to secondary school so he could practice during noon break. That in his early 20s he was relegated to a dismal pro-shop job just to stay in the game, and used to get his supply of golf balls in exchange for driving a journeyman European pro to the airport.
It was the period of Woods' explosion onto professional golf, which Poulter said "gave me a massive buzz to go out and start practicing harder and harder and harder." The more Poulter spoke about Woods, the more it became clear that he wasn't saying he was ready to beat Tiger, but rather that he believed he could be the best of the rest.
In this context, I found his brashness, rather than off-putting, a gutty product of an environment that probably offered very little encouragement. Woods, too, seems to understand. "He keeps calling me No. 2," deadpanned Poulter, "which is nice."
So I've eaten my crow. Which for golf writer, is healthy.