Europe's Ian Poulter shares his secrets for matchplay success...
No golfer relishes the challenge of head-to-head matchplay more than Ian Poulter. The fearsome competitor has already notched up eight Ryder Cup points, including an unbeaten record in three singles. Add to that his win at the 2010 WGC Accenture Matchplay and the Volvo World Matchplay in 2011 and you have one of the world’s most successful matchplay players. TG spoke exclusively to Poulter ahead of the Ryder Cup to see what we could all learn about this most combative of golfing formats.
1. MAKE EVERY PUTT MATTER
The biggest advantage to hitting inside your opponent is that every putt you hit matters. If my opponent has hit to 20ft and I’ve hit to 10ft then I know my putt will either be to win or halve the hole. I always try to leave myself a putt to win the hole and that’s why I’m aggressive when attacking greens.
2. LET THE BIG DOG EAT
If ever there is an opportunity to get to a green, I’ll go for it. On a short par 4, or somewhere that gives the best chance of making three, I will be really aggressive in matchplay. You’ve got to take on risks. Cautious golf doesn’t win matchplay ties. You have to hit driver where you can hit driver, you’ve got to take on the short par 4s or leave yourself as short an approach as possible into the longer holes. If you don’t, your opponent will and you don’t want to leave that opportunity open.
3. CONCENTRATE ON YOUR OWN GAME
Again, I’ve heard the theory about laying back to hit first into greens in order to put pressure on your opponent but I don’t believe in that either. I don’t think it makes any difference if you are a good enough player to accept that your partner has hit a good shot and then you have to go and hit it inside him. If you are playing well you don’t have to worry about hitting in first or second. I’m concentrating on my game. So no matter if my opponent has hit to 2ft or 20ft I’m still trying to hit it stiff. If my opponent has hit to 10ft that isn’t putting me under any more pressure than I’m already under because I’m still trying to hole the shot.
4. TRY TO HOLE EVERYTHING
Every shot I hit to a green in matchplay I try to hole and it is the same with putting. If it is a 2ft putt or a 40ft I am trying to make it, not just get it close. That’s why I will always chip aggressively in matchplay and very rarely leave it short. When they go in they can be a killer for some players if they weren’t expecting you to make it.
5. GIVE NOTHING
I’ve heard this idea about giving putts early on in order to pile the pressure on later but it is absolute nonsense. If you give a two to three-foot putt a player is entitled to put the ball down and hit it as a practice anyway, so it is irrelevant. For everything but a simple tap-in you make them putt it every time.
6. EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
As much as I’m trying to hole everything I always expect my opponent to do the same. I never want a surprise, so even if it looks as though your opponent is out of the hole, you still have to play aggressively and expect him to hole his next shot. However, there are times when you have to be sensible. Birdies are what win holes but if your opponent has hit it in the water hazard and you know the best he can do is bogey there is no point being overly aggressive and bringing in an error for him to get off the hook. Take par if you need to take par to win the hole; just keep your man under pressure.
7. DON’T GIVE THE HOLE AWAY
There will be times when you hit a poor shot – you just have to make sure your next one is a good one. If you miss a green then hit your chip close. Or if a poor drive forces you to lay up, make sure you hit your approach inside your opponent so he has to work to win the hole. There is nothing worse than giving a hole to your opponent.
8. KNOW YOUR YARDAGES
On a par 5, if I can get to the green I’m going for it. But if I can’t then I’m laying up all day long – and that’s when you need to know your lay-up yardage. There is no point getting 30 yards short of the green when it is a front tucked pin just to get closer to the green. In that situation I’ll play to my percentages and I know my percentages of getting up and down from an ideal yardage as opposed to a tricky 30ft will be better. I’ll do whatever it takes to give me the best chance for birdie.
9. IT’S NEVER OVER
If you are five up or five down it is never over. I’ll play aggressively either way, because we’ve seen lots of matches won from what looked like losing positions. Sometimes there is nothing you can do if someone goes birdie, birdie, birdie on you. They might come out firing but continue to play positively and try to win every hole. Stay confident and positive.