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By Kent Gray
From his mentorship of UAE No.1 Ahmad Skaik, to the new European Tour-PGA Tour alliance, to the Ryder Cup in Whistling Straits and XXXII Olympics in Tokyo, and even his takeaway wish-list at Atlantis, The Palm next week, Ian Poulter delivered an opinion on Friday.
The 44-year-old Englishman was teed up by sponsor DP World for an intimate one-on-one with UAE media ahead of the European Tour’s season ending Dubai double-header and didn’t disappoint.
Poulter doesn’t land in Dubai from his Orlando base until Sunday so will only play the DP World Tour Championship from Dec.10. But while his personal focus will be in claiming a 13th European Tour title (at 26th in the Race to Dubai standings he’s too far back to challenge for overall honours), Europe’s Ryder Cup “Postman” will take special interest in the new Golf in Dubai Championship presented by DP World starting Wednesday.
As part of his relationship with DP World, Poulter has a runner in the field in the form of Skaik who he has begun mentoring. This week’s event on Fire at Jumeirah Golf Estates will be the 23-year-old Emirati’s second European Tour start after he qualified for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in January.
Poulter has been working to help Skaik keep a lid on his expectations after rounds of 84-85 left the lefty 25-over-par on The National at Abu Dhabi G.C., 26-shots shy of making the cut and under no illusions about the standards required to compete at the highest level.
“I’ve actually just got off the phone from him five minutes ago just to kind of take him through where his mindset is, where he feels his expectation levels are for the week, what would be an acceptable week for him,” Poulter said via video link-up from Florida.
“It’s very hard. He’s got a lot of pressure on him this week, obviously, home tournament, a course he knows… he’s said the cut is where he feels will be a successful week. I tried to take that out of his mind and said, look, I would look at this as, go and enjoy yourself first and foremost. If you can tee off without having a strong expectation of having to achieve a certain goal, and if you play well during the week, you will surprise yourself.
“And if you go out with a relaxed mindset, be super smart in your approach to some of the difficult holes that he’s going to find, plays very aggressive on the holes he feels he can take advantage of, I think he could put himself in a good position.”
Poulter said it had been been “extremely rewarding” to get to know Skaik, “his personality, how he’s taken himself through the years, the pressure of playing in the Abu Dhabi HSBC tournament last [January], his process into playing this week.”
“It’s a very interesting conversation to have with him, it’s something that I’ve done through the 20 odd years of playing professional golf, that sometimes you put a bit much pressure on yourself. It’s easy to make mistakes when you are under that sort of pressure.
“I feel it’s never easy but if I can give him one piece of advice which he takes forward leading into this week, or whether it’s leading into one of his other tournaments and helps him in that process, then that’s great.”
On the new strategic alliance announced this week that will see the European Tour and PGA Tour collaborate on scheduling, prize money and TV deals, Poulter gave an enthusiastic approval, albeit little detail of where he sees things moving.
“I think it is a great partnership,” the world No. 46 said.
“The partnership between the two tours can only strengthen things moving forward. They’ll be more in alliance with tournament schedules, to maximise and maintain that if players want to play globally, on a global platform, that we don’t have very big tournaments clashing with other very big, big tournaments.
“The TV deal when you look at how that will generally work as a partnership, they will be able to be in a stronger position to move that forward. So it’s good. I feel very pleased that the European Tour and the PGA Tour are growing their relationship. I feel it is a good thing.”
Poulter said his focus in 2021 would be on collating Ryder Cup points early, beginning at the Desert Swing. Along with the Ryder Cup, the also rescheduled Olympic games in late July-early August is on his radar but barely (he’d need to get his world ranking into the top 16 to be assured on a start in Tokyo) with Whistling Straits, outside the majors and WGCs, his priority.
But for now, his focus is on finishing a difficult year on a high. After a string of encouraging results recently – T-6 at the Scottish Open, 5th at the BMW PGA Championship, 12th at the CJ Cup in the U.S. before a share of 25th place at the Masters – Poulter is looking forward to his week in Dubai.
“Just a big push for me for the last tournament of the year to come over to play the DP World Tour Championship which is something I’ve always played well at, something I’ve always enjoyed playing and obviously we’ve got the Grand Prix [in Abu Dhabi] next weekend as well so it’s going to be a fun weekend.”
He praised Dubai for opening up for international events, saying sport played an important mental health role as the world continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic. That said, there will be more COVID tests and another tournament-official hotel bubble to enter come Sunday. That, in turn, had the Postman thinking of his belly before a December where he anticipated lots of ‘Elf on the Shelf’ antics with his young family back in Orlando and a focus on fitness.
A reporter listed all the perks of having exclusive use of the West Tower at Atlantis the Palm, the private pool and beach area and what was described in official documents as a “very good buffet in Saffron restaurant”.
“As long as we can get takeout from Nobu [with its Japanese-Peruvian cuisine and the Michelin-starred] Hakkasan, that’s fine,” Poulter said before the reporter politely interjected.
“I think you can get room service from Hakkasan definitely, I’m not sure about Nobu…”
Fret not, Poulter retorted. “There’s a lot of players putting some pressure on to make sure we get Nobu delivered. When you come to Dubai, you’ve got to enjoy what Dubai is and it’s great food… so that’s exactly what we need,” Poulter said with a grin.
Chances are the Postman will get a special delivery or three himself as this very strange, crazy year draws to a close.