Michael Jordan owned each NBA court he played on during his hoops career. In 2012, in Medinah, Ill., Ian Poulter made it his job to protect his court – albeit a grass one – from the NBA’s greatest player.
Tuesday on his SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio program, Unfiltered with Ian Poulter, the world’s 14th-ranked player recalled his encounter with MJ during the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club. Poulter and his Ryder Cup teammate for the day, Rory McIlroy, were locked in a must-win four-ball match for the Europeans against Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson.
As Poulter explained, from the 13th hole on, Jordan might as well have been wearing the American colors, too.
He [Jordan] was right there, he was there on 13, and I remember walking off the tee box at 13, looking over, and he kind of wagged his [finger]. And he was wagging it at me as if to say, “We’ve got ya, we’ve got ya.” So Rory holed that massive putt on 13 to start the comeback trail, I holed a nice birdie putt on 15, and there he was: Jordan, standing there again. And he’s just looking at me, staring at me. And I’m like, “This is amazing. This is what I live for. This is what makes sport great.” I’m a little golfer, Ian Poulter’s playing golf in the Ryder Cup, and there’s [a legendary] basketball player psyching me out in the Ryder Cup.
And you know what? I said, “Screw you. I’m gonna hole this putt.”
Poulter did nail the putt on 16 – the highlight is at the beginning of the clip below – but that didn’t stop His Airness.
I said to myself, I’m not allowing him to get in my space. And it’s not like he was in my space, but he was sort of there. He was there, and he was playing his basketball game. And you know what, it was my court, and he’s not playing ball.
He’s standing off to the side of the green, Dufner misses his putt, I fist pump that one [on 16] home [...] We’re walking off that green, there he is, 6-foot-8 – however tall he is – Jordan, standing right in my space. I’m walking toward the 17th tee. The claw hammer of a fist of his, he just keeps it out in front of him, and he kind of wags his finger, and he gives me a little jab in the chest with his fist. It was like a sledgehammer hitting me. It was ridiculous. I’m not going to tell you what I said to him at that point.
In the moment, was Poulter intimidated by Jordan’s looming presence?
You know what? I wasn’t intimidated. I felt privileged to be in that situation, to be in the heat of the moment, the power-packed point under the spotlight with everybody watching, and the pressure to hole putts, and the pressure to deliver was immense. And I was able to come up with the right putt at the right time, and take it to the U.S. team, and hole putts, and hole the right shot at the right time, to be able to give us a glimmer of hope going into Sunday singles.
In the end, Poulter and McIlroy’s win, which kept the U.S. lead at 10-6 heading into Sunday, paid off in a big way: The Europeans went on to put up a 8-3-1 record in singles on the final day, leading to one of the great comebacks in Ryder Cup history, a 14 1/2-13 1/2 victory.