NEWPORT, Wales – Picking Ian Poulter out of a crowd may never be tougher than this week at the Ryder Cup. In the interest of team harmony, the Englishman known for his spiky haircut, over-the-top outfits and saucy Twitter feed has promised to dial it back.
But only so much.
The same guy who wore pink from head to toe in front of a tough New York crowd on the last day of a U.S. Open has already scored a small victory for fashion by convincing European captain Colin Montgomerie to add a dash of the color to the team uniforms — even though it won't be glimpsed on match days. Getting his fastidious boss to rescind a Twitter ban turned out to be trickier still.
"What is said in the team room stays there, and that's absolutely fine," Poulter said. "Everybody needs to respect that."
Yet the sly grin creasing his lips a moment later suggested the negotiations hadn't ended there. The only boundaries Poulter usually acknowledges are on a golf course, marked off by white stakes.
"No," Poulter chuckled, "I didn't have to twist his arm. So I will be doing the odd tweet."
Nothing new from him as of Tuesday evening, but don't think all the color will be drained from the 38th edition of the cup at Celtic Manor.
Yes, the uniforms will be tasteful and some of the juiciest material may not leak out for weeks. And, yes, the intense personal rivalries that helped fuel the overheated spectacles of the last decade — climaxing with the drunken debacle at Brookline in 1999 — are mostly a thing of the past. Three European team members, after all, now make their home in the States and a half-dozen play the PGA Tour regularly.
But if Poulter gets the chance, he promises to light the place up.
"I think because we play so much golf together, we all get on a lot better. But if anything, that's going to intensify things," he said. "I think guys are going to want to win more passionately than before. And that can only be good."
The Americans haven't made him a focal point, the way his teammates routinely do with Tiger Woods. But oddsmakers over here took care of that for them, making Poulter the 10-1 favorite to be the top European performer. And if the bookies are right, well, chances are good he won't pass up an opportunity to hog the spotlight.
Poulter played defiantly well in a losing effort in 2008, winning four of his five matches after his controversial choice as a captain's pick by Nick Faldo. He didn't make the team four years earlier, but jabbed the American players nonetheless after his side's biggest victory ever by scattering tees with the winning margin printed on the side — Europe 18½, USA 9½ — on the driving range at a tournament in Ireland just two weeks later.
None of it surprises teammates who recall how hard a late-blooming Poulter scraped to get to the top. When he was a struggling club pro at Chesfield Downs, the club manager thought his prospects of making any tour were so poor that he made Poulter use his own vacation days to play in local tournaments.
After he won a forgettable event called the Panshanger Classic, Poulter returned to the shop and set the trophy on the counter. The manager promptly told him to remove it, then wrote Poulter up with a warning. To almost no one's surprise, Poulter walked off the job a week later and never looked back.
Finding the motivation to beat the Americans came easier. He remembered walking the fairways at the Belfry as a 17-year-old in 1993, swept up in the raw emotion that exploded on every side of him after Europe's Nick Faldo made a hole-in-one.
"To hear the roar ... I felt back then, I would love to be on the other side of the ropes with the Ryder Cup team taking on the USA. To be able to do that, to go out there and do it passionately," he said, "means an awful lot."
Europe has won or held onto the cup five of the last seven meetings. For many of those, the most serious disagreements have been over the grooves on some players' irons and the slights have been limited to wine stains on the autographed menus the teams exchanged at dinners.
Poulter's two previous appearance with the Euros came on foreign soil. His wardrobe may be muted and freedom of expression limited, but have no doubts that if the locals celebrate something — anything — Poulter will be in the thick of things.
"There's a lot of blue on the golf course," he reported back after a morning practice session," and that's great for us.
"There's going to be more and more. The excitement is going to be great. The electricity is going to be huge and, hopefully," he added, "I can give them some electricity back."
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org