The Ryder Cup is one of world sport’s greatest challenges, and brings with it huge amounts of pressure – not least as for most golfers their sport is an individual obsession, and they’re thrust in front of the world’s cameras in a team.
There have been some truly amazing individual performances over the years, but today we look back to 2012 in Medina to remember Ian Poulter’s round of his life, and what we can learn from this.
To help us, we’ve asked sports psychologist to dozens of sporting legends, including Ryder Cup champions, Martin Perry to analyse this epic elite performance.
The athlete: Ian Poulter
The performance: 2012 Ryder Cup
What they did
During the Saturday fourballs Europe were heading for what looked like a bad afternoon in the Chicago heat.
Then, up stepped Ian Poulter, partnering Rory McIlroy, who dragged the team back from two down with six to play to win by one hole. It wasn’t just the win, though – it was how Poulter stamped his character all over the golf course, and the match. Against massive sporting adversity, Poulter simply refused to accept the inevitable. Defeat for him, was not an option.
What was interesting was this wasn’t a spur of the moment decision for him. He had already declared to his captain Jose Maria Olazabal, that he would return to base with a point. By confidently declaring his intentions, Poulter left himself with no options. He had to win.
And thus under this personal pressure, he drew on all his ability, experience, hunger, will and focus to meet the challenge. It was natural leadership at its very best. He didn’t need his captain to tell him what to do.
He had personally decided that for himself. And as a result of his presence and natural authority, the rest of the team simply could not underperform and let him down. Poulter had set the standard.
The expert’s view: what can we learn?
Staring down the beast is a vital quality in any leader.
It means that when standards drop or things are going against you, you find something else inside. That something else is defiance – a refusal to accept how things are.
It causes you to dig deep. Perhaps deeper than you have ever dug before. It may take you out of your comfort zone. It draws on pride and personal beliefs. It happens when things are going against you. It starts with saying ‘Im not having this’.
It can turn up as having to say a difficult thing to someone or a group. Perhaps in an atmosphere of a quiet suppression that doesn’t encourage the ‘hard to say things’ to be said. Staring down the beast requires bravery. Because it causes you to face your own doubts and uncertainties.
But you do so, because you know to NOT DO SO means to accept things as they are. That might be ok for some people. But for a leader it’s not negotiable.
When you as a leader stare down the beast, you set the tone for the people around you. It sends out a message that says second best is not good enough. It raises the bar, and most importantly allows you to stand against those things which negate your values, standards and beliefs.
And most importantly you discover something about yourself. About something deep inside of you which only sees the light of day when you are pushed up against the limits of what you perceive is possible.
That Saturday afternoon in Medina Ian Poulter touched those depths. And that is what made his behaviour so compelling. When a leader shows that he is prepared to put himself on the line to succeed, then it’s almost impossible not to feel compelled to do the same!