Apart from his basketball skills, Michael Jordan will go down as one of the greatest trash talkers in sports history. Yet there was one athlete he couldn’t throw off his game: Ian Poulter.
Mark Rolfing tells the untold story of how Jordan tried to distract Poulter during the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah in “Road to the Ryder Cup” Sunday at 2:30 p.m. on NBC. Poulter, though, got the better of Jordan and the U.S., winning a key match for Europe on Saturday afternoon. The momentum carried over as Europe rallied to retain the Ryder Cup on Sunday.
The story also re-airs Wednesday on the Golf Channel at 6:30 p.m.
On his weekly radio show on SiriusXM, Poulter recalled his mind game with Jordan earlier this year:
Poulter: “ [Jordan] loves his golf, he loves Ryder Cup. He’s always there. He’s always been a helping hand to the Americans. He was right there. I was there on 13 and I remember walking off the tee box at 13, looking over and he kind of wagged his – I don’t know if you can call it a finger, it looked like an arm – this big finger comes up and he was wagging it at me pulling a face as if to say, ‘We’ve got you.’ So Rory [McIlroy] 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, playing golf in the Ryder Cup, and there’s legend basketball player Michael Jordan psyching me out in the Ryder Cup! And you know what? I said, ‘Screw you, I’m gonna hole this putt.’ (laughter) But you know what, he’d done that for so many years on a basketball court, he hit the shot time and time again. I said to myself, ‘I’m not allowing him to get in my space.’”
Poulter: “He was playing his basketball game and, you know what, it was my court and he’s not playing ball. … 16, that putt, Dufner missed his putt, I fist pump that one home, Rory’s first-pumping, Terry, my caddy, is fist-pumping, JP is fist-pumping. We’re walking off that green and there he is, 6-foot-8 however tall he is, Jordan standing right in my space. I’m walking to the 17th tee, this 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! … So I’m not going to tell you what I said to him at that point! (laughs) And that’s a sign of respect in a way. I respect Jordan as a basketball player, as the player that owned that game for so long, watching things unfold, respecting the game of golf. 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 that Sunday’s singles.”