Hyundai T of C Notebook: Poulter hoping to shake off 'turkey' rust

Ian Poulter at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions
Getty Images
After playing in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions this week, Ian Poulter won't play again until the middle of February.
By
Doug Ferguson
Associated Press

Series: PGA Tour

Published: Thursday, January 03, 2013 | 11:12 p.m.

KAPALUA, Hawaii -- Ian Poulter was still in the holiday spirit with the Hyundai Tournament of Champions looming, and he didn't decide until Tuesday whether to open his season in Hawaii. He reluctantly packed his bags and didn't have high hopes for the first tournament of the year.

He playfully told one follower on Twitter to "save your money" when he saw odds of Poulter winning at 12-to-1. And when he arrived on the Plantation Course -- right about the time the rain returned, of course -- he conceded to not be as ready to play as he normally is.

"I figured I might as well knock some of the turkey rust off me and come and play for a few days," Poulter said Thursday before his pro-am round. "I might be a little rusty, but I'm going to play and see how we go."

With only a 30-man field, he only has 29 guys to beat.

And while it was a big flight over from Florida, what's another 5,000 miles after all the places Poulter has gone the last few months?

After a short break following the Ryder Cup, Poulter's travels took him from Shanghai to Hong Kong to Melbourne to Dubai to Los Angeles to Florida, and then a brief trip to London for the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year awards.

But don't think it wasn't tempting to sit this one out. Poulter has a six-week break that starts after Maui and ends with the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

"It would have been nice to have taken 10 weeks off," he said. "I think that's exactly what Luke (Donald) has done, and there's a couple of others doing the same."

HYUNDAI FUTURE: Hyundai is in the final year of its contract as title sponsor of the Tournament of Champions, and its vice president of marketing sounded optimistic that the South Korean automaker would be sticking around.

"We are very bullish," Steve Shannon said. "We don't have anything to announce this week, partially because we are so focused in executing another great event. But we've had discussions with the PGA Tour. They have been great partners of ours. Certainly, our bias is to continue, but we just need to get this tournament behind us and then have some more discussions with them.

"We have done a lot of things each year to improve our involvement, and we would look to do that in the future again."

The PGA Tour season opens with as many questions about who's not at Kapalua as who is. The top four in the world ranking are taking the week off -- Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Luke Donald and Justin Rose. Ernie Els is playing next week in South Africa, while Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson also opted not to come.

Shannon didn't seem overly bothered by that, saying the "dynamic is what it is." Golf has changed over the last several years with more international players trying to juggle the PGA Tour and their home tours. Europeans and Australians, for example, play deep into November and even December.

FOWLER'S SECRET: Asked to assess his year, Rickie Fowler described a slow start, his first PGA Tour win at the Wells Fargo Championship and then his secret.

He felt a twinge in his lower back at the U.S. Open. He kept playing through the summer, trying to reach his goals of qualifying for the Tour Championship (which he did) and making the Ryder Cup team (which he did not).

Turns out he had inflamed joints in his lower back, the product of slightly bad posture in his swing. Thanks to 3-D video archives at the Titleist Performance Institute, Fowler realized that the angle of his back was leaning away from the ball, a difference of only 5 degrees. But over time, it began causing pain.

He wound up taking plenty of time off to let it heal, missing his title defense in the Korea Open. Even now, Fowler said he's not quite at 100 percent, but he's good enough. And that time off left him excited about playing.

"After the two-month break I had, it kind of fueled the fire a little bit to come back out, and it makes you want to play and compete more," he said.

MASTER CRAFTSMAN MEMORY: Titleist's staff players at Kapalua are wearing gold ribbons on their hats in memory of Jaime Ramos, the master golf club builder at Titleist who died of a heart attack during the holidays at age 58.

Ramos made clubs for 35 years, starting at Cobra Golf when he built clubs for the likes of Greg Norman, Hale Irwin and Seve Ballesteros. He joined Titleist in 1996 and built the clubs for all of Titleist's' players around the world, a list that over the years included Tiger Woods, David Duval, Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker and Rory McIlroy.

"He took pride in his job and enjoyed watching the players he built clubs for have success," said Chris Tuten, director of tour promotions for Titleist. "He was a legend among club builders and will be sorely missed by the Titleist family and all those who knew him."

NO PANIC IN PARADISE: The last time Charlie Beljan played in a tournament, he suffered a severe panic attack at Disney World that caused shortness of breath, spiked his blood pressure and sent him to the hospital -- and yet he still managed to win.

It was a remarkable story to end the year, and it made Beljan eligible for the Tournament of Champions. Two months certainly feels like a lifetime ago.

"Feeling much better," Beljan said. "Changed some eating habits. Changed some fitness routines and been working hard on my short game and looking forward to a great week here."

Beljan figures he will be known as the rookie who suffered a panic attack, but he doesn't mind considering the number of people who might be helped because of the attention he brought to anxiety attacks.

"I'd like to be known as a golfer and a free spirit and a fun loving guy, but at the same time, what I experienced out there and what everybody saw brought a lot of attention to panic attacks and anxiety attacks and what a big deal it is and how many people do face it on a daily basis," Beljan said. "So I've gotten a lot of letters and a lot of emails and stuff like that saying that I've been an inspiration to all.

"It's been pretty neat because I've touched people other than just playing golf."