There’s nothing ordinary about Ian Poulter.
From his colorful wardrobe to his spiky hair to his knack for stirring things up on Twitter, the English professional golfer has no trouble finding the spotlight. He’s got a habit of finding the leaderboard, too.
By season’s end 2013, Poulter owned a pair of PGA Tour wins to go with a dozen career victories on the European Tour. He’s knocked on the door at the majors, too, with three top-3 finishes since 2008. Poulter has also been a Ryder Cup mainstay, riding his dogged determination and superb short game to a remarkable 12-3 record in four appearances for Team Europe.
Poulter joined the European Tour in 2000, working with renowned teacher David Leadbetter early on. Eventually, though, Poulter decided to simply coach himself. While he’s considered a “feel” player, Poulter intently studies every inch of his swing using the latest technology.
Given his success, it looks like Poulter is on the right track. Let’s break down his swing and see how Poulter’s technique, like the man himself, is a little different from most others.
Poulter’s signature: Hands back, left toe square at setup.
What it looks like: It figures that Poulter would break the rules right from the start. At address, his hands are behind the ball, the shaft leaning slightly away from the target. While this is acceptable with the driver, it flies in the face of conventional wisdom regarding iron play. As any teacher will tell you, it’s important to set the hands ahead of the clubhead to create the conditions for a downward strike.
Poulter’s also got his left foot square to the target line, rather than flared outward. Again, few if any golf instructors would recommend this position because it may prevent the left hip from rotating properly on the downswing.
Why it works for Poulter: Like nearly all tour pros, Poulter has superior flexibility and timing. (Otherwise known as natural ability.) Despite the square left toe, he manages a strong hip turn coming into the ball. And proving that it’s not how you start but how you finish, Poulter’s hands are actually ahead of the clubhead at the moment it really matters – impact. His powerful hip rotation is the key, clearing the way for his arms to work in unison with the chest. Thus, his hands “beat” the clubhead in the race to the ball.
How it can work for you: Golfers whose hips tend to outrun their upper body often struggle with blocked shots to the right, or quick pull hooks to the left. Squaring up the left toe could quell your overactive lower body, bringing the hips and shoulders in synch.
As for Poulter’s hands-behind setup, it’s best not to emulate. However, it is possible to place the hands too far forward at address. This can open the clubface, causing pushed and sliced shots, or put the club in a “hooded” position, creating a very low ball flight.
To check your hand positioning, address a golf ball with any club and determine where the butt end of the grip is pointing. It should be at your left hip pocket. The arm and club shaft should form a straight (or nearly straight) line from shoulder to ground.
That’s not how Ian Poulter does it, of course. Nor would he recommend that you copy his every habit. If there’s one thing to learn from the iconoclastic Brit, it’s that marching to your own beat will keep you moving forward.