Ian Poulter is many things to many people—Ryder Cup monster, tartan-wearing dandy, up-by-the-bootstraps success story, free-spending apostle of conspicuous consumption, and troll-baiting Twitter star, to name just a few. Poulter, 37, is also a doting father of four who has been with the same woman going back 18 years. On a recent weekday, the former pro shop assistant from Milton Keynes, England, let SI follow him during a typically action-packed day in his adopted hometown of Orlando. Along the way Poulter revealed the passions, insecurities and grand ambitions that make him one of golf's most compelling characters.
After hitting the snooze button once—but only once—Poulter reaches for his phone, a morning ritual. His wife, Katie, rouses Aimee-Leigh, 11, and Luke, 8, while Lily-Mai, 4, and Joshua, 18 months, sleep peacefully. Meanwhile, their dad lies in bed checking his Twitter feed, which reaches 1.48 million followers. "It's an addiction," he says. "I need to stop. I can't help it; I read every single reply. Ninety-nine percent of them are positive. Actually, more than that. But there are low-life scum out there who love to mouth off. They're jealous, sad, waste-of-timers. They have no drive in life to better themselves, they just want to tear down people who are successful. To be honest, I feel sorry for them. But I'm not putting up with their bulls---." He resolves to take a two-week break from Twitter.
Barefoot, in black gym shorts and a black T-shirt, Poulter pads into the kitchen, where Katie is serving the kids pancakes. He fixes himself a double espresso. Ian used to drink eight or nine Diet Cokes a day, but six weeks ago he quit cold turkey. He opens his laptop and surfs the website of the Daily Mail to keep abreast of what's happening back home.
Poulter brews another espresso. "There are so many chemicals in Diet Coke," he says. "This has to be a healthier way to get caffeine. Right?"
The nanny arrives to help with the little ones as Katie is whisking the two older kids off to school. Luke wears white pants and a tucked-in white polo, his otherwise vanilla outfit enlivened by a snakeskin belt with an oversized buckle in the design of the English flag.
Poulter's manager, R.J. Nemer, who flew in the night before from Cleveland, also arrives. He and his prized client belly up to a round table in the kitchen. It is quickly littered with three laptops, two tablets and three smartphones; no wonder the removable leaf in the middle of the table reveals a half dozen electrical plugs for charging all the devices.
In addition to owning his own clothing line, IJP Design, Poulter has endorsement deals with 13 companies. He and Nemer plunge into an ornate scheduling discussion, trying to juggle interview requests, corporate outings, charity appearances, family vacations and overseas tournament invitations. "Managing Ian is like running a small business," says Nemer. Poulter gets most animated when Nemer presents an invitation to sit in the Royal Box at Wimbledon for a third straight year. "It's just silly," Poulter says. "I grew up watching Wimbledon on TV, and they'd always pan the Royal Box, and there would be celebrities and icons of sport. It looked so glamorous. To go and sit there now with Katie, it's crazy. I never, ever take these things for granted."
Nemer also mentions details pertaining to Poulter's favorite charity, Dreamflight, which annually brings a couple of hundred terminally ill children from the U.K. to Orlando for 10 days of fun at the amusement parks. Every year Poulter hosts a fund-raising tournament for Dreamflight at Woburn, his home club in England, and he's usually waiting on the tarmac when the chartered 747 touches down in Orlando. He and his family are regulars at many of the outings. "I'll never forget the dinner at which Ian got up in a grass skirt with all the kids and did the hula dance," says Patricia Pearce, the cofounder of Dreamflight. "Or the time he jumped in with them to swim with dolphins. That man has such a big heart. The kids can feel that, and they light up around him."
Still barefoot, Poulter strolls outside to greet the small army that has gathered in his driveway. For the photo shoot for this article, SI has brought in two photographers, a clothing stylist, a hair-and-makeup stylist and four assistants. Two of the glass doors on Poulter's garage are open, revealing a white Ferrari FF (license plate: IANS FF) and a white Rolls-Royce Phantom (IANS RR). The crowd migrates into the Art Deco dream house, which the Poulters moved into last fall after nearly three years of construction. Ian micromanaged every detail. "I went totally mental," he says. Like the man himself the house is stylish and eclectic, stuffed with surprises.
Above the fireplace is a moody black-and-white photo that was a gift from Dennis Hopper. Poulter became buddies with the iconoclastic actor-artist after they were paired together at the Dunhill Links. He stayed at Hopper's house in Venice when playing in the L.A. Open, and Hopper traveled to England when Ian and Katie renewed their vows. One of Poulter's most prized possessions is a signed painting of Nelson Mandela. Poulter was deeply moved to meet Mandela at a tournament in South Africa, and he outbid Ernie Els for the painting at a fevered auction more than a decade ago.
"That was back when I had no money," he says. "But when I want something, I have to have it. Full stop." Poulter gives a tour of the screening room, its walls filled with killer memorabilia (solid gold putter from his hero, Seve Ballesteros; a $100 bill signed by Arnold Palmer). Next door is a swank bar, one entire wall covered in alligator skin.
It is clear that for Poulter, this is more than a house—it is a temple to his success. His golf career began in the pro shop at Leighton Buzzard Golf Club, where he was paid 150 pounds a week. His first car was a beat-up Vauxhall Astra, which expired after three months and was then replaced by a dumpy Ford Fiesta. His first home was what he calls a "£29,000 maisonette." Katie, toiling as a nurse, covered most of the bills. "I made so little working in the pro shop, all I could do was buy the groceries," he says. "So I'm very proud of this house and all the finer things in life we get to enjoy. My parents are proud. Katie is proud. No one gave me any of this. I've busted my ass to earn every bit of it. People like to turn it into a negative, but shouldn't they be inspired? I was always inspired by the success of others.
"I believe you should surround yourself with things that you love, that make you happy and remind you of your success. That gives you the drive to keep achieving great things."
Poulter banters with the hair-and-makeup stylist, Yolando Winters, who expresses disappointment that he has retired the spiky, dyed hairdo she had glimpsed by way of Google. "I'm done with that cheesy look," Poulter says. "I've grown up. I want something more polished." He calls his new 'do "the Beckham comb-over." A long discussion about hair products ensues, with Poulter swearing by a gooey, viscous gel called Fudge. "It's the best thing that's ever been made, and I've tried 'em all," he says. "They stopped making it, and I bought every jar I could find—I have four dozen upstairs. I figure it will last me two years. Then I'll start panicking.