Somebody once wrote that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.
After the events - or rather non-events - of today, Ian Poulter knows all about that.
Following the legal intervention, the social media angst, the hand-wringing and the pearl-clutching, the 46-year-old's contentious return to the DP World Tour stage was received with spectacular indifference. The sound of silence.
There was no hero’s welcome, nor pantomime villainy. Just a collective shrug. Curious, unmistakable apathy.
There were also 78 shots, of which the less said the better. That was certainly the strategy the Ryder Cup icon adopted when he spoke to two reporters - one of whom you're reading - afterwards.
His thoughts on the round?
“It was fine, yeah, it was good.”
His chip-in for birdie at the opening hole?
“It was a lovely way to start.”
What he plans to do to get back on track tomorrow?
Fair enough. Still, barring a miracle, Poulter won’t be around for the weekend. Forget getting paid. Forget world ranking points. He’s entitled to wonder if it was worth all the hassle just to get here.
The Englishman’s much-anticipated round got under way at 12.25pm. Paired with fellow LIV rebel Branden Grace, he started at the tenth where the tee is inaccessible to spectators. A cynic might argue that it was a convenient place from which to set them off. Far from the madding crowd and so on. Not that such a mob had gathered.
“Should we boo them?” one elderly gentleman asked of his pal as Poulter and Grace headed down the fairway.
“Ach no,” came the reply. “I can’t be bothered.”
Lukewarm applause followed most of those near-eighty shots, bar the aforementioned birdie at the tenth – his first – and a superb par save at the par-3 17th. A half-hearted hiss met the players as they walked onto the 12th green. That, in addition to a couple of muted, sarcastic cheers when Poulter missed a short par putt on the 14th was about as hostile as it got. Instead, the supporters demonstrated their feelings with their feet.
Whilst large crowds congregated around three-time major champion Jordan Spieth, world No.2 Jon Rahm and reigning Open champ Collin Morikawa, Poulter and Grace were largely ignored. Considering the compelling context with which both players came into the week – both having been granted injunctions against sanctions imposed by the tour and that were supposed to keep them out, not to mention the small matter of Grace having won $4million in a LIV Golf event only six days ago – it was jarring to note the sparse crowd following them.
Who would have guessed? People, for the most part, just want to see the best players. Not the noisiest, not the most ubiquitous, not the most controversial.
And therein lies the rub for LIV.
Until such times as it attracts at least some of the quote-unquote ‘form’ players, its own fight for relevance may continue to be a ferocious struggle. Yes, Poulter has a certain notoriety right now – the Notorious IJP, as it were – as do many of the others who have been spirited away by Saudi riches.
But is that enough to make people want to watch? On today’s evidence, the jury is out.
Earlier this week, Poulter revealed he had been subjected to some “extremely nasty”, “quite distressing” messages on social media. Asked if that had made him nervous about what kind of reception awaited him today, he was back to his bullish best.
“I had no nerves today in any way, shape or form.”
Given the circumstances, though, does the DP World Tour still feel like at home?
"Why would it not?” he contended. “I've been here for 24 years. I've played in 389 events, this week is 390. I've had 98 top-10s. I've never relinquished my European Tour card in 24 years.”
All true, all fair. But ‘The Postman’ has a taken a new route and not everybody is pleased.
As he signed autographs for a string of kids shortly after arriving on site this morning, a woman turned to her husband just a few yards away.
“There’s Ian Poulter,” she said, adopting hushed tones. “We’re not allowed to like him anymore because he’s in favour with the Saudis.”
A peculiar reason to take a dislike to somebody but that’s precisely where we are right now.
It's an interesting time to be Ian Poulter. It just sure seems like a lot of people couldn’t care less.