Golf: Andrew Coltart has no regrets about giving up the European Tour grind
Exactly one year ago this week, Andrew Coltart called time on a highly successful professional career, one that saw the now 42-year-old Scot play Ryder Cup golf for Europe, represent his country in both the World Cup and Dunhill Cup and make 491 appearances in European Tour events over the course of two decades.
Along the way he won two European events – the 1998 Qatar Masters and the 2001 Great North Open – and picked up the not inconsiderable sum of ¤5,733,120 in prize money. Elsewhere, he was twice the Australian PGA champion and once topped the Australasian Order of Merit.
So he could play. And compete with distinction at the highest level. Or at least he could until professional golf headed down the long, dark technology-driven tunnel that has seen the “ability” to mindlessly smash a turbo-charged ball into the middle distance bring with it an advantage far beyond what is right and proper.
In other words, almost overnight Coltart became an old-fashioned golfer – a shot-maker – trying to make his way in an increasingly one-dimensional world where his strengths were superseded by, well, pure strength. It was, in the end, a losing battle.
Still, sitting at home in Aberlady, he looks content enough. And he sounds happy, too. Busy with a variety of golf-related projects, Coltart has found that there is more to life than what had become a mind-numbing succession of airports, golf courses and hotels.
“The decision to stop, although it was difficult to come to, was becoming more and more obvious,” he says. “Everything was getting harder and the scar tissue was getting thicker. It wasn’t just the golf but the travel, too. More and more I wanted to be at home with my family.
“I knew I had done the right thing when, about a month after I stopped playing, I put my head on the pillow and didn’t have a single golf thought going through my head. That was the first time in maybe 15 years I could say that. It was such a relief.”
Which is not to say that Coltart has been lost to the game that has been his life since he first picked up a club in his home village of Thornhill in Dumfriesshire. Far from it. Over the past 12 months, he has involved himself in a variety of golf-related projects and activities. One of the most stimulating has been his work with the Scottish Golf Union’s elite squad of young amateurs.
“I have little or no involvement in the technical side of the game,” he stresses. “Where I can help the lads is not in how to swing the club but in how to actually play golf at a highly competitive level. I see my role as more educator than teacher.
“Besides, the golf swing is actually the least important aspect of success at the professional level. If you were to ask almost anyone over 40 out on tour for their biggest regret, I’m betting most, if not all, would say it was wasting so much time on their full swing. I know that was true for me. So I have that experience. I’ve made all the mistakes I can hopefully eliminate for our best amateurs. One of the things that has amazed me is that, while the pros have all been building up databases and studying their playing statistics for years, it is only in the last two years that our leading amateurs have been doing the same. There is a lot of catching up to do and a whole culture to change.
“So getting to the top in golf requires more than talent. It’s a whole host of things. And it’s difficult. For example, I don’t understand why anyone would turn professional without first dominating at a pretty high level as an amateur. If a player isn’t winning well and often at a lower level, how is he ever going to do it playing against guys who have been competing at a much higher level for a decade or more? Sometimes, even being the number one amateur in the country isn’t enough. Not when the cream is constantly being skimmed off the top as the leading players turn pro every year. All that does is create a false ceiling and, too often, unrealistic expectations.”
Such commonsense talk has, of course, long been a feature of another part of Coltart’s post-playing life.
As a commentator on Sky Sports’ US golf coverage and for Radio 5 Live at major championships, he has quickly distinguished himself as one of the more astute and knowledgeable observers of the professional game.
“I enjoy watching the game from another perspective,” he says. “And it keeps me involved. I definitely know more about American golf than I did a few years ago. There are so many good players. Take Brandt Snedeker for example. It was no surprise to me that he did so well in our Open last year. Kyle Stanley is another I like.
“But the distance they hit the ball depresses me. The game has become too much of a science rather than the art – the skill – it should be. And I like to point out some of the course set-up stuff that frustrates me. Bunkers in the rough for example. And long grass that stops balls from running into trees. What’s that all about?”
For all that he is busy elsewhere, however, much of Coltart’s time these days is taken up with TPEGS.com. In partnership with swing coach Gary Nicol and based at Archerfield in East Lothian, Coltart offers an intriguing and useful golf outing, one that is both fun and educational.
“Scotland is a Mecca for every golfer, especially when it comes to links golf,” he explains. “Everyone loves to come here and play. So our aim is to give people an experience they will never forget.
“Our customers get the opportunity to play with a Ryder Cup player. In fact, that’s the first thing they do. We want to get a look at how someone plays before we decide what he or she needs to work on. Plus, there is no better way to get to know a person than playing 18 holes. It’s an icebreaker and much more relaxed that going straight to the range. The last thing we want to do is line everyone up and tell them: ‘This is what you do to swing the club.’
“So it’s all about teaching individuals in great surroundings and in as much luxury as the customer wants. For example, we have a deal with Edinburgh Bentley where people can be driven from the airport to Archerfield and back. And then there is Execair, who provide us with helicopters that can take us to any course in Scotland within 45 minutes or so. But our biggest aim is to have fun. We want everyone to go away thinking they had two of the best days of their golfing lives.”
All of which sounds a whole lot better than, say, missing 16 cuts in a row. Or yet another trip to yet another airport. Or yet another tournament on yet another course set up to suit “bombers” rather than shot-makers.
Andrew Coltart, it seems, has life figured out. Finally.
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