When it comes to Nicolas Colsaerts, there’s no Belgian waffle. The Brussels-born player is one of golf’s straight-talkers, as he displayed during a visit to Glasgow as the guest of honour at the PGA in Scotland luncheon. It was an enjoyable pre-Christmas trip for Colsaerts, who has felt a strong connection with the home of golf since playing here as an amateur and also sharing those early days with a Scot, Barry Hume.
Colsaerts spoke in glowing terms about the role another Scot, three-time Ryder Cup player George Will, had played as the Belgian national coach in the early 90s, helping to lay the foundations for both Colsaerts and Thomas Pieters to become Ryder Cup players in the last four years, with another exciting youngster, Thomas Detry, having now joined them on the European Tour after graduating from the Challenge Tour this year.
However, it was when the subject of playing on the PGA Tour was raised that the engaging Colsaerts was at his most revealing, having seen his American dream turn into a nightmare. The 34-year-old decided to try his luck in the States after helping Europe pull off the “Miracle at Medinah” in the 2012 Ryder Cup. In the first-day fourballs with Lee Westwood as his partner, Colsaerts carded an eagle and eight birdies in a victory over Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker.
In his first season on the PGA Tour in 2013, he finished 10th in the US Open and eighth in the Zurich Classic. He missed out on the FedEx Cup Play-Offs, but retained his membership through finishing 114th on the money-list. He already knew then that it wasn’t for him and the following season was an abbreviated one. By the sounds of things, he was on the verge of madness.
“In the two years I spent in the US, I think I had some sort of depression going on for many reasons,” revealed the man who elevated himself above Flory Van Donck, winner of 60 professional events and a two-time Open Championship runner-up in the 1950s, as Belgian’s best-known golfer after becoming the country’s first Ryder Cup player.
“I ended up being out there all the time, my golf game wasn’t what I expected it to be and so everything together made it hard for me to handle things I was going through at the time. That’s why when I got to April of my second season out there I called it off, I said I can’t do this any more.
“When I was in Europe and I watched golf on the TV from the US I’d start to get the shakes. When I realised it was affecting me physically I decided it was probably not a good idea to go back. It wasn’t homesickness, I’ve always been happy enough travelling the world with my golf clubs and my suitcase. It was just being in America all the time.
“When you play on Tour in Europe you change countries every week, you change food all the time but in the US it’s all the same. OK, Arizona is not the same as Florida or the north east of the US, but it’s the same yellow line on the roads, it’s the same restaurants everywhere and the same chicken caeser salad. For me, that got a bit boring in the end.
“The day I decided to pack it in I was at Houston, just outside the clubhouse, talking to Geoff Ogilvy’s caddie. It was like, ‘I can’t do this any more, I’m getting the f*** out of here, otherwise I’m going to go mad’. I just couldn’t do it. It was just like everything, the guy at the entrance to the locker room, to “hi you doin’ Sir,”. Just felt, leave me alone.
“In a way, the thing about America is that you do feel that you are playing for Real Madrid. They look after you unbelievably, but for somebody who has always done his own thing, was always ‘happy’ to have some sort of freedom, all of a sudden you have all this pampering and everything.
“It was kind of getting on my nerves, always being checked, always somebody there. It’s just like the crowds over there. I had a hard time understanding why these people always are on top of you, wanting to get within you. I’ve always been quite happy sharing in things, and giving away things, but give me some space. I kind of lost a little bit of freedom and the easiness that I’ve had with people. They are socially different than we are.”
Slowly but surely, Colsaerts, a one-time party animal but now happy to mentor both Pieters and Detry, is starting to regain the confidence that was drained from him Stateside. He finished 33rd in the 2016 Race to Dubai, having notched four top-four finishes, including the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open and the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
“When you get back to European events you feel, ‘gosh this is lovely’,” he said. “You go on the driving range in America and players talk to reps, but they don’t talk to one another.
“I remember the first time I came back it was like, ‘this is refreshing, people talk to one another’. In players’ lounge and there are players there all sitting at eight or nine different tables. In Europe, you don’t have that.
“The UK boys are together, it’s much more like a fraternity type of thing where people get along. There’s always competition on the course, the competition is there, and the competitive edge always takes over. But people here look at each other in a more changing way than they sometimes do in the States.
“There’s more laughter in Europe. Here, you can make fun of somebody and they will laugh, whereas in America they take this as an offence. I’ve had a few raises of eyebrows, just making a joke, and they have taken it the wrong way.”
Pieters, a revelation on his Ryder Cup debut in Minnesota, looks a strong contender for the 2018 match in Paris. Can Colsaerts make that event something really special for Belgian golf? “It would be nice to be in the team to shove it up the French,” he said, smiling, in stirring up a cross-border rivalry.
“For such a small country as Belgium to have two Ryder Cup players in such a condensed period of time really is quite exceptional. It is definitely something, though, that Thomas and I would look at and say it would be pretty amazing to play in the same Ryder Cup team so close to home.”