AT first glance, nothing much has changed. He looks and sounds the same: tall, dark and golfy. But closer and more prolonged inspection reveals an air of relaxation that had long been absent, a more ready smile and, for Andrew Coltart, a sense of relief that a losing struggle is finally over.
After two decades as a professional and 491 starts on the European Tour, the former Ryder Cup player has had enough. The Allianz Open Cotes d’Amor – Bretagne, a relatively anonymous Challenge Tour event back in June, was his last appearance. At the age of 41 he is officially retired from competitive golf.
“The hardest part has been not being competitive over the last few years,” he admits. “I lost my card again at the end of 2010 and another year on the Challenge Tour was tough. I was empty, absolutely empty. I still wanted to do well but it just wasn’t happening.
“So I had to look at the bigger picture. I was 40. I could keep doing what I was doing, or I could take a look at what else is out there for me. I chose the latter because the former offered no guarantees. Even if I got my card back, I’d be looking at very limited opportunities on the main tour in 2012. Fortunately, I found that I had options in other areas where I feel like I can contribute.”
Those other options include appearances as a studio expert on Sky Television’s coverage of the PGA Tour, stints on course for Radio Five Live at both the Open Championship and the Ryder Cup, some work with the Scottish Golf Union’s national squads and continuing involvement in tpegs.com, the burgeoning golf school business in which Coltart partners respected swing coach Gary Nicol. All in all, there’s a lot going on for the double European Tour winner, enough that he can move on from the latter stages of his playing career. A period which he describes as “torture”.
“My lack of competitiveness was the result of a few factors,” he explains. “The new technology in golf has never been a help to me. I just don’t create enough clubhead speed to take advantage of the big-headed drivers and the new balls. As someone once told me, you can almost read the name of the shaft on my downswing!
“And the courses these days are set up to benefit those who hit the ball miles. Length is everything. The ability to shape shots and hit different types of shots isn’t nearly as important as it once was. None of which suited me. Over the last decade or so, my strengths have become less important and my weaknesses have been exposed.
“For me, golf is not just about hitting a long ball. It’s about knowing how to hit straight shots, draws and fades, high and low shots. But a lot of that has gone from the game at the professional level. It’s very one-dimensional these days.”
On that aspect of his declining success, Coltart has some high-profile support.
“It’s a shame that Andrew is having to give up,” says world No.2 Lee Westwood, who doubles as Coltart’s brother-in-law. “But the game at the top level has almost become one for bombers. You can’t survive out there if you are short by tour standards, which Andrew is, unfortunately. He has nothing to be ashamed of though. He played the game to a high standard. He was a Ryder Cup player and won tournaments.
“I’m glad he has found something else that he enjoys and keeps him involved in golf. And it’s good that he has made a firm decision. It’s impossible to try and play while doing other things. Now he can dedicate himself to media work and the rest of it. I’ve always said he has a face for radio.”
Coltart’s career bottomed out as far back as 2009 when, at one stage, he missed 16 cuts in succession.
“I wasn’t in the right place mentally,” he says with a slight shudder. “I can’t begin to describe what that did to my self-esteem and confidence. So I got to the stage of knocking back invitations. There was no point in me playing, the state I was in. It was amazing what was going through my head. I’d be fine on Mondays, travelling to events. On Tuesdays I’d still be OK and looking forward to teeing up. By Wednesday the first hints of anxiety would be kicking in. And, on Thursday, I’d be a wreck. After only four or five holes I’d be a couple over par and already thinking about the next week!
“All of that had nothing whatsoever to do with my ability to hit a golf ball. It was all mental. How strong you are between the ears has so much to do with how successful you can be on tour. Any frailty is quickly identified. It’s like a rock with water dripping on it. Eventually the rock cracks and shatters. It explodes. And that is what happened to me.”
Indeed, Coltart’s experience is one that should serve as something of a warning to the many – some argue too many – young men who turn professional each year. The tour can be rewarding in many ways, not least financially, but it can also be the loneliest place in the world.
“I remember one spell where I went to see David Leadbetter,” he says. “I worked away for two months solid. I hit thousands of balls. Then I went to Gleneagles to play in the Johnnie Walker. I couldn’t remember any good shot that I’d ever hit.
“That was a lesson to me about coaching. I was trying to perfect a swing and, in doing so, had forgotten how to play. At my level, of course, it has more to do with how you think than how you swing. But I was trying so hard. That same week I was playing the fifth hole. I hit a shot that started way left then went even more left over a fence and out of bounds. I was better than that when I was six years old.”
It hasn’t all been bad news, of course – far from it. As well as his brace of European Tour victories, the 1998 Qatar Masters and the 2001 Great North Open – and career earnings of ¤5,733,120 – Coltart can boast of a win in the Australian PGA Championship during a year in which he topped the Order of Merit Down Under. And, alongside Colin Montgomerie and Sam Torrance, he was part of the winning Scottish side at the 1995 Dunhill Cup.
“I was never one for reminiscing when I was playing,” he admits. “It was always ‘next week’ for me. But now I can look back and enjoy what I achieved. The biggest things were both team events – the Ryder Cup in 1999 and winning the Dunhill Cup.
“The Dunhill was wonderful. Standing on the steps at St Andrews with Monty and Sam was incredible. I loved the team ethos and the match play format.
“The Ryder Cup is something I will always cherish, too, even after all that happened there. It was an amazing experience to be a part of that side, even if I didn’t get to play until the singles. But I have no feelings of bitterness about that. If the manager doesn’t think you’re worthy of a game you just have to sit on your arse and shut up.
“The only disappointment for me was what happened on the ninth hole of my match with Tiger Woods. It probably didn’t affect the result but it left a bitter taste. I pulled my drive left and didn’t see it finish. When we got there three guys directed us into the trees, to a place where I knew the ball could never be. But we looked anyway.
“After five minutes I had to go back and play three off the tee. Just after I played the second ball the first was ‘found,’ just off the fairway. With Tiger miles up the middle I don’t know why they bothered to be honest!”
Anyway, for Coltart the stressful times are over. His active and intelligent mind is free to focus on things other than the position of his club at the top of the backswing. Which is no bad thing. Golf fans will certainly benefit from his forthright opinions.
“In broadcasting I just try to be honest,” he explains. “I’m not there looking for everyone to agree but I do bring a professional insight, having been there and done it myself. What makes me laugh is the notion that every bad shot we see is caused by some technical swing flaw. That’s rubbish. Most times, a bad shot is the result of what has gone before.
“Let’s say a player has hit a shot 30 yards left two holes earlier. The likelihood is that he still worried about what happened. So he reacts accordingly. And the shot he has just hit 20 yards right is caused by that worry.
“I’ll have things to say about the courses too. I hate to see everything covered in long grass. All that does is eliminate skill and imagination. I want players to have choices, especially around the greens. I want them to have at least three possibilities when they size up a chip. Not just one, which is what happens when the grass is too long.
“It’s never pointed out, but those setting up the courses have a huge responsibility. They have to create an environment that is going to be challenging and fair for the players and entertaining for the public. And too often they fail in that objective.”
See what I mean? The tour’s loss is definitely our gain. Welcome back to the real world Andrew.