Golf

Colsaerts cleans up with clean life

Nicolas Colsaerts
Nicolas Colsaerts is one of two wild-card picks to the European Ryder Cup team.
GolfWeek Alistair Tait
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AUCHTERARDER, Scotland

"European Ryder Cup player" is a better tag than "party animal." Nicolas Colsaerts has worn both labels. He’ll wear the former with great pride when he tees it up at Medinah as one of European captain Jose Maria Olazabal’s two wild-card picks.

Colsaerts will make history by becoming the first Belgian to play in the biennial match. It’s a long way from his days as a playboy.

There was a time when Colsaerts was an unlikely Ryder Cup player, given his career path. He seemed more interested in getting the most out of life than making the most out of his talent, even though there was no shortage of people telling him to work harder.

“I was told that a million times,” Colsaerts said. “But it has to come from you. No one has time to babysit anyone out here.”

The Belgian turned pro as an 18-year-old when he took the fifth card at the 2000 European Tour Qualifying School. “It seems like 40 years ago,” he said.

Rather than build on that, he spent time partying. He lost his card and made five subsequent trips — all unsuccessful — to Q-School.

His life turned around a few years ago when he decided to go to Australia to try to get his career back together.

"I was offered a chance to go somewhere, and I felt like it was the perfect opportunity for me to grab and start a new life, and that’s exactly what I did," he said. "I went to Australia, to Brisbane. I spent about 10 months in periods of three years. It was a great hideaway place for me to find myself.”

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Colsaerts worked at the A-Game International Golf Academy under coach Ken Berndt. It transformed not only his game but his life.

“I knew I had it in me. I knew I could be a bit of clown at one stage in my life, but I always knew I was going to do it. I’ve always said I’m lucky to have had a midlife crisis at age 25, so I’m lucky I got that out of the way.”

He got over that midlife crisis at the start of 2009. He returned to Europe and won twice on the Challenge Tour. He took the third card from that circuit to earn his way back onto the main tour.

He kept his card in 2010 when he finished 67th on the money list. Then in 2011, he hit pay dirt when he won the Volvo China Open. This year, he got into the Ryder Cup picture with a victory in the Volvo World Match Play Championship.

As for the Ryder Cup, although he pushed hard to get an automatic place this year, he felt that was another two years away.

“I remember thinking in 2003 or 2004 that I would have a reasonable chance at this in 2014," Colsaerts said. "Some presents come early.”

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He’ll get that early present when he takes his long-hitting game to Medinah (Ill.) Country Club, site of the Sept. 28-30 matches against the Americans. It’s an experience he’s eagerly awaiting.

“When you are put under the gun in a match-play situation, your focus gets more intense. That’s why I just like match play.”

He has shown by his determination to get in the team that his party days are over. No European player tried harder to make the team automatically than Colsaerts. He played nine of the past 10 weeks trying to get an automatic spot on Olazabal’s team.

“You have to show that you want this. It’s not for the fainthearted," Colsaerts said. "You have to show your ambitions, that you can bring something to it (the match). You have to show that you want it badly.

“To this point, I’ve felt very nervous getting into the team. But I don’t feel nervous about getting into a game and taking on some guys.”

Get ready to see the serious side of the Brussels native. This reformed character could turn out to be the big surprise at Medinah.

Tagged: Jose Maria Olazabal, Nicolas Colsaerts

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