BELEK, Turkey – Nicolas Colsaerts, the first-round co-leader in the Turkish Airlines Open, is still recovering from one of his worst decisions as a professional golfer: trying to play the PGA Tour.
The long-hitting Colsaerts, dubbed the Belgian Bomber, took special temporary membership in September 2012, with hopes of playing the PGA and European tours.
It had to seem like an easy decision for Colsaerts after so many of the top European players had migrated to the U.S. in recent years. Sitting 35th in the world at the time, Colsaerts certainly had proved himself worthy of the test.
But unlike the European Tour, with its communal and fraternal vibe, the PGA Tour poses a different experience. Players in the U.S. spend less time socializing off the course, unlike their European counterparts.
The lifestyle difference took its toll on Colsaerts, who retained his PGA Tour card despite an inconsistent 2013, mainly due to three top-10 finishes: WGC Accenture Match Play (T-9, or Round of 16), Zurich Classic of New Orleans (T-8) and the U.S. Open (T-10).
Yet, Colsaerts was not playing well and dropped from 35th to 64th in the world rankings. The next year proved to be an even bigger struggle for Colsaerts, who lost his PGA Tour card in 2014 and fell to 199th in the world before he finished the year at 140th.
“When I think of my experience in the U.S., I wish I could have been more comfortable over there because it's a good place to play golf,” Colsaerts said. “But I've come to the conclusion that it's maybe something that is not for me. As long as you are at peace with whatever decision you take, throughout your career or throughout life, it's the main objective. It took a little while, but I'm just happy where I am.”
Here on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, that happy place would be tied for the lead in the Turkish Airlines Open. Colsaerts shot 7-under 64 at Regnum Carya Golf and Spa Resort to set the 18-hole pace with the Netherlands’ Joost Luiten and South Africa’s Haydn Porteous (scores: http://bit.ly/2zf8b4I).
A victory for Colsaerts, who will turn 35 on Nov. 14, would be his first since the 2012 Volvo World Match Play Championship and vault him into the top 100 of the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time since March 2014.
England’s Ian Poulter, an ex-patriot who has spent much of his professional career based in Florida and playing the PGA Tour, contrasted his success in the U.S. with Colsaert’s struggles.
“There's a huge difference why it was easier for me than for him,” Poulter said. “I was married with kids, and he wasn't. From that perspective, I think the States can be overwhelming. It's a big country. It's very different. The culture's different, and he certainly wouldn't have had any family close, so I think for him coming up through the European Tour, it's very family-oriented. I'm not saying the PGA Tour isn't family-oriented, but I'm talking from a guy’s perspective, a social perspective; [in Europe, players] generally stay in the same hotels. You generally spend time with other players during the week. The PGA Tour’s not like that. You're very much on your own.”
Through it all, Colsaerts has learned how to deal with the rigors of professional golf. He had a feeling that he would not play well in August, and the premonition came true. September was better, with a T-12 in Portugal.
“I feel like I'm good enough to do decent showings in big events and on regular occasions throughout the year,” Colsaerts said. “It's just little things that have to click together.
“We all know that there's a lot of guys that can win four, five times a year, and don't for a couple years. But as long as I keep my head straight and put myself in good position, I would like to think that I can land a few more.”
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli