Facebook Twitter

Belgium has its 1st Ryder Cup player in Colsaerts

SHARE Belgium has its 1st Ryder Cup player in Colsaerts

MEDINAH, Ill. — With a great-grandfather who was a two-sport Olympian and a father who played top-level field hockey, it was hardly a surprise that Nicolas Colsaerts would be an athlete.

But a golfer, now that was a bit of a shock.

Colsaerts, you see, is from Belgium, not exactly the first country that comes to mind when it comes to golf. He is Belgium's first Ryder Cup player, and one of the small few good enough to make the European Tour.

"Golf is pretty small back home," Colsaerts said Wednesday. "For starters, it's almost like everybody knows each other in Belgium. So you can imagine how much it's a tight (golf community)."

And a very proud one these days.

Colsaerts finally got his first win this year, at the World Match Play Championship in Spain. He was an easy choice for one of captain Jose Maria Olazabal's picks, a big hitter whose game is perfectly suited for the wide-open course at Medinah Country Club.

"I've hit balls next to him — seems like just about every time we're at the same event — and it's amazing how far he hits it," Tiger Woods said. "He's got just a beautiful golf swing. It was just a matter of time before he got things a little bit more consistent and he was going to be at this level.

"And I think he can play at this level for a very long time," Woods added. "He has the game to do it."

Colsaerts showed promise as a junior, playing on two Junior Ryder Cup teams, and he turned professional in November 2000 on his 18th birthday. He made it through all three stages of European Q-school, the second-youngest player to earn his card. His first two seasons were rough, but it seemed as if he turned a corner in 2003. He had his first top-10 finish, a tie for fifth at the Trophee Lancome, and was in the top 100 on the money list.

The next three years were respectable enough. Then, the bottom fell out. By 2009, he was at the A-Game International Golf Academy in Brisbane, Australia, in an attempt to salvage his career.

"How about just watching tournament golf on TV and thinking you shouldn't be on the other side of the screen," Colsaerts said when asked what the low point was. "When you know you've got this in you and you get to see it from the outside ... it's pretty difficult. When you're 25 and you know you still have a lot of years in front of you and you just don't really produce anything that's going to get you there, it's difficult to accept.

"But everybody has different paths and everyone has different careers," he added. "You realize you want to be what you always dreamed of, so you've got to put your work into it, you've got to put your heart into it."

Colsaerts blazed through the Challenge Tour in 2009, winning two events and finishing in the top 10 eight more teams. He's had 10 top-10 finishes in 22 starts on the European Tour this year, including a tie for seventh at the British Open.

"I feel like I've come back from the dead," Colsaerts said. "You don't really have a lot of examples that everything goes according to play, and I'm certainly not one of them. But I'm kind of proud of my story."

RORY AND TIGER: If ever there was a dream singles match at the Ryder Cup, it would be Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods. They even joked about it a month ago. McIlroy, seeing Woods in the back of the press center, said he would love to go out against him in the opening match and "kick his (behind)."

The odds of that happening? Somewhere around 1 in 12.

The Presidents Cup can manufacture the lineup because the captains announce them together, one name at a time. If that were the case, Davis Love III and Jose Maria Olazabal could guarantee a McIlroy-Woods match for Sunday.

But that's not the case. The Ryder Cup essentially is a blind draw. Each team submits the lineup separately, and Love didn't seem interested in going back on the rules.

"I'm sure it's not in the captains' agreement that we don't do that, but I'm sure it's against the spirit of it," Love said. "It would be neat to sit up here and match them up. It would be pretty good theater to match groups, and it would be fun. But since we can't do that and ... well, I definitely don't want to be the first one to go cross over into their room and start rigging pairings."

Olazabal understands that everyone wants to see the Nos. 1 and 2 players in the world. He's more interested in taking the Ryder Cup back to Europe.

"The only thing I can say is that I know you're eager to see that match," he said. "But I think the Ryder Cup is more important than that single match."

SHARP REFLEXES: Steve Stricker knows when it's time to head for the exit.

Stricker was catching a ride to the media center from U.S. assistant captain Scott Verplank, and they were told the quickest route was down a steep hill on the 17th hole. They picked up a little too much speed and the cart began sliding. Verplank tried to put on the breaks, but that only made the cart fishtail more. When it turned sideways, Stricker jumped.

"I saw that as my opportunity to get out," he said. "I bailed on the ship."

Good thing, too. The cart continued to spin, dumping Stricker's bag and a cooler. The cart eventually came to a stop, and no one was hurt.

SWEET HOME, CHICAGO: Luke Donald is one of the few Northwestern grads better off not using his degree.

Donald was an art theory major, and it's safe to say he's in a better tax bracket as a professional golfer. Certainly a better zip code.

"Yeah, I think I'd be probably living in a different suburb than I am now, let me put it that way," said Donald, who lives most of the year in Northfield, on Chicago's tony north shore.

Donald has earned more than $30 million in his career, and last year became the first player to top the money lists on both the PGA and European tours. But the Englishman's time at Northwestern was hardly a waste — he met his now-wife Diane there and still works with Wildcats coach Pat Goss — and he remains a proud alum.

So much so that Europe's score won't be the only one he's interested in Saturday. Unbeaten Northwestern (4-0) hosts Indiana in the Big Ten opener Saturday morning.

"The Big Ten is probably not as strong as it could be this year, and we have a good opportunity to maybe go far," Donald said. "I know there's been talk of us maybe going 6-0, 7-0 to start the season, which would be great for Northwestern. And, as an alum, I'm always keeping an eye on things."

NO HARD FEELINGS: Lee Westwood's split with short-game coach Pete Cowen was an amicable one.

And not in that Hollywood divorce "we remain the best of friends" sort of way.

"Myself and Pete get on really well still, we had a beer the other night," Westwood said Wednesday. "Just one of those things."

The Englishman has worked with Tony Johnston a few times since the PGA Championship, and said he made the switch because he wasn't seeing enough improvements in his short game and bunker play.

"He gave me some simple things to work on, and they clicked in pretty well," Westwood said.

Westwood has had two top-five finishes in the last month, including a tie for second at the BMW Championship.

DIVOTS: The Americans looked as if they'd raided Ian Poulter's closet Wednesday, wearing bright, fire-engine red pants that could be seen several holes away. "Never had red pants before," Steve Stricker said. "Last ones, too, probably." ... At 45, Stricker is the oldest player on either Ryder Cup team. ... Fine china is one of the gifts U.S. captain Davis Love III is giving his team, but there are others to come. "I'm going to have to give them something they can get hurt with."