His wife Rachael is Australian, as is his caddie, Brian Nilsson. So, although far from home, Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts is one visitor not feeling out-of-place in the run-up to the 103rd #AusOpenGolf.
Yes, the birthday boy – he turns 36 today – was keen to make it to the European Tour’s end-of-season event this week (he finished 80th on the Race to Dubai, 16 places short of qualifying) but he is more than happy to be back in the country he credits with resurrecting his previously floundering career.
“I came here back in 2010 and 2011 on the back of a couple of really bad years,” says the former Ryder Cup player.
“I had no status on any tour. I was nowhere near where I needed to be. But I got so much help down here. When I went back I got myself onto the Challenge Tour and then the European Tour. So Australia is a place I have a lot of affection and respect for. It has a big symbolic meaning for me.
“I met my wife for the first time during a New Year’s party in Byron Bay back in 2011. We lost track of each other after that. But when I came here three years ago to play in the Australian Open at The Australian, I needed a tour guide. So I gave her a call. Next thing you know we have a nine-month old son.”
Such a tale is typical of the man. Colsaerts has always marched to his own beat. A cosmopolitan soul who speaks five languages – French, English, Dutch, Spanish and Italian – he is both interesting and interested. Which is probably why the two years he spent on the PGA Tour in America failed to bring the success he might have expected. Armed with the sort of powerful game that tends to flourish on American courses, the Brussels-native who makes his home in Monte Carlo failed to settle across the Atlantic.
“The PGA Tour is an odd place,” he says. “I didn’t like being there all the time. I missed the changes in scenery you get on the European Tour. I know Arizona is not the north-east and Florida is different. But the experience was too much the same for me every week. It was doing my head in.
“The whole experience is still a disappointment for me. To this day I regret not doing better. But I just couldn’t handle being over there all the time. It wasn’t for me. By 7.30 every night I was back in my hotel room having eaten. There was no real contact with anyone. I grew up in the centre of a major European capital, surrounded by culture. So staying in a hotel in the middle of Ohio wasn’t really doing it for me. It was all too shallow.”
Still, the highlight of the Colsaerts career – so far at least – took place in America. As a member of the 2012 European Ryder Cup side, the two-time European Tour champion had a close-up view of what became known as “the miracle at Medinah.” Four points down going into the last-day singles, the men from the Old World came from behind to win by one.
It was, however, during the opening day’s four-balls where Colsaerts really shone. Playing alongside Lee Westwood, he defeated Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker on the 18th green. Remarkably, Westwood came in on only one hole. Round in an approximate 62, Colsearts basically beat the American pair on his own.
“I remember Tiger looking at Lee during our match,” he says with a smile. “He was basically asking, ‘who the #*^! is this guy?’ Lee just shrugged. He knew what I was capable of. But Tiger was really nice. He told me, ‘well played.’ at the end. All Stricker said was, ‘great putting!’ He’s a lovely guy, but on that day I don’t think he took it too well.
“I don’t remember much of the after-match party on the Sunday evening after we won. But I do know that I was the last player standing. I made a point of that. The only other guys there were caddies and some of the staff. All the other players were softies – which didn’t really surprise me! To be fair, some took it too deep early and couldn’t cope later. And I remember singing on the bus on the way to the airport the next morning. I had been to bed for maybe half-an-hour.”
As for this week, Colsaerts arrives encouraged by his recent form. Apart from an unfortunate disqualification at the British Masters, he has not missed a halfway cut in three months.
"Winning the Australian Open title would be one of the highlights of my career if I can pull it off,” he says. “It has great meaning within our sport. I definitely want to add a few lines to my CV and getting my name on the Stonehaven Cup would be a good start.”
And not a bad birthday present either.