Golf: Coltart wins his mind game

'If it's bad, stuff it. What's the worst thing that can happen? If I miss the cut, there's always next week'; Andy Farrell hears how the gentle touch has tamed a tempestuous talent
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The Independent Online
WHEN Greg Norman was back home Down Under last November he fancied a game at a challenging course in Sydney called the New South Wales Club. On being informed of his request by an assistant, an official at the club replied that there was no problem that week. All Norman had to do was enter the Australian PGA Championship.

Instead, the Shark went along to watch on the final day and saw Scotland's Andrew Coltart win the title for the second time. "I have always thought Andrew was a hell of a player," Norman said. "The NSW course is a tough test of golf so obviously he has a lot of game about him. I think he is a good guy, too."

High praise. Ian Woosnam said much the same when he twice pushed Coltart into second place during 1996. "I think you will soon win on tour," Woosie told him after the Johnnie Walker Classic. "If it is any consolation, I hope you beat me next time we meet in a play-off."

But it has not yet happened. Coltart's first European tour victory is still in the future, although it may not be long as he is joint second behind Andrew Sherbourne going into the final round of the Qatar Masters here in Doha. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the 27-year-old Scot could also clinch the Australasian Tour order of merit without playing a shot.

In the final event in Canberra only two men, Peter O'Malley, five off the lead, and Greg Chalmers, three behind, could overtake Coltart by winning the ANZ Tour Championship. Coltart is also already assured of an exemption for the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale by finishing in the top three.

The value of his winter sojourn cannot be measured in mere statistics. It was much more of a cathartic experience. "I went down to Australia to find a bit of form," he said. "It was always going to be a plus whatever happened."

Last season he slipped to 46th on the money list from seventh the year before. He chased a Ryder Cup spot and came to grief in such spectacular fashion he also lost his place in Scotland's World and Alfred Dunhill Cup teams. "You just keep putting yourself under pressure," he said. "The only answer is to stop kicking yourself up the arse all the time. It got to the stage where I started mucking around with my swing, but the problem was between my ears."

Coltart went to see a sports psychologist who finds a rich source of employment on the tour. Help was also closer at hand. His fiancee Emma, perhaps wondering how to live with someone who could not live with himself, gave him a good talking to. Golf has always had its volcanic types and Coltart was a fully paid-up member.

For a game in which rounds last for hours and tournaments for days, the strain of trying too hard takes its toll. It took a throat infection and a high temperature for Jose Maria Olazabal to forget his worries about hitting a little white ball as he won the Dubai Classic. Robert Karlsson, the Swede who finished third last week, undergoes body psychotherapy, where sessions with an analyst are conducted while he is placed in strangely contorted positions.

For Coltart, it was simpler. A few harsh words did the trick. "Emma told me to stop being obsessed by it all. You're allowed to have average days, bad days in this job. I've always found that difficult to accept. If I had an average day and still shot 71, 72, I'd go away and beat my head against the wall and wonder why it wasn't a 67 or a 68.

"My No 1 goal for the year is just to be able to walk off the golf course and forget about it, not to dwell on the bad shots, but to try and relax and think about where to have dinner. If it's bad, it's bad, stuff it. What's the worst thing that can happen? If I miss the cut, there's always next week. Before I would turn it into a disaster."

As part of a management stable that includes Lee Westwood - whose fiancee is Coltart's sister Laurae - Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley, success was all around him, which made his own under-performance harder to bear. "I think it was plain to see. I would try to deny it, but I think it certainly happens like that.

"People say you've got to be a bit more like Lee and be easier on myself. But I can't. I'm Andy Coltart and he's Lee Westwood. It's a bit harder for me to forget things than it is for him.

"But I've learned from Emma and other people around us that I was actually doing myself harm. I've learned a lot in the last year and achieved far more in Australia than I thought I would."

As for Norman, he could not get away from the young Brit pack last year. A couple of weeks after Coltart's win, Westwood beat the Shark in a play- off for the Australian Open.