PITTSFORD, N.Y. – There are certain expectations when you go to dinner with a man called The Dude. He should arrive on Dude time. He should be wearing sunglasses. Maybe a robe. He should partake in many alcoholic beverages. He should eat nothing but red meat. He should swear, repeatedly and charmingly and unforgivingly. He should eventually leave with a winsome waitress. Or two.
Life, though, is full of unfulfilled expectations. And so what occurs instead can’t be categorized as disappointment so much as disillusionment in the first place.
Because this is what actually happens when you go to dinner with a man called The Dude. He arrives three minutes early for a 7:30 reservation. He wears a t-shirt and jeans. He drinks Coca-Cola. He eats creamed spinach. Yes, creamed spinach. He is polite and refined and easygoing. He casually thanks the waitresses when he leaves. Alone.
Nicolas Colsaerts doesn’t know the precise moment he went from being a dude to The Dude. He does, however, offer a Dude-like explanation for the nickname. “I was in Europe and I was kind of saying dude to everyone and I’m kind of like a dude.”
It’s been a fun last few years for the 30-year-old Colsaerts, who also answers to The Belgian Bomber, The Muscles from Brussels and plainly Coels – or as his Twitter handle states, @Coelsss. (“I added three s’s,” he says. “I don’t know why. I thought it would look cooler, like a triple-x kind of thing, you know?”)
He won his first two European Tour titles. He starred -- for one afternoon, at least – on the European Ryder Cup team. He claimed top-10 finishes in two major championships. He ascended into the top-50 on the world ranking. Fun stuff, indeed.
There was a time in his career when The Dude was too much fun. He turned professional on Nov. 14, 2000 – his 18th birthday – and promptly breezed through European Tour Q-School. In his rookie season, though, he made the cut in just eight of 25 starts, never finishing better than 27th place. One year later, he was back to playing lesser tours, still a teenager who was maybe more interested in the nightlife than devoting himself to golf.
“All of a sudden I had no tournaments to play,” he explains. “I was just nowhere. I found myself going from 30-odd events a year to playing maybe 10 or 15 on Tour to then down to five and a couple more on the Challenge Tour and in France. That’s basically a calendar of 12-15 tournaments a year. Just a lot of time to kill.
“At the time, I was really into house music, so I started going out at night a bit, but even though I started this downward spiral, I knew it wasn’t my life. I knew my life was made of something else. I never lost sight that one day I was going to be back. I didn’t think it would be this quickly and I’d achieve so much in two years, but I had dreams that I knew I was going to live one day.”
A recent article in the Daily Record quotes Colsaerts as saying that if he hadn’t changed his hard-partying ways, “I thought I’d be dead by 30.” He refutes that insinuation, though. “That,” he promises, “got a little blown out of proportion.”
It’s easy to connect the dots here: Golfer has talent. Golfer parties too much. Golfer wastes talent. Golfer stops partying as much. Golfer fulfills talent. But Colsaerts contends there’s more to his recent success than just becoming more disciplined.
“No, the biggest secret to where I am right now is putting little pieces together,” he explains, “and believing in the little things that will get me to there, then to there, then to there. Before I was like, oh, that’s not important. But now I understand that the little things might only make a little difference, but could be a big difference later.”
It was never going to be a linear climb. When he was 12, Colsaerts told his parents that he wanted to quit school and become a professional golfer. He stuck with his studies, but wiled away class time staring out the window, daydreaming about playing field hockey, tennis and golf.
For a kid from the municipality of Schaerbeek to even consider a career on the links is akin to a young American boy claiming he wants to be a world famous cricketer. To call Belgium’s history in elite golf limited is an understatement. Flory Van Donck won more than 50 professional tournaments between the years 1936 and 1960, twice finishing runner-up at The Open Championship. Since then, there’s been an occasional Philippe Toussaint or Nicolas Vanhootegem, but no major presence until Colsaerts.
“There’s certainly pride to putting Belgium on the map wherever you go,” he says proudly. Even as he utters these words, though, you can sense they’ll be attached to a preemptive “but…”
“When it comes to golf in Belgium, the crowds are not very knowledgeable. Therefore I’ve pretty much put what people say aside, because I know they don’t know what they’re talking about. They’ve never been to big events, they don’t know the life I’m living. Most of the time, I still get, ‘Oh, you’re traveling? That’s pretty cool.’ They don’t really understand that traveling the way I travel isn’t like going on holiday a couple of times. So I never really pay a lot of attention to it.”
His competition is taking keen notice of what the astronomically long hitter has accomplished so far. His first European Tour victory came at the Volvo China Open two years ago. He then prevailed at the Volvo World Match Play Championship last year, defeating a murderer’s row of opponents that included Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker, Paul Lawrie and, in the final, Graeme McDowell.
“He’s always had that raw talent,” McDowell says. “He hits it a long way, but he’s got great hands. Just kind of a long, loose, languid golf swing. Just a really good all-around ball-striker. He’s one of these guys who when he applies himself, he’s a hell of a player. I think he can certainly be a top-10 player in the world.”
Despite his prior success, Colsaerts was largely introduced to the world at last year’s Ryder Cup. It isn’t often that a player breaks through at the biennial intercontinental competition; by its very definition, most players see a breakthrough prior to taking part in the event. In the case of Colsaerts, though, he had only made eight career starts in the United States before arriving at Medinah Country Club, making him ripe for such burgeoning status.
Named to Europe’s team by Jose Maria Olazabal as a captain’s pick, he paired with Westwood in a Friday afternoon fourballs match against Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker. In a word, Colsaerts’ performance was epic. He singlehandedly earned a point for his side, posting an unfathomable 10-under-par score for the day.
It may have qualified as the most auspicious debut in the event’s storied history.
“You can see he handles pressure well,” Westwood says. “He hit it fantastic that day and putted great.”
Stricker concurs. “He hit it longer than any guy I’ve ever seen. He made every putt that he looked at. He’s got a lot of offense. I was pretty impressed with what he has.”
While much of the world learned Colsaerts’ name during that match, it was when he was questioned about the pressure of the moment afterward that people came to know The Dude.
“You have just got to go with what's in your pants,” he explained to the delight of twisted minds everywhere.
When Europe clinched an improbable come-from-behind victory two days later, it called for a celebration. The Dude abided.
“You basically have a drink in your hand from the moment you get off 18 until you pass out,” he reveals. “I mean, we’re talking European style, so we’re talking from 7:00 at night until 4:00 in the morning, nonstop. Like, not one drop on the ground. I was the last player in the room. Everybody else went to bed.”
“I thought I could drink,” Westwood sighs, “but he went to bed after me that night. He was definitely the last man standing.”
When asked whether he can still party, The Dude shoots back the same glare he might give if you’d inquired whether he could drive a golf ball 300 yards.
“Oh, yeah. You never lose it. I probably get down to business about five or six times a year,” he says, proffering his own unique euphemism for partying. “I need to. Because of the life we live. We’re always on the road and physically you can’t allow yourself to let it go most times.”
The next progression in his maturity may be settling down, but while Colsaerts maintains that he’d like to get married and have children, he’s not in any rush, either.
“It’s very difficult to spend my time with somebody,” he knows. “It’s not one of my priorities right now. I feel like I still have so much left to achieve. I just feel like it would be excess baggage right now.”
Not that he is without admirers. “My wife is totally in love with him,” Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano smiles sheepishly. “Does he know? I don’t know. He might be aware of it. He’s a magnet for women.”
Part of the problem – if you can call it a problem – is that Colsaerts’ life is up in the air, often quite literally, like the George Clooney film of the same name. Technically, his home is an apartment just outside of Brussels that he shares with a roommate “basically rent-free.” This season, though, he’s also playing the PGA Tour full-time, currently struggling to keep his card for next year.
He has yet to buy a home in the U.S., but does have a membership. When he spends time in the country working on his game, he can be found at The Bear’s Club, a posh Jack Nicklaus design in the elite golfer hotbed of Jupiter, Fla.
Colsaerts enjoys life on this side of the pond, even if he doesn’t always feel like he completely fits in.
“I definitely think the social skills of people over here are not the same as people over in Europe,” he surmises. “I’m pretty easy. I’m pretty cool with everyone – players, caddies, staff, guys in the locker room. I talk to everybody the same way. It’s not like I change the way I talk just because of what someone does.”
If there’s a story that epitomizes his coolness, it happened at last month’s AT&T National.
“We heard there’s this chicken place like five minutes from the golf course. I was going to try it, so I told the guys with Callaway, ‘Don’t get lunch.’ So I come back to the truck with like six or seven chickens. They all looked at me like, ‘No one has ever done this.’ I’m like, ‘Really?’”
This is how The Dude operates these days. He may not be the hard-partying wild child of his late-teens and early-twenties, but he still conducts himself with a certain flair. Call it a combination of swagger and spirit that allows him to play the role of The Dude without it adversely affecting his golf game.
Besides, that part of his life isn’t done. It’s just on hiatus.
“When this is all over,” he boasts, “I’m probably going to go back to the fun part. When I’m 55 or 60. Hey, you see some cool dudes around that age.”