INTERVIEW-Golf-Colsaerts set to be big hit in U.S.

LONDON Fri Oct 19, 2012 2:55am IST

LONDON Oct 18 (Reuters) - Nicolas Colsaerts is ready to take the United States by storm when he switches to the PGA Tour from Europe after becoming the first Belgian to appear in the Ryder Cup.

The 29-year-old is trying to secure his playing card in the U.S for the 2013 season and Belgian Golf Federation president Jean De Vooght is convinced the longest driver on the European and PGA Tours will be a big hit across the Atlantic.

The 29-year-old only scored one point from four matches on his Ryder Cup debut at Medinah but eight birdies and an eagle in the fourballs helped down 14-times major winner Tiger Woods.

"The way he hits the ball so far, Americans like that. They can make a personality of him. In England people care about the score not if someone can hit the ball much further than anybody else," De Vooght told Reuters.

"Golf in Europe is on top so it's progressing whereas in the States they need some new stars. Nicolas is one of them. He's a good kid and not snobbish."

"Everybody now knows where Nicolas is this week. Everybody is on the internet. Nicolas Colsaerts is so much in America," added De Vooght, who believes the Belgian's persona could help freshen up the PGA Tour where 71 percent of the players are from the United States.

The world number 35 has enjoyed a superb season on the European Tour with a win and 10 top-10 finishes in total, a far cry from 2009 when he plummeted to 1,305 in the rankings.

It culminated in Europe's epic victory in the Ryder Cup.

Times have changed for Colsaerts, whose confident strutting and nodding during his tussle with Woods earned him nicknames such as the 'Muscles from Brussels' and the 'Belgian Bomber'.

Golf has never been big business in Belgium but De Vooght believes the impact of the Ryder Cup can be huge.

"We have had much more coverage in the newspapers and magazines," he said. "We will have to wait for the impact, which will take a few months, but we hope to reach a 10th of what Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters did for tennis."

During the Ryder Cup social media sites were awash with questions about who was the most famous Belgian, answers ranging from the cartoon character Tintin to actor Jean Claude Van Damme, also nicknamed the 'Muscles from Brussels.'

While Colsaerts' Ryder Cup appearance has been a positive for the Belgian Golf Federation in their centenary year, domestically they are beset by political and economical problems.

SELFISH POLITICIANS

De Vooght acknowledged the ongoing European financial crisis has not helped matters for the sport in the small country.

"We have a political problem in Belgium. To build a golf course it takes roughly eight years, whereas in Belgium it unfortunately takes 10-15 years.

"So investors are not queuing to build golf courses because they don't have any guarantee they can ever build a course. It's embarrassing for us but it's the truth.

"People in politics take the decisions and they are selfish. They think about their own personal votes and they don't think golf will bring them votes."

Colsaerts wrote on his website (www.nicolascolsaerts.com) last month how difficult it was to open a course in Belgium.

"It's so tough and unfair to build courses in Belgium... Laws must be changed, the ones who wrote these laws hated golf... it's easier to build nuclear weapons than let some grass grow with some sand and water!"

Financial constraints have hit the European Tour hard in 2012, with the cancellation of the Andalucia and Madrid Masters in Spain, while De Vooght said in Belgium money was scarce.

"Today we cannot go to the banks or to the automobile industry so we are losing potential sponsors. Valderrama was cancelled, Madrid was cancelled, so it's not good news for us.

"Let's say I go around with my cap, we could pull together up to 1 million euros ($1.31 million), but it's not enough. We need 2.5 or 3 million euros to provide decent prize money."

Along with Colsaerts, several up-and-coming juniors are starting to make a name for themselves which De Vooght hopes will elevate the sport in Belgium.

Thomas Pieters is ranked 16th in the world amateur rankings and is in the U.S. studying, while teenager Thomas Detry is heading across the Atlantic to do the same and has competed in the junior Ryder Cup.

"Every kid playing golf in Belgium today is reading about Nicolas. What's very positive about Nicolas is he hasn't changed. He remains the same person," said De Vooght.

($1 = 0.7638 euros) (Edited by Martyn Herman)

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