Brett Coletta had incredible success in his few last weeks as an amateur in 2016. But what followed when he turned pro was self-doubt and a form of rookie burnout that forced him to take an extended break from the game last year. Now, he’s back. He’s happy and the game is in good shape as he prepares to climb the next rung towards making the PGA Tour.
Standing on the 7th tee – his 16th hole – the morning of Friday, July 6 at the McKenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada’s Windsor Championship, Brett Coletta, knew he needed birdie or better on the short par-5 if he had any hope of making the cut. He didn’t need this type of pressure on his 22nd birthday.
It was time to go big or pack his bags to leave the links-style Ambassador Golf Club. Striping his tee shot to the right centre of the fairway put the birthday boy in perfect position to go for the left-centre pin and make birdie at worst, maybe eagle. The reedy pond on the left side seemed irrelevant for the long-hitting Aussie but his approach shot caught up in the wind and dropped into the drink – ending his week. Not the happiest way to turn 22.
“This wasn’t my type of course,” said the friendly Coletta after the round. Although long and straight off the tee, he’s a better shot-maker, who prefers the tougher courses that force you to think your way around rather than just bombing it from tee to green like Ambassador demanded.
A week later in Thunder Bay, the tight, tree lined course suited his style.
One back and playing in the final group on Sunday, Coletta’s closing 69 left him in a tie for fourth – his best Canadian finish as of late July. A week later, just north of Toronto and on another bomber’s paradise, Coletta’s pair of 70s didn’t make the cut.
The MC-T4-MC run may not be the results the fans back home expect less than a year into Coletta’s comeback, but Robert Allenby, who knows better, called Coletta “The next superstar of Australian golf with probably the best swing I have seen in years.” Like it or not, Coletta is yet another Aussie carrying his country’s hopes on his shoulders – a load that sent him into a tailspin for a time and was made worse by his own expectations.
Coletta’s start in golf has been well documented but it bears a brief recap. Attracted to the individual nature of golf, the introverted Coletta fell in love with the game soon after his first outing as a five-year-old and by 2011 he was winning junior tournaments.
By 2015 he was competing outside Australia with impressive results including winning the medal play portion of the US Amateur where the hype (a word he uses often to describe both the coverage and expectations directed his way) left him bemused. Despite losing in the first round of match play, which he partly attributes to getting caught up in it all, the Victorian was now a player to watch. His run of solid performances in America began a whirlwind two year stretch that while intoxicating for a time, would eventually overwhelm him like a violent storm and push him into a black hole.
Coletta won the 2016 Queensland Open, where he led almost wire to wire, while still an amateur. A week later at the NSW Open he finished tied second after opening with a 62, which was the catalyst for the Allenby quote. “I played with Robert that round and him saying it meant a lot to me but at the same time when everybody heard it the pressure went way up.”
Coletta is quick to defend his controversial mate. “There are mixed reviews about Rob but I can’t say a bad word about him; he’s an awesome bloke. I’ve played in Rob’s charity events a few times and even before I got on the amateur scene, so I will always be there to support him with whatever he needs.”
Having turned down – according to his estimates – $110,000 in earnings, he felt ready to turn professional and told his team over dinner during the Australian PGA Championship where he finished tied sixth.
“I had their support but we were also wondering if Queensland was a fluke. But I realised my results proved I can play well so we announced it the Monday after the Aussie PGA,” Coletta said.
“I was so nervous I thought I was going to crap myself. There’s all these big names there and suddenly you’re a pro.” – Brett Coletta
Fame is a double-edged sword and while understanding it goes with the territory, Coletta was again surprised by the publicity surrounding the announcement, calling it a big production and shrugging his shoulders as if wondering what the big deal was.
A few weeks later at his pro debut in Singapore, Coletta realised he and ‘it’ was a big deal when he arrived at the golf course.
“I was so nervous I thought I was going to crap myself. There’s all these big names there and suddenly you’re a pro. They give you a big staff bag and they’re taking pictures of you and putting them up on the wall and I’m like ‘Oh my god. This is real now,’” he says.
Playing a practice round with Adam Scott where he marvelled at Scott’s ability to hit seemingly everything pin high calmed his nerves somewhat. Coletta survived the cut, unlike his next tournament at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on the PGA Tour where the rainy, miserable conditions left everyone irritable.
For the young Aussie, however, the storm was about to hit but not before a solid tied 25th at The Memorial Tournament on a course he calls a pure test of golf. Despite the strong showing, Coletta knew he was running on fumes and the engine was breaking down rapidly. The storm clouds were now overtaking him and the black hole was just ahead. He tried to play through it all but after consecutive missed cuts in Canada and America the deluge came and hit him hard. Physically run down from adjusting to regular long haul flights coupled with a persistent stomach virus that took nine months to clear, and mentally exhausted, Coletta was cooked only seven months into his professional career and shut it down for four months.
What happened and why did his dream turn to a nightmare within months?
“I was on emotional overload after a massive and busy eighteen months and even though I shouldn’t have let it, it all got on top of me. I wasn’t communicating well with home. Everything was bothering me on and off the course and the frustration grew,” Coletta disclosed. “It was tough because you work hard and get to a certain point and then it all comes crashing down on you.
“I’m just a kid from the Melbourne suburbs who not long ago was on the other side of the ropes asking for signatures and then suddenly I’m signing them. It all happened so fast and the media wants to talk to you all the time. I knew I was struggling but then it all got dark very quickly and I knew I had to call it quits for a bit.”
He also realised it wasn’t going to be a quick ride to the top and professional golf was
more cut-throat than he imagined. It’s classic Darwinian survival and in the pitiless world of professional golf where everyone is trying to take food out of your mouth, it’s been said that half the field doesn’t care if you shot 74 and the other half wishes you shot 75.
He didn’t touch a club for several weeks, spending those weeks alone in a mental fog before it began to lift as he received help and reconnected with family, mates, and his team. Although external expectations played a part, Coletta says much of the darkness was self-induced from his own expectations and what he believed were everyone’s expectations that anything less than a Nicklaus or Tiger-type rookie season was a disappointment.
He learned more about himself and life in four months than he had in his previous 21 years. “The important things – what you didn’t think were so important at the time – get pushed to the side. For five years my only focus was golf but when I took that time off, I got very close to my team, spent lots of time with family and my mates, and learned what is really important,” Coletta said.
“Overall, I think it was maturity and growing up and looking at things differently. Before the break I just wanted to shoot up to the main tour right away but that’s a bit far-fetched and really difficult to do. Golf is a marathon sport with long careers. I was sprinting and it’s not a sprint.”
“For five years my only focus was golf but when I took that time off, I got very close to my team, spent lots of time with family and my mates, and learned what is really important.” – Brett Coletta
Revitalised mentally and physically, he returned to competition in November and has spent the northern summer of 2018 playing on the Canadian circuit. He still gets frustrated when he plays well but finishes well back. However, the lows are now brief troughs and not deep canyons. He’s more relaxed and playing better golf as a result.
“I’m playing well and feeling good,” he maintains. “I’ve been minus 60 or something for the last few events and I’m outside the top-20 on the Order of Merit, which gives you an indication of how good this tour is.”
Indeed. While some claim Windsor and Osprey Valley were set up too easy for players of this calibre, and not truly preparing them for the next level if all 20 under gets you is a T6 or T3, the quality of play from top to bottom has grown exponentially since it came under the PGA Tour’s ownership in 2012.
As Coletta noted, the competition in professional golf is cut-throat and especially so when you have the American juggernaut with its multi-billion dollar junior and college golf factories constantly churning out players who eat, breathe and sleep golf with the mindset of mercilessly crushing the competition. Their domination and intensity are felt on the Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada, which is designed to move the best players up to the Web.com Tour then on to the big show.
In Singapore, Scott told him to just enjoy it all and Coletta is finally doing just that. Unlike many for whom it takes years to understand, he’s already learned the benefits of rest for both mind and body. He’s also learned to manage expectations. The Canadian circuit will take him to the middle of this month – right in time for Q-School First Stage, which he will likely attend. And what of several years out?
“My initial goal this year was to be on the Web.com Tour but you have to do extremely well here in Canada even to get conditional status there. If I’m either on either Web.com or the PGA Tour with conditional status in three to five years, I’ll be more than content with that. I’ll have a base and be comfortable playing over here.”
In five years Coletta will be 27, the age where professional golfers begin to ripen. By that point they are tournament tough and road tested. They’ve learned to manage their game on the course and their life off it. They’ve learned patience; to live in the moment and take it one shot at a time – that Rome wasn’t built in a day.
If what his fellow pros – including Allenby – say is accurate, Brett Coletta has all the tools to get to the big tour and stay there. All he needs to do is continue sharpening them – something hard work, time, and experience will take care of.