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Retired Coltart fears for next generation

It's the simple things in life that Andrew Coltart is enjoying these days.

"I have normal times at home with the family now, watching the girls grow up and helping them with their homework," said the former European Tour champion and Ryder Cup player.

Coltart did not, of course, need his young daughters' book of sums to figure out that his own numbers were not adding up to success in the tough school of professional golf. By the middle of the 2011 academic year, the game that he loves was becoming about as much fun as doing 500 lines with a sprained wrist. By the start of 2012, Coltart had officially retired.

One year on, the Dumfries-born man could not be happier. He is heavily involved with the development of Scotland's leading amateurs; he has his own blossoming coaching school in partnership with Gary Nicol at Archerfield; he dabbles in broadcasting, he does a bit of talent-spotting for Chubby Chandler's management stable; and he has just been appointed captain of the European team for the Palmer Cup match with the USA this season. Oh, and Queen of the South are striding towards the Irn-Bru Second Division title. Life is pretty good, it seems.

"I'm completely content with the decision I made," insists the 42-year-old, who called time on his European Tour escapades after two decades and 491 events. "The drug, if you like, of challenging in an event and playing well, is something I do miss but, let's face it, I'd been missing that for quite some time. I certainly don't miss the yearly grind of lugging my clubs through the airport, stuffing them into the car and rushing out on to a course trying to get a rapid practice round in behind a fourball of Spaniards that's going to take six hours.

"Listen, it would be daft to say I'll never play competitively again. In eight years, I might be desperate to get out there again and try the Seniors Tour. But at the moment, I'm simply enjoying not playing."

The enjoyment factor was one thing that rapidly withered as Coltart's toils took a heavy toll. A succession of missed cuts and an annual trudge through the drudgery of the qualifying school became par for the course for a player who reached a career high of seventh in Europe back in 1996, plundered two titles, in 1998 and 2001, and went head to head with Tiger Woods in the Sunday singles of the 1999 Ryder Cup.

It was the qualifying school route that gave Coltart the opportunity to carve out a successful career on the European stage but, in his role as teacher and mentor to a new generation hoping to strike it rich, that same process now sticks in his craw. While the leading finishers in the six-round qualifier tend to get a decent crack of the whip, those at the lower end of the card-winning top 30 end up guddling about for scraps like a pauper rifling through a bin. With the European Tour last year losing some half a dozen events in its traditional heartland – events to which the lower-ranked players would usually have gained entry – dining at the top table these days is more akin to nibbling on crumbs.

"Quite frankly, I find it appalling that there is still this perception that you get a great chance to kick off your career at q-school," he said. "It's nothing like that of course. You play on the periphery and it's more of an alien experience than ever. In my opinion, the q-school, as it is now with 30 main tour cards on offer, will disappear and will only give cards for the Challenge Tour. It's a money-spinning event for the tour but they are pulling the wool over the young kids' eyes. They don't get a sniff of the PGA, or the Scottish Open, or the Irish Open, despite the fact they have earned their right to compete in them.

"What is sad is that by June many have a conundrum. Do they still hang on to the dream of playing on the European Tour, knowing they might be lucky if they get five more events, or do they knuckle down on the Challenge Tour so at least they have a category for next year? If you earn your right as a card member, you shouldn't have to ask yourself that question by June or July. It's not right and a solution needs to be found."

As a leading figure in the Scottish Golf Union's performance set-up, Coltart, with all the experiences he has gained, will never tire of hammering home to the next wave of potential touring pros just how tough it can be. He has had his time in the upper echelons. In golfing terms, this 40-something is hardly an OAP of the game but retirement has allowed Coltart the opportunity to look back over his career.

"When you're competing and doing well, it's never enough, you're always looking forward," he reflected. "When I finally came off the tour I felt like a bit of a disappointment but now I've had time to reflect. If I turned the clock back to being 18 again, I would never have dreamed that I would have achieved what I did. It's only now when I'm in a sensible mood, and by that I mean when I have my golf shoes off, that I do appreciate it. I'm fairly happy with my lot."

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