IF ONLY drawing a line in the sand didn’t carry a two-shot penalty, Brett Coletta probably would have. Anything the Victorian youngster could do to mark October 9, 2016, as the day he felt something he never wanted to feel again.
Losing the two-shot lead he took into the final round of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Korea was one thing. Missing out on the coveted winner’s exemption into the Masters was another.
To rub salt in the wound, fellow Australian and good mate Curtis Luck boat-raced the field to steal victory with a 67 – but Luck was already guaranteed an Augusta berth by virtue of winning the US Amateur earlier in the year. Needless to say, Coletta was shattered.
“You put all this effort in … I’d never really had a defeat like that before,” Coletta recalls to Australian Golf Digest. “When you’re up there (leading), it’s the best feeling in the world. You feel like there’s nothing below you. But if you fall, it’s a big fall.”
Cue the lump-in-the-throat scenes. Coletta was forced to watch Luck lift the trophy and go through the motions – press conference, photos … the lot.
“But the hardest part was calling Mum and Dad back home, immediately after. That was a real kick in the mouth,” Coletta says. “I almost felt the whole experience had purpose; like [golf was] saying, ‘You’ve got to do better than this next time’.”
Fortunately for Coletta, “next time” was only two weeks away.
The few days at home in Melbourne after Korea would be the making of 21-year-old Brett Coletta. Rather than mope or direct his indignation at the fact the Asia-Pacific Amateur, which is partnered by Augusta National Golf Club, doesn’t defer Masters exemptions to the runner-up in bizarre cases like this, Coletta beat the emotion into something he could use going forward.
“I was shattered, but it didn’t get me emotional or teary. It was more a spark that ignited in me. I thought, Screw this. I don’t ever want this to happen again. This is terrible,” Coletta said.
So Coletta went on a tear that would grab the attention of the golf world. It started with a later-than-expected, somewhat insulting 11th-hour invite to the Queensland Open.
“As an amateur, you can’t ever assume you’ll be invited to an event. But I’d had a pretty good (2015-’16 Australian) summer of golf and my World Amateur Golf Ranking had dropped. I got the call up a week before the Queensland Open and they said, ‘We saw your efforts in Korea and we’d like to invite you.’
“I thought, Thanks, I’m going to go out there and win your event.
And I did.”
Coletta held on through a nervy finish to win the Queensland Open at Brisbane Golf Club by three shots over fellow young gun Lucas Herbert – his first professional title. He was the first amateur to win the Queensland Open since Stuart Appleby in 1991.
“There was something about the week. I was so focused on what I was doing and found myself on top of the leaderboard. It was one of those stretches where it was my time,” Coletta says.
Two weeks later, Coletta opened the New South Wales Open with a course record-equalling 10-under-par 62 en route to a runner-up finish. Veteran Australian golfer Robert Allenby was stunned at what he saw at Stonecutters Ridge Golf Club, in Sydney’s north-west.
“(Brett) has probably got the best swing I’ve seen of any golfer for many years,” Allenby said. “I think he’s amazing. I think he’s a young Adam Scott. Same with his putting. Brett has the whole nine yards.”
Coletta made the wise decision to join the paid ranks in January. His professional debut came at the Singapore Open, where he picked the brains of his idol, Adam Scott, during practice rounds before successfully making the cut.
Joining the Wasserman management stable under US manager Bud Martin – who represents Australian stars Jason Day, Marc Leishman, Cameron Smith, Rod Pampling and Ryan Ruffels – Coletta secured a dream debut on the US PGA Tour at California’s famed Pebble Beach Golf Links in February.
Although Coletta wasn’t reading too far into the hype surrounding him, golf still has a way of bringing players back to earth.
“It was nerve-wracking, obviously. Rolling up and getting the courtesy car, meeting my manager for the first time, signing in and getting your player credentials. But when I teed off on the 10th hole at Pebble Beach at 7.40am in the first round, there was no-one around. It was bucketing down with rain … it was a bit of an anti-climax, to be honest,” Coletta laughs.
Sponsor’s invitations to non-members of the US Tour typically come with the most undesirable tee-times – usually the last group in the field on Thursdays and Fridays, often teeing off at nearly 3pm. And with severe storms hitting the Monterey Peninsula that February, Mother Nature literally rained on Coletta’s parade.
“I never am one to make excuses or complain, but it was a genuine bad side of the draw. I was coming out to play one hole, then waiting at the course for hours until more play. It was a disaster that no one could have helped. I looked at it and thought, That was ugly but it wasn’t me. I don’t have a card yet, so I have to take those things in my stride.”
Time To Shine
It’s safe to say Coletta wasn’t going to let the next opportunity slip. The next invitation he received to golf’s most lucrative circuit came at the Jack Nicklaus-hosted Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village in Columbus, Ohio, in June.
But his second US PGA Tour event began almost as disastrously as the first. Two double-bogeys in his first seven holes had Coletta feeling hot under the collar, but he fought back bravely to open with an even-par 72 while bigger-name compatriots Adam Scott and Jason Day shot 76 and 75, respectively.
In the second round, Coletta came within one shot of the lead before signing for a 69 en route to a tie for 25th – his first pay cheque on the US Tour, a cool $A87,515.
“Muirfield Village really suited me; it was such a finely-tuned course,” Coletta said. “If you take arguably the best golfer of all time, grab the best bits out of his experiences and turn them into a golf tournament, it’s going to be pretty good.”
The Victorian earned high praise from his peers at Ohio. Sam Saunders, grandson of the late Arnold Palmer, said after playing with Coletta during the first two rounds: “I’m as impressed with Brett’s game as any young guy I’ve ever played with. Brett hits it long and solid, he can shape the ball and his short-game is really solid. He’s going to have an extremely bright future.”
Other admirers include two-time Major champion and golf icon Greg Norman, the honouree at this year’s Memorial. The Shark has followed Coletta’s career for some time and believes the youngster is a testament to Australia’s ability to produce golfing stars.
“I hope Brett goes on to success. He can win (on the US Tour). There is no reason you cannot if you believe in yourself,” Norman said. “Every time I look at the new wave of Aussie kids coming through, technically they’re all good. I think it’s an incredible indicator of what we’ve produced from our small country of 24 million people and 1.3 million golfers. We have this ability to keep churning out these great players every 15 years.”
A modest Coletta says the compliments are the cherry on top of what he’s deemed as a learning season on the American tour. Coletta has four sponsor’s invitations left of the seven afforded to non-members each season, while he also secured his card on the second-tier Canadian Tour.
“It’s flattering, but I’m still learning every week, every tournament. Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott – I’m here to learn and pick their brains on how they prepare and practise,” Coletta said. “These guys are role models of mine, so to tee it up alongside them, you just felt a part of the business. I played with Brooks Koepka in the final round, two weeks before he’d win the US Open. That stuff is priceless.”
Get To Know Colette Better
Age: 21 (born July 6, 1996)
From: Melbourne, Victoria
Home course: Sandhurst Club, Melbourne. The Coletta family moved to the Sandhurst Club – home of the PGA of Australia – in 2004. Coletta has shot an 11-under-par 61 on its Champions course.
Family: Mick (father), Rebecca (mother), Milly (sister) and Max (brother).
Surname: Coletta is of Italian lineage. Father Mick’s family originates from Trieste, a port city in north-eastern Italy opposite the Adriatic Sea from Venice.
When did he take up golf? “My first cut-down set I got when I was five years old. But I didn’t start to take it really seriously until I was about 14. I opened the batting for Parkdale United Cricket Club and played in the region’s rep side. In Year 9, I chose to focus on golf – I think it was probably the right decision.”
Favourite spots team? “I’m a massive (Essendon) Bombers fan. I follow them religiously even while I’m over in the US
Coletta’s swing is highly regarded by some of the best in the game.