Colin Montgomerie hits irons that you could hang your wash on
and wins the European money title every time they hand it out.
He is well-liked among his golfing peers on both sides of the
Atlantic. His friends say that Montgomerie brandishes both
intelligence and wit, two qualities that rarely mix in pro golf.
"He reads the front of the paper," one longtime acquaintance says.
Monty, as he is known, has also single-handedly revived villainy
in a sport that has never bought into the idea of bad guys. The
last time American fans anointed a villain, they couldn't even
stay mad. Jack Nicklaus, considered a heel because he had the
temerity to beat Arnold Palmer, long ago ascended to the status
Now there is Montgomerie. The burly Scot has been as popular in
the U.S. as haggis. A campaign of jeering that began during the
1997 U.S. Open at Congressional, where Montgomerie finished
second to Ernie Els, and continued at the Open the following
year at Olympic, peaked last fall at the Ryder Cup. No golfer
has ever been subjected to the derision that rained down upon
Montgomerie at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass. His wife,
Eimar, was called names you don't hear in gangsta rap. His
father, James, the retired secretary of Royal Troon Golf Club,
left the course before his son had made the turn in his singles
match against Payne Stewart. "It was terrible," says U.S.
captain Ben Crenshaw. "Nobody should have to go through that."
Crenshaw and Stewart made an effort to quiet the abuse at the
9th tee. When a couple of fans began yelling at Montgomerie
before he hit his tee shot, Crenshaw and Stewart walked to the
ropes and fingered them. "The gendarmes went after them,"
Montgomerie, 36, does not back down, neither from his
competitors nor from dolts behind the ropes. When a fan cheered
a missed putt as Montgomerie walked off a green during last
year's Open at Pinehurst, Montgomerie looked into the bleachers
and said, "Save it for the Ryder Cup!" Rule No. 1 for pro
athletes: Don't empower the abuser by acknowledging him. But
Montgomerie's mercurial temperament renders him incapable of
ignoring any injustice to him or to his game. "He's been a guy
with a bull's-eye on his back, because they know he can't handle
it," says Davis Love III, who played with Montgomerie at
Congressional and is a fan.
Montgomerie nearly won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in '92. He
returns there next week confident that he has begun the
transition from the dark side of the mind of the American
golfing public. "That feeling is diminishing," he says. "There's
more respect for me and my game after Brookline. I look forward
to going back to Pebble Beach. Plus, it's a different crowd on
the West Coast, nothing like the East, especially the Northeast."
There should be plenty of respect for his game. With his
accuracy off the tee and with his approach shots, as well as his
competitive gumption, Montgomerie has won 24 tournaments on the
European tour, including two of his last four starts. ("I hope I
haven't peaked too early," he said two weeks ago after winning a
third straight Volvo PGA.) He has a record of 12-7-4 in five
Ryder Cups. In singles competition, when the pressure is the
most intense, he is 3-0-2. Montgomerie's colleagues on the
European tour, which he has led in earnings for a record seven
consecutive years, cannot speak highly enough of him. Success,
says '99 European Ryder Cup captain Mark James, has not gone to
Monty's head. "He's not cocooned in a superstar existence," says
James. "He's not one of those who thinks he's somebody because
he's walking around with $10 million in his back pocket. There
are some players on this side of the Atlantic, and plenty on the
other side, who think all they have to do is bend over to give
us a ray of sunshine."
Adds Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland, a Ryder Cup teammate,
"He's a really nice guy. When he gets on the course, he gets
irritated easily. He tends to get a hard time, and he reacts to
that, unfortunately. If he wins--when he wins--his first Open, I
think everything will get better."
Oh, how he reacts. The British writers who cover him have become
armchair meteorologists, all reading Montgomerie's expression to
see whether the sun is out or a storm is brewing. After a quick,
friendly chat with Montgomerie before his pro-am round at the
recent Deutsche Bank-SAP Open in Alveslohe, Germany, one writer
dubbed that day's version "Happy Col." As Montgomerie marched
off the 18th green a few days later, having bogeyed the previous
hole to fall from a tie for third to a tie for sixth, a waiting
reporter recoiled with alarm: "Look at that face! Jesus God!"
At the Wednesday pro-am in Germany, Montgomerie could not have
been a more solicitous partner. He doled out tips and sympathy
to his three amateur teammates, two of whom couldn't have broken
100 with an eraser. The third partner, Friedrich Lurssen, a
shipbuilding executive from Bremen, has played with Montgomerie
each of the last two years. "He's very nice," Lurssen said.
"This time he was more happy, more relaxed. He was charming."
When told of the reputation Montgomerie has in the U.S., Lurssen
said, "I haven't seen the other man. Are they twins?"
Maybe so. One can stand being called Mrs. Doubtfire only so many
times. It is true that Montgomerie does not look like an
athlete. If the stereotypical golfer is built like a one-iron,
Montgomerie is more the Big Berthas that he plays for Callaway.
Mark James made the startling statement not long ago that he
would never invite Montgomerie to his birthday party.
"Why not?" someone asked.
"Because he would eat all the cake," James replied.
But looks deceive. Watch Montgomerie swing a club, and you'll
understand that the good Lord granted him extraordinary gifts.
There is a bounce to his walk, a heel-to-toe gait that speaks of
an inner metronome. Though his handshake is firm, his hands are
soft. "He's very flexible," says Paul Marchand, the Houston
teaching pro who has been working with Monty for 18 months. "You
might not suspect that by his build. He's got loose joints in
his upper body. His wrists and shoulders have a huge range of
motion. He has never had back trouble." Words you never thought
you'd read: Most Tour golfers would rather have Monty's body
than their own.
Then there is Montgomerie's practice regimen. He doesn't have
one. Bruce Lietzke, winner of 13 Tour events, is famous for
getting away with not practicing. Lietzke, on the other hand, is
about to turn 49 and has two top 10 finishes in the last four
years. Though the work ethic among pro golfers, who spend hours
on the range or in the gym, seems to ratchet up every year,
Montgomerie has taken Lietzke's approach and gone further.
"When he does come to the range, he only chats," says Padraig
Harrington, a Ryder Cup teammate. "If Monty spends 45 minutes
there, he spends half an hour chatting." Harrington, who is as
renowned for his workload as Montgomerie is for his lack of one,
doesn't begrudge him: "He has extreme natural talent. If he
practiced too much, he could lose that. A lot of players have
lost their game by trying to find something different. You do
see him hitting a few more chips and putts."
After two miserable putting rounds in Germany, Montgomerie took
a 30-minute putting lesson from David Leadbetter, who encouraged
Monty to allow his right hand to become dominant. Montgomerie
responded keenly to the lesson, shooting rounds of 68-67 on the
weekend. After the third round, which Montgomerie concluded by
hitting a three-iron 207 yards to within an inch of the hole, he
announced he had a lot of work to do on the putting green. "I'm
thinking of too many things," he said. "Anything I have to think
about is radical for me. I don't think about much when I swing.
You go out and make a score. There's enough going on."
For Montgomerie, a lot of work means that a half hour after he
went to practice on the putting green, he was nowhere in sight.
A fan standing nearby said Montgomerie had been gone for 10
Montgomerie also has a finely tuned feel for his equipment. Sean
Brady, a European tour representative for Callaway, says
Montgomerie's calibratory skills are almost unmatched. "If you
had a driver that was a swingweight or a flex off from what his
clubs are, particularly his irons, he could tell," Brady says.
"A swingweight is two grams. Get yourself a couple of 20-dollar
bills and wrap them around the shaft. That's what we're talking
Perhaps it's no wonder that someone so finely calibrated is so
sensitive to what's happening inside and outside the ropes.
Montgomerie sees and hears things that never enter the
consciousness of most golfers. His longtime caddie, Alastair
McLean, stands on the green like a London bobby directing
traffic, arm outstretched, barking instructions to the gallery
in his Scottish burr: "No cameras! Stand please!" Question is,
Will McLean be made to work overtime at Pebble Beach?
It was at Pebble Beach that Montgomerie made himself known to
most American fans. The final round in '92 was played in
conditions more akin to Montgomerie's homeland than to the
Monterey Peninsula. The wind howled up to 40 mph. The greens,
which had not been watered sufficiently, dried out like
three-day-old French bread. Montgomerie completed a round of 70
while the leaders were on the front side. He was safely in at
288, and his finish prompted Nicklaus, who was commentating for
ABC, to announce on the air that the young Scot had won the
Open, although he would wind up third, behind Tom Kite and Jeff
Since then Montgomerie, who has yet to win any major, lost a
three-way playoff to Els in the '94 Open and was runner-up to
Els again in '97. In eight Opens, Montgomerie has made every cut
and finished in the top 25 six times. "I look forward to U.S.
Opens like no other tournament," he says. "What excites me is
the way the courses are set up. It excites me, and therefore it
disappoints some others. The setup takes away half the field. I
enjoy playing Opens. Other competitors don't. I get positive
feelings from that."
Montgomerie also believes that because he wasn't heckled during
his four previous appearances in the U.S. this year, at the
World Match Play, Bay Hill, the Players Championship and the
Masters, everything will be fine at Pebble Beach. He might be
right. But no one will know until the first arrow pierces the
bull's-eye on his back. Then, the decision will be his.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY MATTHEW HARRIS
COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN Montgomerie has always been a thorn in the U.S. side in the Ryder Cup.
"It's a different crowd on the West Coast," Montgomerie says,
"nothing like the East, especially the Northeast."