Hong Kong Open

Getting to know the full Monty

Colin Montgomerie never won a major but he is proud of his many other achievements on the course - particularly in the Ryder Cup - and prouder still of his charity work that honours his late mother

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2012, 3:55pm

Eight-time member of Europe's team, unbeaten in singles matches, winner five times as a player and once as captain: Colin Montgomerie thought he'd seen everything the Ryder Cup had to offer. Then came the Miracle of Medinah.

Nearly two months on from Europe's staggering comeback, Montgomerie still can't quite believe what he witnessed that Sunday in Chicago.

"It's just amazing isn't it, the Ryder Cup, it keeps on getting better and better," the Scot told the Sunday Morning Post, becoming more and more animated with each recollection. "Just when you think it couldn't outdo the last performance, it goes and does. You can't write the script half the time, it's amazing. To be 10-4 down in America on a course that was built for them, set up for them, their team playing extremely well - no chance at 10-4 down, no chance.

"They [the US] needed four [and a half] more points out of what, the last 14 games [including the last two fourballs on the Saturday which Europe won]. And they got three-and-a-half out of 14 which is quite extraordinary. For us to do this away from home was a phenomenal achievement. All credit to [captain Jose Maria] Olazabal and his backroom team and all the players involved."

Part of the commentary team for UK television, the studio became filled with growing incredulity as Montgomerie and his colleagues realised what they were seeing.

"There was a sense of disbelief," he said. "I was with Butch Harmon who's obviously a little bit biased towards the Americans and he had it [forecast] at 17-11, I think. And that was generally what people were thinking, which would have been a heavy victory. I had it a bit closer, I had it 16-12, but that's all I could see. There were six games that all needed to go in Europe's favour and they all went, that's just inconceivable for that to happen."

Montgomerie will now help pick Europe's next captain as part of the 15-man Tournament Players Committee that votes in January. Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley are the favourites. Montgomerie would not single out either, though he appeared slightly to favour McGinley.

"Darren is sort of the people's choice, the sympathetic vote [because of his wife's death from breast cancer in 2006 aged 39]. He's a [British] Open champion so he has the credentials and he has been a world player for the past 20 years.

"Paul McGinley is a very, very good man-manager and was a very good vice-captain to me - as was Darren. Paul's been on three Ryder Cup teams as a player and has won them all and has been vice-captain twice and won them as well with me and Olazabal, so he has a pedigree as well.

"It's between the two, it depends on who we feel, and it's important to stress this, is the best man for the job to try to retain the Ryder Cup in 2014."

Montgomerie is keen for his own involvement to extend beyond the commentary booth.

"I would always say to the European team and the hierarchy 'I will always help the European cause in any way, shape or form'," he said. "If someone asks me to play great, if someone asks me to captain, or officiate in any way shape or form, I'd be delighted to help. Especially when it's at Gleneagles, I live there, it's on my doorstep and it's in Scotland. There is a certain connection I have with Gleneagles so I look forward to being part of it in some way."

Playing would be a stretch, given that Montgomerie will be 51 in 2014, and the days are over when he dominated European golf, setting the record for consecutive order of merit wins from 1993 to 1999. Without a tournament win since 2007, he's still reluctant to give up fighting against players who were barely walking when he was at his peak, though seniors events are an option from June 23 next year.

"I would love to postpone it as long as possible. People say, 'You're mad to postpone it, why don't you have a go on the Champions Tour, or the seniors majors anyway?' So I might mix and match. I might go to America and play some there, I might play a bit in Europe, I'm still exempt on the European Tour.

"I have the commentating now, these corporate days, the golf course design business and the foundation. Then you add in the most important thing which is the family, so it's extremely busy," added Montgomerie, speaking at the 1010 Golf Challenge at Clearwater Bay Golf Club last Monday.

"Colin Montgomerie tees off again in Hong Kong" video by Hedy Bok

"It's nice when you do turn 50 to have options. Generally as a sportsman when you turn 50 you've been out of the game for 15 years already so options are reducing. I'm very fortunate I have another chapter that can open up for me in seniors golf and it's the people that I used to play against anyway, the [Bernhard] Langers and [Tom] Lehmans, these guys that I have huge respect for.

"I beat them sometimes, they beat me sometimes, but it would be great to stand on the first tee again with that belief that I was going to win … I'd love that feeling again rather than having to play against guys who are well less than half my age and bombing it 300 yards."

Back at the UBS Hong Kong Open this week having first competed at Fanling in the 1984 Eisenhower Trophy, and with Asia a key market for his course design business, Montgomerie has been well placed to observe the rise of golf in the region.

"It's progressed in a big, big way," said Montgomerie, who pulled out of the Hong Kong Open before Friday's second round with a foot injury. "We're finding now with new golf courses opening - I've got six or seven in China myself - there's opportunities being given and we're finding talent that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. If you talk to me in 20 years' time … we're talking 80 majors, you've got to think you'll be talking in double figures of Asian winners.

"The work ethic is different, they've seen the rewards available to them, lifestyle rewards. Nutrition, fitness, technical, mental - [they have] the whole thing and they think nothing of 16 hours a day working at it.

"It's a matter of time for China. They say they're going to be the world's biggest economy in four years' time, they're going to be the world's biggest this, the world's biggest that. If it's a numbers game, with 1.4 billion people they win and it just takes that percentage, that minute percentage to come through. It's going to be a new era for golf and it's definitely focusing on the Far East."

"Best player never to win a major" is the other side of the Monty cliché coin, and you suspect those various close shaves will always rankle despite the Ryder Cup heroics. He's hoping to be remembered for something much more important, however, with his Elizabeth Montgomerie Foundation building two Maggie's Centres, the charity-run drop-in clinics that offer support for people affected by cancer. "We've managed to raise £4 million [HK$49 million] to build two centres, one in Lanarkshire just south of Glasgow and one in Aberdeen," said Montgomerie, whose mother died of lung cancer. "I was on site last month and it's magnificent to think that these buildings will be named after my late mum for those people that suffer with cancer to get practical and emotional support.

"Of all the things I've achieved I think that's possibly number one. To leave something in your mother's name for others to get support from … that's probably my biggest legacy."