Before being named Europe's captain, Colin Montgomerie amassed one of the all-time best records in Ryder Cup history. (Getty Images)
Montgomerie again faces harsh scrutiny
European Ryder Cup Captain Colin Montgomerie by definition is part sportsman, part statesman. In 2010 at Celtic Manor, the home cause will be spearheaded by an exceptional golfer whose life and career have often been defined by the most severe of standards.
By Paul Trow, Special to RYDERCUP.com
As far as most golf fans are concerned, Colin Montgomerie is either a bete noir, that despised adversary who always seems to have his best when facing your side, or a white knight who can do no wrong.
Those who subscribe to the former view might well be U.S. patriots who recognize the extraordinary contribution made by the 47-year-old Scot to the European Ryder Cup cause over the past two decades, and wish he hadn’t been such a formidable competitor.
In contrast, those who lean towards the ‘white knight’ school of thought will, on the whole, be European, but not necessarily Scottish. Monty, as he is known affectionately throughout the game, can be combustible and, on occasion, not everyone’s cup of tea. But, after three decades of reporting on golf, I can honestly say I have rarely locked horns with a more forthcoming or engaging protagonist.
Monty has been one of the giants of the world game throughout his time at the top of the tree -- as much so, in his own way, as Nicklaus, Palmer, Hogan or Woods. For me, he is without question one of the greatest players in the game’s history never to have won a major championship.
Forget his eight years as European No.1 (1993-99, 2005); forget his five second places in the majors; forget, if you will, his Ryder Cup-winning putt against David Toms at Oakland Hills in 2004 after European skipper Bernhard Langer had summoned him as a wild-card selection. Forget, if you will... but you can’t!
Apart from Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper and his erstwhile foursomes and four-ball partner Sir Nick Faldo, Monty is the Ryder Cup’s top performer -- a badge he is thoroughly entitled to wear with pride, defiance, and bragging rights when it comes to whipping up the enthusiasm of his troops at tee-off time.
Over in Europe, true golf fans cut him a lot of slack because they always pull for someone who battles hard when the chips are down, and who also wears his heart on his sleeve... and they are not bad judges. Mind you, they like to state their point of view.
“There are lots of people who are going to tell you what they think, whether or not you have sought out their opinion,” says Monty. “The Ryder Cup is so emotive that just about everyone has a point of view they want to share, whether it be about who my vice-captains should be, who I should pick, what the guys should be wearing, or which players should play together!”
So how important, in the overall scheme of things, does the great man feel the Ryder Cup is?
“It is right up there with the majors for me. I haven’t won a major but if you asked me whether I would swap the experiences I’ve had at the Ryder Cup over the years for a major win, I certainly wouldn’t consider it -- many of the most memorable moments in my career have come from the Ryder Cup.”
It goes without saying, therefore, that Monty was especially delighted to be invited to captain the European Team. “This is obviously one of my proudest moments,” he said when accepting the post in January 2009, “but it’s a huge responsibility as Europe lost the last Ryder Cup. It’s important we do everything we can to claim it back.”
The circumstances in which the invitation came his way were unusual. He was not one of the original names in the frame but, during discussions, fellow committee member Henrik Stenson suggested that if they were seeking the best man for the job then that man might be Monty. The Scot was asked to leave the room while his merits were discussed… and the rest is history.
“It just seemed the time was right for me to take the helm and be Captain,” was how Monty now reflects on that process. “And one of the reasons I was selected to be Captain, I believe, is because I’m still out there playing.”
The European vice-captaincy roles have gone to four of Monty’s former teammates -- Paul McGinley and Thomas Bjorn, neither of whom has ever finished on the losing side, Darren Clarke, whose only defeat in five appearances was at Brookline in 1999, and Sergio Garcia, who but for a troubling loss of form on the greens would have been a shoo-in to make his sixth successive appearance as a player.
“There will be four matches out there [on the first two days] and there will be five of us to do the controlling and analyzing. We should get the best out of the players with all five of us working together,” said Monty, who, with an eye to future Ryder Cups, has also appointed Rhys Davies as his golf cart driver to give the promising young Welsh player the chance to soak up the atmosphere, rather as Faldo did with Martin Kaymer two years ago at Valhalla .
“Any winning team has fantastic support behind the scenes and my four vice-captains are very experienced, very passionate, very well-respected and committed to the regaining of the Ryder Cup.”
Monty’s approach in this regard is certainly some way removed from that of his predecessor. At Valhalla, Jose Maria Olazabal was Faldo’s only vice-captain after McGinley stepped down having originally accepted the post. Interestingly, the U.S. skipper Corey Pavin, obviously thinking along similar lines, has also gone for four vice-captains -- former teammates Tom Lehman, also the 2006 Captain, and Davis Love, and two players with no Ryder Cup experience, Jeff Sluman and Paul Goydos.
Once Monty was established as Captain, his attention turned to how he could harness the nous he gathered over eight Ryder Cups. What he discovered was not entirely what he expected.
“Ever since I made my debut in 1991, my Ryder Cup experiences were all in front of the camera, so it’s very interesting in my current role to see what goes on behind the scenes. Believe me, there’s much more than you’d think. I have respected each and every single Captain I’ve played under in the Ryder Cup. Now, knowing what they’ve been involved in on their players’ behalf from up to 18 months in advance of the contest, I respect them all even more.
“I’ve made several visits to Celtic Manor recently and toured the entire complex, the clubhouse and the hotel as well as walking every inch of the course. Anyone who knows me knows I’m meticulous in the way I go about things. I want everything to be absolutely perfect for my team … and, trust me, it will be.”
Intense scrutiny of the location is only a small part of the holistic approach Monty has adopted toward the 2010 campaign. Indeed, he promoted an all-inclusive culture from the very start.
“I wanted everyone involved with the Tour to feel part of this journey. To that end I e-mailed every European-born Tour member to say that if they felt they had something to say regarding the Ryder Cup, I wanted to hear it from them. I gave them all a dedicated e-mail address and [cellphone] number so they could contact me at any time. All this fits in with my ethos of Team, which begins with myself as Captain and George O’Grady as chief executive of the Tour, [and goes] right down to the last member of the Challenge Tour. It includes all the people who work for the Tour -- the caddies, sponsors, media team, everyone -- because we’re all working for the same cause: A winning team.”
In terms of his own experience, he realizes he is following in the footsteps of a particularly distinguished tradition of European captaincy -- from Bernard Gallacher in 1991, 1993 and 1995 to Severiano Ballesteros (1997), Mark James (1999), Sam Torrance (2002), Bernhard Langer (2004) and Ian Woosnam (2006). “I have great respect for all the previous Ryder Cup Captains I played under, and when they tell me something, I listen. I was reminded of that recently by Sam Torrance. He told me that from the moment I was made Captain, for the next two years of my life I wouldn’t think of anything else -- and he was dead right. It has taken up 100 percent of my work time, and will until the match is played.”
Monty also has a good relationship with the man who will be his opposite number at Celtic Manor. “[Corey and I] get on very well and I think we’re both of a similar mindset with regards to the spirit in which we want the match to be played. I think we’ll enjoy the week and together will ensure a great atmosphere.
“I encapsulate Corey by using one word: ‘competitor.’ I know he will bring the same resilience and determination which flowed through his own playing career to his time as Captain.” Showing a similar level of respect, Pavin returned the compliment by saying he would love to have ‘12 Colins’ playing for him on his team. “That was a lovely sentiment, one I very much appreciated.
“We will be trying our hardest to beat each other, but Corey and I were friends before we were made respective Captains of Europe and the United States, and we will remain friends after it, whatever the outcome.”
This story appears courtesy of
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