Ahead of his appearance at the Senior Open in Sunningdale this week, Colin Montgomerie talks about his return to competing in the UK, keeping up with the younger generation of Senior players, and what it will take for Europe to retain the Ryder Cup .
It’s been a while since you participated in the UK. How much do you look forward to participating in a Senior Major on your own and in your new home career?
I’m really looking forward to it. Having not yet won an R&A event – I was second in The Open to Tiger Woods in 2005 and runner-up at the 1984 British amateur for José Maria Olazábal – it would obviously be great to win one. The additional prize this year is that whoever wins will receive an invitation to play in the 150de Open Championship next year in St Andrews, which is a real celebration of golf and a great honor to be a part of. Having recently moved from Windsor to Sunningdale, it’s definitely a home tie, so I’m really looking forward to it.
You probably know Sunningdale’s Old Course better than anyone this week. How has the course changed, if at all, over the years that you have come here?
I think it’s to his credit that it has not actually changed. I remember playing here in the Walker Cup in 1987, and to my eye, the Old Course did not change much at all. Yes, the trees have grown slightly, but it’s still Sunningdale. There is no difference. The holes did not change. I think they took out a mid-bunker at 16, but that’s about it. This is a real credit and compliment to what it was before. This is an excellent golf course. There are three very short par 4s – the 3rd, 9th and 11thde, but they are also very dangerous. If you get on the wrong side of them, you can hastily make a thug and you feel like an idiot doing it on these holes. From the tea, it looks like birdie chances, but you can make five in a hurry. And there are some amazing par fours – 2, 5, 6, 10, 12, 16, 17 and 18 – they are all good, solid holes. I hate to use the word ‘senior’ golf – we call ourselves champions or legends or whatever it may be – but for a Senior Open I think there is no better course to play. It’s very playable for everyone here.
Where would a win this week be other than your other golf achievements?
A win this week will be there. The biggest achievement I have ever had was winning Wentworth three times in a row. It was my greatest achievement, to win the BMW PGA, as it is now, in ’98, ’99, 2000, it was my greatest achievement, I will always say that. To win the Senior Open at 58, against very good 50-year-olds, would be there. The three Wentworth trophies are proud of their trophy cabinet, but this one will be right next to them, I assure you. I know it’s a reduced field this year, and a number of top Americans have not overtaken it, but at the same time if you think about who else is – Langer, Jiménez, Tom Lehman and all the good Americans who came it goes a lot be difficult.
Many golfers reach 50 and say they will not play senior golf. Eight years later, do you have any idea how you would have filled the void left by that competitive buzz?
Well, that was what it was. I looked at my own family and my only father, who you hate to say, 50, you felt older than we are now. Every generation gets ten years younger in many ways and when I turned 50, I just wasn’t ready. I thought I would be, but I just wasn’t ready to stop competing, and the ambition was still there. The ride was still there. The will to win was still there, and I did not want to lose it. So I went out on the Champions Tour, and yes, we did succeed. I won two majors and here we are. I still have the fire and I still have the ambition to win. If so, yes, I’m going to buy some Labradors and go to St. Louis. Andrews moves and walks the dogs on West Sands Beach. But at the same time, I will play here until that happens. I love it. I love the competition. I like the whole scene of competitive golf, and here we are at 58 and we’re still going strong.
A small but growing number of players still manage to play the regular tours and senior tours. Do you see this as a trend as players stay fitter longer and with the advancement in modern equipment?
Like I said, I do not like the word ‘Senior’ when it comes to golf, but the fact that you let Phil Mickelson take part in the Champions Tour and then win the US PGA Championship proves that 50 is no longer a obstacle to success at any level of the game. Stewart Cink won at 48 at the PGA Tour last month, and Lee Westwood is also out there competing for titles. Fifty is the new 40, or even 35, so it’s good that way.
Scottish golf has gone through a bit bare in terms of touring stars, which is why you should heartily see that Bob MacIntyre is doing so well?
Bob is fantastic. I was very impressed with his whole attitude last week at The Open. He refused to withdraw and went on the whole attack. I love it in him and I think that’s why he’s going to do exceptionally well. He is not satisfied, as a number of players are, with fifth or sixth place. Bob was going to try to do everything, he was trying to win the golf tournament, and that’s what will suit him well. He is now at the helm of the Ryder Cup team, and the never-say-it attitude will be brilliant in a Ryder Cup format.
Looking forward to the upcoming Ryder Cup. As a former captain himself, what is Pádraig exactly? [Harrington] looking for between now and when he has to make his captain’s choice?
Well, he’s looking for winners. He is looking for people who will do it. He’s looking for the Bob MacIntyres of this world. Hey, Ian Poulter, you know, that type of guy who’s not going to retire from the fight. Because I’m telling you, without European support, it’s going to be 99 percent American fans and it’s going to be tough. So you want players who have that never-say-death attitude and who do not care who they play for,
Any team that wants to get it back is really ready for it, and the American team looks terribly strong. Padraig has a job in his hands, there is no doubt about it. It will be close, we know this, and he will do his utmost to get that team ready to act.
Do you think McIntyre would be in the selection tomorrow?
This is a very good question. Choosing a rookie in America is a difficult choice because you usually want to choose an experience. I chose a rookie in Edoardo Molinari, despite the fact that I would pick a rookie. But one, it was home, so we had the European support. Two, his brother, Francesco, needed support, and it worked out well and he happened to win the last tournament. It’s hard to pick a rookie in America, but if you pick a rookie, Bob would be the one to pick.
What do you think of the changes that have been made to the selection process?
The American team has six picks this year, which is probably right, given the year we had, while Europe has only three, with nine automatic picks. As captain I would happily have had 12 choices if the European tour had allowed me. I think 12 picks is your strongest team. You just pick your team, the team you think is going to win, and not six guys that one or two of them might not make the top 12. So we limit ourselves only by making three choices, but it works right for him. I got the nine he wants at this point, he got, with Shane Lowry now coming to the kraal after the good Open performance. He wants him to be a former Open Champion, someone who can win, as I said earlier.
What do you think Pádraig will bring to the party as captain?
I think I found that when I was captain 11 years ago, it’s all about preparation. You have to be prepared. You need to be flexible and prepared. You have to prepare your team for that first tee to play, and that’s his job, and he will do very well as the statistician he is. He will have it all mapped out. He also had an extra year, so he had three years to prepare, versus two. That’s his advantage, and so is Steve Stricker, they’re in the same boat, but he’s going to be prepared and that’s all you can do. You send your guys there and on the first tee, and you lose control, you lose control of the team and you just hope to go to hell in four hours or so, they bring back something, a point or a half point. But preparation, that’s all he can do. I could have left Celtic Manor with my head held high if we had lost the Ryder Cup there, because I had prepared my team 100 percent and could do nothing more.