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Five minutes with Colin Montgomerie

Interview with the 2010 Ryder Cup Captain

The man who so successfully steered Europe to victory at Celtic Manor in 2010 is as busy as ever, and had only recently returned from a life-changing trip to visit troops in Afghanistan when he met up with Gi’s John Hopkins during the ‘Desert Swing’

Gi: It’s just over a year from your triumph with the Europe team at the Ryder Cup and you have obviously reflected on it a lot. What were two or three things that made the difference at Celtic Manor?

CM: Complete preparation and support that I had from my backroom staff. They were the strongest that anyone has ever had and I wasn’t frightened of employing people who were as good if not better than I was. I wasn’t fearful.

Gi: Your attention to detail was exceptional – changing your players' beds at the last minute and having road humps outside the team’s bedrooms removed in the days before the event for example.

CM: I wanted everything for the team that I would have wanted for myself and I went through everything even the short journey from the hotel to the course. I can’t stand speed bumps at the best of times and those at Celtic Manor were very, very severe.

Gi: Is there something you got away with or something you would like to have changed but didn’t?

CM: In hindsight I would have done more with the golf course. We would have done better if I had done that. I would have allowed the rough to grow to get more of an advantage from how straight we drove the ball. But I left it as it was. I didn’t want to create something that was odd. I wanted to win completely honestly and fairly, not by tricking the course up.

Gi: Name one player you expect to be in the Ryder Cup though others might not?

CM: Simon Dyson. He is confident. He believes in himself. He is a lot better than people give him credit for. He came quite close last time.

Gi: At the end of last year Tiger Woods won his first tournament for over two years. Do you think he will reach Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 professional major championships or even pass it?

CM: No he won’t. Five years ago I would have said he would have done but not now. The competition is enormous. He might win one or even a couple. He will have to have Seve Ballesteros’s total in major championships [five victories] to pass Nicklaus’s 18 and he is now, what, 36. No he won’t do it. Mind you, if he does it will be monumental.

Gi: Who would make up your dream fourball?

CM: My personal one would be Mum, Dad and my brother Douglas. If I were to choose famous golfers it would be Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

Gi: Who do you respect most in the world of golf?

CM:Bernhard Langer by a mile. He has such faith and is so devoted to his family. He has never done anything wrong. He is a complete professional on and off the course, in his appearance, his demeanour, the way he acts. He is the complete professional.

Gi: And outside golf?

CM: Margaret Thatcher. I thought she was superb. But I have a very high regard for those people who run charities and the people who give to charities. I know a bit about this from starting a charity in the name of my mother who died of cancer in 1991. That charity is the Elizabeth Montgomerie Foundation, which works to raise money for cancer victims. To give to others rather than to yourself is rare and admirable.

Gi: Towards the end of last year you, Eddie Bullock, the captain, and Parnell Reilly, immediate past captain, of the PGA spent some time with British troops in Afghanistan. What was that like?

CM: Superb. It was eye-opening and humbling. I was a bit nervous. You get your dog tags at the airport. Mine said: Montgomerie, Church of Scotland, Protestant and my blood group – B positive at the top. Before we left they had asked for my dental records. That made me think. If I got so badly burned they could only tell who I was by my dental records! The plane I went in was going straight back with four coffins on board. That was sobering. When we landed I tried to call Gaynor to tell her we had arrived but all communication was cut off until the family of the dead soldiers were notified. You don’t want them to find out on Facebook.

Gi: Why did you go?

CM: To promote golf worldwide. We did a clinic on a firing range. Titleist were good to us so were Callaway and Ping. We left thousands of balls with the troops. I was looking at it from a team environment and how everyone – the Army, Navy and Air Force – works as a team to keep the guys on the front line alive. Just getting there was interesting. We flew from Dubai to Camp Bastion on board a C-17 plane carrying a helicopter. The plane had lots of pallets of stuff all on it. The plane was big and black and windowless. I have never been in a plane without any windows before. We had to put helmets on and bulletproof vests as we got into Afghanistan air space. It was so dark that all I could see was the luminous watch of the man sitting next to me. The plane came in very high until the last minute when it went into a dive and landed with a bang. Then it raced off the runway for obvious reasons. You suddenly realise “right lads, we’re here in a war zone."

Gi: How long a trip was it?

CM: One day to get in, one to get out and three days there.

Gi: What was the accommodation like?

CM: Definitely not five-star. Bloody hell! If that was the VIP lot then I wouldn’t like to be a private. Two showers for the VIPs and there must have been 80 of them. Two into 80 doesn’t go very well. We were fed very well. You could eat like a horse. No alcohol was allowed on the base, only fruit juice and water.

Gi: Did you go anywhere other than Camp Bastion?

CM: We went to Kabul though not to the golf course. That has been heavily mined. Some people play it but nobody looks for a ball in the rough. I felt uneasy in Kabul, racing through the city in a bulletproof armour. I’m going: “hang on a minute. What are we doing here?"

Gi: If you had been to Afghanistan before the Ryder Cup would it have helped your captaincy?

CM: Yes. I’d have noticed the teamwork first hand. I’d have got videos of that teamwork and shown it at team meetings. It would have reminded my team how other people work for each and how to get results.

Gi: What’s your schedule looking like in 2012?

CM: I played 21 last year and I’ll add another four tournamrnts in 2012. I’ve got to practice more. I’ve gone to an event and got myself three over after seven holes on the first day and I’m thinking to myself: what am I doing here? Back in the nineties I believed I was going to a tournament to win. Now I’m going for a place. I have to get some self belief back. I have to get it into my head that I can still do it. I’m still getting four or five birdies in a round. The trouble is I am also making four or five mistakes. It’s the mistakes I have got to cut out. Also, my short game is not as tight as it was.

Gi: You will be 49 this June. Will you play senior golf?

CM: I said I would never play senior golf but I am going to. I turn 50 in June 2013 and in July I will play in the Senior British Open at Royal Birkdale. If I win I might go to the US Senior Open. I don’t fancy going to qualifying school [for the senior tour in the US]. I went to qualifying school for the PGA Tour once, in 1987, and I don’t fancy doing that again.

Gi: Do you Tweet?

CM: I started to use it to help my charity among other things but then someone said something rude about me and so I don’t do it any more.

Gi: Is there one gadget you could not live without?

CM: My Victorinox Swiss Army pocket knife. I was given it as a present 20 years ago and it is invaluable. It goes everywhere with me in my pocket, in my golf bag. You can use it for opening bottles, repairing pitch marks, fiddling with things. It’s great.

Gi: If you could change one rule of golf what would it be?

CM: Allowing the use of the belly putter. It’s just wrong.

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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