How Monty's team reigned in the rain - Ryder Cup 2010
Colin Montgomerie went to Celtic Manor prepared, for either success or disappointment. He had speeches ready for both winning and losing. Critics saw the latter strategy as a possible sign of defeatism. But once at the course, even early on when Europe trailed the United States, Montgomerie's only thoughts were of victory. The single issue was how his team would go about achieving it.
On Saturday evening, his side in arrears on the scoreboard but ahead in all six matches in play when darkness necessitated a halt, the captain was at his Montyist. His opening remarks went on so long that it seemed this could be the first-ever press conference at which there hadn't been time for anyone to ask anything. After a few minutes, during which he had somewhat discursively discussed the day's play and the prospects for the morrow in a lengthy, sometimes rather rambling, monologue, he observed, to much laughter: “I'm answering all your questions here.” Indeed – the ones he'd put to himself.
“I felt there wasn't enough passion on the golf course [this morning],” he stated at one point. “We have plenty of other ways of winning this, but passion we didn't have. We didn't have the passion. I felt that with the team, I felt with the spectators, who, believe me, have done a hell of a job out there.” Pause. “For those of you who haven't been out [referring to the mud underfoot], you've made the right decision.” Cue more laughter.
Phew, for a second there we were wondering if Monty might be suggesting that the crowd lacked passion; that he might be about to demand that new fans be drafted in – professional fans, perhaps? “I mean, we're all professionals,” one could almost imagine him saying. But no, that wasn't the case. “I do feel for them,” he said later. “They have done bloody well, the crowd, they really have.”
Certainly better than he felt his team had done by that stage. Trailing 6-4 heading into what would be a weather interrupted series of two foursomes and four fourballs ending on Sunday (from which his team would emerge with a three-point lead), Monty's lunch-time team talk had apparently been more of a bollocking. “I can't explain what I said,” he declared. “I was just trying to inform them to get up early [in the matches], and that's what we did. But I can't repeat what I said.” Was that because it was a secret? “Well, it's quite rude.”
Now and again through the week, Monty displayed an apparent flair for slapstick.
Questioner: “I know you've been asked this question before but…”
Monty: “I'll try and give you the same answer then.” OK, maybe it's not Michael McIntyre, although his comic timing was perfect when he insisted on taking a last question at one press conference. “Sorry, there's another question.” Pause. “Provided it's about golf.” What's this? Monty sending himself up in defiance of the lurid stories the Sunday tabloids have allegedly been cooking? In the biggest week of his career? You couldn't make it up.
Of course, to suggest to Monty that this was the biggest week of his career would be to invite either 100% agreement or 100% disagreement, depending which way the wind was blowing. “I didn't hit a shot so it wasn't much of an achievement,” he said when it was over, “but at the same time it's a proud, proud moment for me personally.”
It's a self-debate that has long been characterised by his previous assertions along the lines of “This event personally means nothing to me, only as a member of the European team”, a skewed kind of semantics which only Monty-speak logic can decipher.
None of that should be read as meaning he didn't know what he was doing. Far from it. In a series of decisions, he was unquestionably astute – for example, putting pictures of past European Ryder Cup stars in the team rooms, himself being conspicuously absent (i.e. the week was about his 12 players, not about him), and arranging the collective conversation with and veneration of Seve Ballesteros, without whom the Ryder Cup would not be what it now is.
That was before proceedings soggily got underway, when Monty proved he could think on his feet, too. He had the scoreboards reconfigured to emphasize the European blue he wanted to see down one side – “some guy worked a miracle overnight, some techie guy in some studio” – and his team duly supplied the results to get the blue on the board, winning 5½ points out of six on Sunday to take a 9½-6½ lead into Monday's singles.
“I would have taken 8-all, there's no question, even at the start of today [when Europe were up in all six matches],” said the captain. “In my time – and it's been, what, 20 years since I first started playing in the Ryder Cup – I truly believe that this was one of the greatest days for European golf. To turn a two-point deficit into a three point lead was quite amazing.”
Montgomerie also offered an insight into the thinking involved in being captain. In the opening fourballs, Luke Donald had the burden of being paired with off-form wild-card pick Padraig Harrington, a weight he couldn't carry to victory on his own. In the ensuing foursomes, Harrington was out with Ross Fisher, a rookie.
“I just felt Padraig would play better, and his partner, whoever it might be, would play better if Padraig was the leader of that particular group,” explained Montgomerie. “I think Ross played fantastically well and there is a reason why Ross played fantastically well – because he had someone of Padraig's stature with him. I played well with [Nick] Faldo. I played well with [Bernhard] Langer. There was a reason for that; because I was with them. And I think that was why that pairing was put together – well, I know it was, because I did it.” Yet more laughter.
“I have to say, Padraig was under pressure here, no question. You had given him a hard time. Not his problem and not his issue, but he's been given a hard time by being selected here. Hopefully he'll realise now why he was selected. There was method. There was method in everything I've done here, from the moment I've been selected as Ryder Cup captain, there's been method in what I've been doing. There's been method as to why I selected Padraig Harrington for this team.”
Of course, if Europe had instead lost by a point, Monty would have been vilified for omitting Paul Casey. Sadly, it's the way things are these days. Monty's destiny was to be characterised as a hero or a villain, a genius or a moron. He's none of those extremes, but at least fate dealt him the kinder hand to handle. Also, on this particular week at least, Monty brought to the table a quality that has, should we say, sometimes not always been a strong suit. He was diplomatic.
On Sunday evening, discussing the order for the singles draw, he was asked whether, as Corey Pavin had done, he would have put the world Nos. 1 and 2 (Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson) in the lower half of the draw, where they might be irrelevant.
“I'm trying to be as diplomatic as possible throughout this week and I continue to be that way,” came the reply. “It does surprise me that match 8 and match 10 contain Nos. 1 and 2 in the world, but at the same time, let me say this is a very strong American line-up, the same as ours. This job has not been done yet.”
The evening before, he had admitted that he had different orders in mind if the scores had been level as opposed if Europe had a lead or were behind. On Sunday night he was asked to elaborate.
“Well, I think it's difficult to say. I think it would be wrong to [go into] that. I think the way this has worked out, this is our singles draw for 9½-6½ up. That's all I would like to say about that. I don't mean to not answer your question but it would be wrong of me to do so.” Polite, reasonable, and even Geoff Boycott might have been proud of a bat as straight as that.
AFTER THE RENEWED STORMS OF SUNDAY MORNING, which guaranteed that we would go to a Monday finish, the fans were belatedly let in at 11 o'clock, two and a half hours before play would begin. Their entertainment options seemed to lie between imbibing beverages in the Ryder Cup Bar, selecting purchases in the merchandise tent or walking gingerly alongside the fairways in conditions that only hippos might enjoy.
Ah yes, the Ryder Cup Bar. (I realise that the Open Arms isn't the most original title on earth, but at least the R&A seems like it's made an effort on the nomenclature front.) In the Ryder Cup Bar, a pint set you back £5, a brazenly round and humungous sum that included the ‘glass' – actually, high-end plastic. If you wanted another pint, and for much of Friday there wasn't much else to do but have another, it was another £5. You couldn't get a discount by having your beer in your previous ‘glass'. So much for it being ‘your Limited Edition souvenir ecocup… incorporating the vision of the Welsh Assembly Green policy'. (Let's not get into the weird use of capitals.)
This would be the same Welsh Assembly that reportedly invested around £40 million in an event at which the most recycled thing was mud. In fairness, I should point out that on the course, non-logoed beer was available at a comparatively bargainous £4, and the frequently grim weather was hardly the organisers fault, was it?
This was Wales in October, for heaven's sake, and everyone knew that the chief culprit was the Wicked Witch, Tim Finchem, whose PGA Tour's FedEx Cup had delivered such a duff date for the Ryder Cup. It has to be said that I've known anorak-and-cashmere weather in Anglesey in August, but the stuff that tippled down for several hours on both Friday and Sunday surely rendered wasted the Welsh Tourist Board' spend on golf promotion in recent times. At the ‘Visit Wales' booth in the media centre, none of the photos of golf courses indicated the kind of weather we were being offered at Celtic Manor, where even all Sir Terry Matthews' wealth couldn't enable him, like Wimbledon, to stick a roof over the course.
“We could have played this event exactly one year ago or exactly one week ago,” Sir Terry said on the Sunday, “and we would have experienced no interruptions to the schedule of play, but one thing we cannot control is the weather.” A week later would have done the job as well. He, and Wales, were exceedingly unlucky.
WITH REGARD TO THE FEDEX CUP, IN THIS DAY AND age, given the economic right now, the fact that a man – even one as nice as Jim Furyk – can collect over $11 million for winning a golf tournament is anything other than something to celebrate. Lee Westwood's explanation as to why he wouldn't be joining the great dollar chase next season was refreshing. “The FedEx Cup sits right in the middle of the kids' summer holidays and I like going on holiday with them. It doesn't really mean enough to me.”
How the PGA Tour dislikes the fact that not only does it not have a stake in any of the four major championships, the other really big thing in golf is the Ryder Cup, which Finchem is also not involved with. Forget the Players Championship. The Ryder Cup is golf's fifth major. And while its prices at the concession stands leave a lot to be desired and not much change out of whatever note you happen to be offering, the Ryder Cup itself grows ever-more immense as a phenomenon.
This one ultimately came down to who won the match between Graeme McDowell and Hunter Mahan, which the Irishman took on the 17th green. At the subsequent press conference, it was put to McDowell that the distress displayed by Mahan at his defeat “puts to bed the concept that Americans don't care about this competition”. He agreed. He also said this.
“I can safely say that I've never felt that nervous on a golf course in my life before. That is why this golf tournament is extremely special and will continue to be one of the greatest – probably the greatest – golf event on the planet…That's the most difficult nine holes of golf I've ever played in my life. [On hole] 16 was the greatest second shot and the greatest putt I've ever hit in my career. I can't compare this to [winning the US Open at] Pebble Beach. This is another stratosphere compared to Pebble Beach.”
Golf's fifth biggest tournament? In the mind of the US Open champion, perhaps it's the foremost. As for that losing speech Monty had prepared in case things went wrong – well, that's now only of use for wrapping a takeaway. Which reminds me of another thing about the catering. During the (comparatively) torrid heat of Saturday afternoon, the guy running the fish & chips stall alongside the 6th fairway loudly announced at 1.15 that he'd only got sausages left; the fish had all gone.
Perhaps they'd swum away?