GGP The Ryder Cup captaincy is taking up a lot of your time. You’re clearly enjoying your role but where is Colin Montgomerie, the golfer, in all of this? After topping the European Order of Merit as recently as 2005, you can’t be enjoying the fact that you have now gone two years without a win.
CM I dropped to something like 87th on the Order of Merit last year but I’m telling myself that it was down to circumstances as much as anything else. I had a lot of Ryder Cup admin work on my hands and my mind was all over the place. Now, most of the spade-work has been done so I’m hoping I can get back into the swing of things.
I’ve always said that when the time comes when I don’t think I can win, I won’t play. For the moment, I’m not thinking like that. I keep telling myself I can win and I have to believe it. At 46, I’m 13 years younger than Tom Watson was when he so nearly won last year’s Open. Also, while players like Kenny Perry and Miguel Angel Jimenez continue to churn out the results, there’s no reason why I can’t do the same.
Mind you, I know that I no longer have what it takes to bring off some of the wins I landed in the past. There were times in the 1990s when I could come out on top without being at my best. Now, I would need to play out of my skin in all four rounds. It’s a tough ask but not impossible.
By way of building up my confidence, I’m doing as I did in my heyday by paying a pre-season visit to (swing coach) Paul Marchand.
GGP In your professional career, you have mostly seen the practice range as a place to relax and loosen up rather than a place of work. Does that still apply?
CM Not at all. Alastair McLean, who caddied for me during my Order-of-Merit-winning years, earned more money than any of my caddies and he never had to do long hours of duty on the range. For my current caddie, Jason (Hempelman), things are the other way round. He doesn’t earn a lot but he has to put up with one lengthy practice session after another.
I’m having to work at my game as never before. Eighteen months ago, I somehow managed to dislocate my shoulder. It’s OK now but it cost me a lot of my flexibility. I had physiotherapy this winter and it’s only now that I’m able to complete my old, high follow-through.
GGP The Ryder Cup obviously occupies a lot of your off-course thoughts but do you ever think beyond the end of 2010 to your retirement years? Any worries that you will be at something of a fidgety loose-end if you don’t play the Senior Tour?
CM: People might try to encourage me to play the Senior Tour, but I genuinely can’t think of any circumstances in which I would. I have this lovely picture of doing more of the stuff that appeals to me. I will put a lot more time into my mother’s cancer foundation and I will also get stuck in with my course design work, which I love.
GGP Do you have your eye on anything completely different?
CM I do. I want to cross America on a motorbike because it’s something I’ve been longing to do for years. My brother wants to come along, as does my brother-in-law and my stepson. I’ll have to pass the relevant motorcycle test, but I can’t wait to take to the big open highways and to have a really good look at the Grand Canyon and Arizona in general. I imagine we’ll be on the road for two to three weeks.
GGP Looking at the latest generation of golfers, there seems to be a growing band of top amateurs who are turning professional earlier and earlier in a bid to steal a march on those who spend three or four years at college. Ryo Ishikawa is one; Rory McIlroy another. What’s your take on this development?
CM The two players you have mentioned are both exceptional but my immediate reaction is to ask what happens if one of them gets injured and can’t play. What does he do then? You don’t need to turn pro in your teens. Twenty-two or twenty-three still gives you plenty of years to achieve your goals.
From my own experience, my degree from Houston Baptist has been a huge positive in my golfing career, an insurance policy, if you like. It took the pressure off me in that I didn’t have to win. If I hadn’t turned out to be good enough, I could always have gone off and done something else.
GGP Winning, of course, can bring its own problems. Tiger talked recently of how he had the feeling he could get away with anything because of who he was.
CM I’ve never had the kind of success that Tiger has had but, on those occasions in Europe when I was on a bit of a golfing high, a piece of advice my father gave me would always start ringing in my ears. It was back in the days I was setting off for college in the States that he said, “Before you do or say anything even slightly risque, ask yourself, ‘Would your dad approve?’ ”
A lot of times the answer was that he probably wouldn’t have approved – but what he said is always in the back of my mind. Personally, I think a lot of Tiger’s problems are down to losing the father who had played such an important role in his life.
I’ve also had lots of reality checks along the way from my children. I remember dropping Venetia off at a tournament crèche one day and her turning to me and asking, “Daddy, why does this crèche have a golf course?” It tickled me that she was blissfully ignorant as to what I was doing. As far as she was concerned, the day was about her. Also, I often used to sense a certain reticence on the children’s part when they would be dragged into a photo because I had won something.
GGP Golf has known some great gestures, with particular reference to the time Jack Nicklaus gave Tony Jacklin that two-footer at the 1969 Ryder Cup, the one which saw the U.S. and Europe sharing the match for the first time in its 42-year history. On a personal level, what are the finest gestures you have known?
CM There have been a couple. In the 1993 Ryder Cup at The Belfry, I was one up playing the last against Lee Janzen. I left myself needing to hole a two-and-a-half-footer for the match and was just getting ready to mark my ball when Lee gave me the putt.
The next time was at Brookline in 1999. We had already lost the match but my game with Payne Stewart was still alive. We were all square playing 18 and I had two putts from 20 feet for the win on a green where anything could happen. Payne didn’t ask me to putt. He gave me the point.
It would have been the last putt he conceded. Two months later, as we all know, he was dead. Which is why that particular gesture has always meant so much.
GGP If Europe were to win the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor, your answer to this question might not be the same. For the moment, though, what would you view as the headiest moment of your career?
CM Winning the third of my three successive PGA Championships at Wentworth.
GGP And the most humiliating?
CM I don’t need to think about that one. It was taking six up the last at Winged Foot in the 2006 U.S. Open when a par would have been good enough to win.
GGP Because Europe lost the Ryder Cup at Valhalla, are you going to try to pass off this year’s European team off as underdogs?
CM No, I’m not. The days when we could pass ourselves off as underdogs have gone. I want my team to accept that they are the favorites and I want them to go out and play that way.