There were raised eyebrows all around when Colin Montgomerie did an about-turn in saying that he would be prepared to take on the Ryder Cup captaincy again in 2014, “if asked.” Everyone knows that he craves success and is not averse to the limelight but even so …
Though the Scot incorporated a selfless-sounding line as to how he would “do it for the European Tour,” he forgot to examine the other side of the coin – i.e. what his reaction would be if things were to go as badly at Gleneagles as they went well at Celtic Manor. In such circumstances, the chances are that he would curse himself for having taken the shine off his success in Wales while simultaneously making life hell for everyone around him.
It was all down to Sandy Lyle, who has on-going concerns about his compatriot’s handling of a rules situation back in 2005, that Monty’s volte-face has happened now rather than later.
When Lyle was asked about the 2014 captaincy during the recent Open de Andalucia, he came up with a sardonic, “I wouldn’t put it past the European Tour to invite him (Monty) back again as he knows the course, the surrounding area and what is and what is not needed there.” (Lyle, incidentally, only lives down the road from Gleneagles himself and has been in those parts for rather longer than Monty.)
The bald news that Lyle thought Montgomerie would be the 2014 captain was soon relayed to Monty. Though the latter responded with a wary, “I don’t know where Sandy is coming from,” it did not stop him from picking the moment to put himself firmly back in the picture.
Bernard Gallacher, the winning captain in 1995 at Oak Hill and a hugely respected figure in the game, was unmoved. “I don’t think the European Tour will ask Monty to do it again and I’m frankly surprised that he is saying that he would want to do it again, because there are so many strong candidates waiting in the wings.”
Yet, as recently as 10 days ago, there were plenty of Scots who would not have viewed a Montgomerie repeat as the worst thing in the world. They were of the opinion that if there were no home-grown players in the team, a Scottish captain would do at least something to make up for it.
Then came the weekend of the 26th and 27th March when the dark cloud hanging over the Scottish golfing scene dissolved. As Martin Laird and Paul Lawrie won on either side of the Atlantic, so people started looking to Scotland’s future instead of clinging to its past. Hanging on to Monty no longer seemed so important.
Gallacher never thought that it was. He recalled how Ian Woosnam, that fiery little Welshman, had made for an outstanding captain in Ireland. And how Monty had had no problems in ruling the roost in Wales.
“Nowadays,” said Gallacher, “the Ryder Cup is so big that it’s not as important as it used to be to have a captain and/or players from the host country.
“The thing about Monty,” he continued, “is that he could have waited to be the captain in Scotland. We all thought he would but, when Jose Maria Olazabal wasn’t ready to do the job in Wales, he happily agreed to step in. It was his call.”
In Gallacher’s eyes, Paul McGinley, Thomas Bjorn and Darren Clarke remain the key candidates for Gleneagles. He rules out the 53-year-old Lyle on account of his age but introduces the 42-year-old Lawrie as a good outside bet.
“Paul,” said Gallacher, “doesn’t have the same kind of high profile as a Monty but his win in Andalucia has brought him back to the fore. He’s done a lot for Scottish junior golf, often at the expense of his own career, and, if he isn’t aiming to play in the match in Scotland, which I hope he is, he deserves to be considered.”
Gallacher notes that McGinley, 44, Bjorn, 40 and Clarke, 42, fulfill the criteria of still being comfortably in touch with the players. But, “If these guys don’t get it soon, they’ll run out of time.” All three are acutely aware of the situation, and it goes without saying that the last thing any of them needs is for Monty to be back in the mix.
The 47-year-old Montgomerie has served the Ryder Cup well and the same applies in reverse. The captaincy filled his days as nothing else could towards the end of what was a grand playing career. To put it another way, it postponed the evil hour when he would have to decide what to do with himself next.
Since we now have one more resounding illustration as to how he is not averse to changing his mind, he should perhaps reconsider his stance about not wanting to play among the seniors.
If he genuinely wants “to do something for the European Tour,” that could be the answer. The relatively unsung seniors might welcome someone with his capacity for making a bit of news.