Ahead of his appearance at this week’s Senior Open at Sunningdale, 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 competed in the UK, how much are you looking forward to competing in a Senior Major on home soil, and at your new home course?
I’m really looking forward to it. Having not won an R&A event before – I was second in The Open to Tiger Woods in 2005 and runner-up at the 1984 British Amateur to José Maria Olazábal – it would be great to win one, obviously. The added prize this year is that whoever wins will get an invite to play in the 150th Open Championship in St Andrews next year, which would be a real celebration of golf and a huge honour 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 know Sunningdale’s Old Course probably better than anyone this week. How has the course changed, if it has, over the years you’ve been coming here?
I think it’s to its credit that it has not actually changed. I remember playing here in the 1987 Walker Cup, and to my eye the Old Course hasn’t changed much at all. Yes, the trees have grown a wee bit, but it’s still Sunningdale. There’s no difference. The holes haven’t changed. I think they have taken out a middle bunker at 16, but that’s about it. That’s a real credit and compliment to what it was before. It’s an excellent golf course. There’s three very short par 4s – the 3rd, 9th and 11th, but they are also very dangerous. If you get on the wrong side of them, you can make a bogey in a hurry and you feel like an idiot doing that on these holes. From the tee they look like birdie chances, but you can make five in a hurry. And there some great par fours – 2, 5, 6, 10, 12, 16, 17 and 18 – they’re all good, solid holes. I hate to use the word ‘senior’ golf – we like to call ourselves champions or legends or whatever it might be – but for a Senior Open, I think there’s no better course to play. It’s very playable for everybody here.
Where would a win this week rank alongside your other golfing achievements?
A win this week would be right up there. The biggest achievement I’ve ever had was winning just down the road at Wentworth three times in a row. That was my biggest achievement, to win the BMW PGA, as it is now, in ’98, ’99, 2000, that was my biggest achievement, I’ll always say that. To win the Senior Open at 58, against a lot of good 50-year-olds, would be right up there. The three Wentworth trophies take pride of place in the trophy cabinet, but this one would be right beside them, I assure you. I know it’s a reduced field this year, and a number of top Americans haven’t made it over, but at the same time, when you think of who else is – Langer, Jiménez, Tom Lehman and all the good Americans that have come over, it’s going to be very tough.
A lot of golfers reach 50 and say they won’t play senior golf. Eight years on, do you have any idea how you would have filled that void of that competitive buzz?
Well, that was what it was. I was looking at my own family and my only father, who you hate to say, 50, you felt was older than we are now. Every generation goes 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 that ambition was still there. The drive was still there. The will to win was still there, and I didn’t want to lose it. So I went out on the Champions Tour, and yeah, we had success. I won two majors and here we are. I’ve still got that fire and I’ve still got that ambition to win. If that goes, yes, I’ll buy a couple Labradors and move to St Andrews and walk the dogs on West Sands Beach. But at the same time, until that happens I’ll be playing out here. I love it. I love the competition. I love the whole scene of competitive golf, and so here we are at 58 and we’re still going strong.
A small but growing number of players are still managing to play the regular tours and the senior tours. Do you see this as a trend as players stay fitter for longer and with the advancements in modern equipment?
As I said, I don’t like the word ‘Senior’ when it comes to tour golf, but the fact that you’ve got Phil Mickelson competing on Champions Tour and then going out and winning the US PGA Championship proves that 50 is no longer a barrier to success at any level of the game. Stewart Cink won on the PGA Tour last month at 48, and Lee Westwood is also out there competing for titles. Fifty is the new 40, or 35 even, so it’s good in that way.
Scottish golf has been going through a bit of a barren patch in terms of tour stars, so you must be heartened to see Bob MacIntyre doing so well?
Bob is fantastic. I was very impressed with his whole attitude at The Open last week. He refused to back off and went all out attack. I love that in him and I think that’s why he’s going to do extremely well. He’s not satisfied, as a number of players are, with fifth or sixth place. Bob was going for everything, he was trying to win that golf tournament, and that’s what will stand him in good stead. He’s right on the cusp of the Ryder Cup team now, and that never-say-die attitude would be brilliant in a Ryder Cup format.
Looking forward to the upcoming Ryder Cup. As a former captain yourself, what exactly is Pádraig [Harrington] looking for between now and when he has to make his captain’s picks?
Well, he’s looking for winners. He’s looking for people that will go for it. He’s looking for the Bob MacIntyres of this world. Hey, Ian Poulter, you know, that type of guy that’s not going to back away from the fight. Because I tell you, without the European support it’s going to be 99 per cent American fans and it’s going to be difficult. So you want players who have that never-say-die attitude and who don’t care who they’re playing,
Any team that wants it back is really up for it, and the American team looks awfully strong. Padraig’s got a job on his hands, no doubt about it. It will be close, we know that, and he will do his utmost to get that team ready to perform.
If the picks were tomorrow, do you think McIntyre would be in?
It’s a very good question. Picking a rookie in America is a difficult choice, because you’d usually be looking to pick experience. I picked a rookie in Edoardo Molinari, despite saying that I would pick a rookie. But one, it was at home, so we had that European support. Two, his brother, Francesco, needed support, and it worked out great and he happened to win the last tournament. It’s difficult to pick a rookie in America, but if you are picking a rookie, Bob would be the one you’d pick.
What do you think about the changes that were made to the selection process?
The US team has six picks this year, which is probably about right given the year we’ve had, while Europe has just three, with nine automatic selections. As captain I would happily have had 12 picks if the European Tour has allowed me. I think 12 picks is your strongest team. You just pick your team, the team that you think are going to win, and not six guys that one or two of them, might not have made that top 12. So we are limiting ourselves in a way by only having three picks, but it’s working out okay for him. He’s got the nine that he would want I think at this stage, with Shane Lowry now coming into the fold after a good Open performance. He’d want him as a past Open Champion, someone that could win, as I was saying earlier on.
What do you think Pádraig will bring to the party as captain?
I think I found that when I was captain 11 years ago now, is it’s all about preparation. You have to be prepared. You have to be flexible and you have to be prepared. You are to get your team on that first tee prepared to play and that’s his job and he will do that very well being the statistician that he is. He will have it all mapped out. He’s had an extra year, as well, so he’s had three years to prepare, as opposed to two. That’s his advantage, and Steve Stricker, as well, they are in the same boat, but he will be prepared and that’s all you can do. You send your guys out there off and on the first tee and you lose control, you lose control of team and you just hope to hell in four hours or so they bring back something, a point or a half-a-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, as I prepared my team 100 per cent and there was nothing more that I could have done.