Colin Montgomerie talks about The Open, majors, his beloved Royal Troon….and hitting that opening tee shot at 6.45am on Thursday!
Colin, you came through final qualifying to play here at Royal Troon, a place you obviously have great connections with, and you now have the honour of hitting the first tee shot on Thursday morning. Can you talk us through your feelings at having that distinction.
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: Yeah, well, thank you for being here and inviting you to our family’s home here in Troon. Sorry about the weather. I apologise. It’s my fault. I’m being blamed for it. At the same time, it’s great to have the honour, as I say, of teeing off first, hitting the very first shot of the 145th Open at your own course. It’s a great honour to have, and I treat it as such. And everything that happens after that first tee shot is a bonus, and I’m looking forward to walking the fairways and looking forward to the week ahead.
Q. Would you expect them to be bused in earlier on Thursday?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: Bused, trained, flown, ferried, any other form of transport?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: (Laughing) I don’t anticipate the stands to be full at 6:30, but at the same time as we go around the course, because it’s not just me in that first group, it’s two great players alongside me in Marc Leishman and Luke Donald as well. It’s an exciting three ball, and I’m sure the stands will fill up as we get around.
But it’s not early. It’s almost late, you know, 6:35 in the morning. But at the same time it’s great. Staying locally, obviously, I’m not far to travel, so I’ll be on time. And joking apart, it’s a very good time to play. If you were to ask the players what time they’d like to go out the first day, generally it’s early, very early. The wind, as we’ve seen today tends to pick up around 11 o’clock, 12 o’clock mark with the tide coming in, and by that stage, we’re finished.
So, yeah, it’s actually a very positive time in many ways, yeah.
Q. I know there’s pressure whatever time you play in an Open Championship, but that early with maybe fewer fans, is it slightly less pressurised, or does it make no difference?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: Oh, there’s no pressure on me anymore. I used to put pressure on myself when I was 2 in the world coming here and expectations were high. There’s no question. And there’s no pressure at 53 years old now. There’s no pressure. I’m just going to enjoy it and take every par, every birdie, if they come along, as a bonus. My goal this week is to attempt to walk down 18 fairway on Sunday. That’s the goal. Anything beyond that, again, would be a bonus.
Q. With the miserable weather we’ve had, how’s the course playing today, the course you grew up playing?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: Yeah, it’s not playing the links course that we all wished it was. Obviously we had a very dry May and June here in Scotland, but a very damp July. It softened the course, there’s no question, and it’s playing a lot longer than it would do normally. There’s less heat in the air, so of course the ball doesn’t go as far either, so it’s playing long, there’s no question. And the ball’s not rolling on the fairways that it would normally. You’re getting say 10, 15 yards’ run as opposed to 40 yards’ run. So it’s not playing the links course that you would think it would in July.
In saying that, it looks fantastic. I’ve never seen the course look as good. The way it’s manicured. The way the bunkers have been done, the greens are running fast and true. I’ve never seen the course look as good. So it’s all great. It’s set up — it’s set up fair and for a great ball striker to win this week, yeah.
Q. Were you consulted about hitting the first tee shot? Just talk us through the process. Were you asked? Were you discussed?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: There were questions asked, yes, yes, and I was asked if I would — if it so happened, would I be okay hitting the first tee shot? And I said, yes, it would be a great honour, so accepted the honour, yeah, yeah. This wasn’t drawn out the hat (laughing).
Q. We all know that. Really.
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: Yeah, unless it’s one out 156. But at the same time, great honour, and I take it as such. Yeah, I just look forward to it.
Q. Bit of a surprise?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: It was initially, yes. Yes, it was initially. But at the same time, two morning times. As I say, if you want to do as well as you can at Opens, you want to get off earlier the better. I’ve got two morning times, which is great.
Q. Could you talk about what makes the postage stamp so special? And what’s your history on that hole?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: Yeah, it’s a special hole the way that the short par 3s of this world are special. I think it’s to do with you play a hole like Oakmont’s 8th at 300 yards, and the expectation is low, and everyone’s low with expectation because it’s 300 yards long. There’s never been a decent par 3 over 200 yards, in my opinion, built. 123 yards, the expectation raises dramatically into, you are on that tee and you are a professional golfer. It’s your job and you’re expected to hit this green at 123 yards. You could throw it on, really. I wish I could. And that’s why it’s difficult.
Whenever you’re expected to win something or do something, it’s always more difficult to achieve, always. And that’s why that hole is fabulous, because you are expected to hit the green, and everyone knows you are. You are, your caddy is, all the crowd around. Both stands will be full all day, and they’re expecting it, too, and it’s great. And it’s drama as well, you know. It’s drama. If you do happen to miss the green, well, game on, you know? Drama unfolds from then on, depending where and what lie you’re in.
So I think it’s all to do with expectation that particular hole. My record on the hole, I think, touch wood, if this is wood, hope there’s some wood in there, I’ve hit the green most times.
But it’s amazing. It’s also the first hole, really, that you play the first seven holes relatively downwind as they are today, down out the right. That’s normal prevailing wind. And it’s the first hole on the golf course that you turn into the wind. It’s the first shot you’ve got into a wind. It doesn’t matter what standard of golf you are, it’s different. It’s a change. You haven’t done this for two hours. Then you suddenly have this shot into the wind and it becomes, yeah, you’re thinking and you’re in two minds, and self-doubt comes in and hesitation. It’s a great hole, great hole (smiling).
Q. Can you summarise just how close you live to the course when you grew up, maybe how often you might have played here as a young man, and what influence it had on your career? How it might have helped you?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: Well, the family house, we’re sitting on South Beach Road here and the family house was South Beach Road five houses up from here. Okay, I could really throw a ball from here to the house. So as close as you possibly get, yes, yes. You’ve heard about things walkable. This was very much walkable.
Yeah, I hit my first shot of golf when I was 6 years old on the children’s course there, which is now the TV compound, I believe. I’ll be commentating there later on in the week for Sky Sports, and I hit my very first shot of golf there.
So, yeah, this is where I started playing, and this is home, yes.
Q. Growing up on this course, did it help you with your career?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: Not particularly. No, no, I wouldn’t say help me in my career. I think my career was really defined when I went to an American university. I went to Houston for four years. That’s where my career was more defined than it was. This is more junior golf here really, just learning the etiquette of the game, to be honest. My career was made in America in many ways, when I came back from university in America and then turning pro in ’87, yeah, yeah.
Q. This is obviously a very personal week for you both on the course with hitting the first ball but also off the course. How much will you allow yourself to indulge in almost seeing the ghosts of the past walking around here?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: It is. It gets emotional in many ways. When the Open comes to your hometown. There’s not many pros here that have the opportunity to play an Open on their own course where they’re members of. So it’s a great honour, for one, and I take it as such. I’m just glad that when you see what the Open has done over the years now. Peter Dawson, I must admit just retired, chief executive of R&A, and now taken over by Martin Slumbers now, has really brought this Open Championship well into the 21st century, and it’s the event. The branding of the event now has gone way, way up. I think that this championship now stands on its own as the one to win.
I’m just so glad as a local and almost a host that the course is great, everything’s set up in a very, very five, six-star manner, and I’m very proud of it.
Q. Is there any reason why, and how do you say that, anything else after your first tee shot is a bonus? But given that there’s no pressure on you this week, is there any reason why you can’t do well?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: Oh, no, I didn’t say I couldn’t do well.
Q. No, I’m asking you, do you think there is a reason you can’t do well?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: No, there’s no reason at all. No, no, no, no. I mean, if I play the way I did when I won the senior majors or I feel as if I’m playing as well as I did in 2005 when I finished second to Tiger there at St. Andrews, I don’t feel there is any difference. The only difference possibly is length. I’m not hitting the ball as far as I did in comparison to the others in 2005. But knowing my way around here and hitting the ball well off the tee and my irons into the greens, and knowing where to miss the shots, there’s no reason I can’t do well here. No, no reason at all.
You can’t win if you’re not playing, and that was the number one thing that I went to Glasgow Gailes for, the Glasgow Golf Club to try to qualify for to make sure I got in, and then, okay, we can see what happens from then on. But, yes, as I said, from the first shot, you get the first shot out of the way and all that goes with it, and then get on with the job of doing well. Yeah, doing as well as possible.
Q. We’ve just enjoyed a remarkable weekend of British sporting success at Wimbledon, Lewis Hamilton, Chris Froome leading the Tour de France. I just wondered in your opinion, apart from their obvious talent, what sets those British sportsmen and women apart from the rest of the field? Also, do you think their success can inspire other British sportsmen and women, i.e., this week to success in their field?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: Well, there’s no reason why not. There’s no reason why not. Andy Murray’s success was fantastic yesterday at Wimbledon, and Lewis Hamilton’s car is obviously quicker than anyone else’s so that helps. And Chris Froome, he’s obviously quite (indiscernible). It’s fantastic what he’s doing, fabulous what he’s doing.
So there’s no reason why the British contingent here, and there’s a number of them, shouldn’t see that success and try and emulate it in every way. There’s no reason why we can’t have a glorious summer of sport in this July. To have a Wimbledon champion, an Open champion in the same month would be fantastic for Britain. I don’t think we’ve ever done that. So I think it would be fantastic to achieve. Yeah, and there’s no reason why — there’s a great British contingent here. Obviously, being the Open in Britain, it means so much to them.
Q. What is it though, Colin, that sets someone like Andy Murray apart, do you think from your experience in playing?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: It’s desire and ambition. You’ve got to want it. You see Andy Murray yesterday, he wanted that. There’s no doubt. Even from the first round, the first round. I think the second or third point in the first round Andy Murray was fist-pumping, and you see that ambition and drive and want and desire that he has to achieve, and that’s what the guys here have. It’s just a matter of going out and proving it now against the world’s best, and you’ve got a great world’s best here. You’ve got a real top four here that are beginning to pull away from the rest in many ways. Dustin Johnson having joined that three.
You look into one of them, if you’re winning this from outside that top four and you’ve beaten all of that top four this week, you’ve done well, very well.
Q. Just to continue Bob’s line of questioning, how old were you when you moved south?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: To move south to Yorkshire, the family, I was about 10, 11 years old or something like that, yeah. Yeah, so the first years were here.
Q. So you had five or six years of links golf?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: Links golf at six years old?
Q. Well, you started.
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: Well, I started, yeah. The reason I hit the ball low was because I couldn’t hit it high, you know (laughing). And I wasn’t actually very good then. So I wouldn’t say links golf, really to be honest. But I have an old-fashioned swing, right? I use my legs more than in a modern swing, and that generally keeps the ball down. I’ve always kept the ball down. I’ve never had a problem keeping the ball low. And a lot of the guys coming in now would love to hit it as low as they can coming in there. The last nine holes are tough today especially.
Q. May I ask a follow-up: I’ve met a lot of your family on the way in. Do you have a lot more family members here this year than before?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: I’ve got to tell you, there’s family members I don’t even know I had. I think it’s due to the fact that they know I can get tickets, you know (laughing).
Yeah, yeah, my whole family. It’s a golfing family. Very much a golfing family, and golf is number one. This is a big deal, yeah, yeah, for the whole family, including myself. We all look forward to it, yeah.
Q. Given your association with this place, just how nerve-racking was it as you were sitting in the car at Gailes last week waiting to see if you were going to get in?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: I was nervous, yeah, yeah. I was nervous having to wait. The score at Glasgow Gailes came through every three holes, like we used to do in the old days. There was a score every three holes. Now it’s computerised and it’s on the Internet within seconds. So between the three holes there was sometimes a 40-minute gap between the next score coming up and hoping I’d make it.
But, yeah, it meant a lot getting so close. There was always a position I hated finishing was second, because I was really close enough to win, and why didn’t I win? I hated finishing second. 20th was okay, because I had no chance of winning, but second was a problem. Why didn’t I win? And this was the same at Glasgow Gailes, I had gotten so close that I wanted to achieve that, knowing what the goal was at the end of the day.
Q. How long was the wait?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: I was match eight and there were 24 matches, so there was a good two and a half, three-hour, two-and-a-half-hour wait, which was awful.
Q. Are you a mornings person, and will you have to set an especially early alarm for that or do you think the excitement will wake you up naturally?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: I’ve just got to be, haven’t I? I think I’m off shortly (laughter). It’s Monday and I’m feeling it already.
Yeah, 6:30 you’ve got to be at the club to have something to eat. You need something to eat. So sort of 5:00, finish eating about — well, I take longer than most, so it will be 5:30, and then practise, and then off we go. So, yeah, you’ve got to be up at 4:30, haven’t you? Two hours before your kickoff, which is early. Very early.
Q. Earliest in a while?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: That’s as early as one gets, yes. 6:30 kickoff is early. But at the same time, as I said, it’s a great time to play. On a links course, it’s a great time to play. You won’t get the greens any better, and the course will be immaculate. The wind will be at its least, and there will be no one ahead of me. It’s great. Bernhard Langer’s not ahead of me. It’s perfect. It’s perfect. It’s just working out great.
Q. We’ve spoken a lot about how much this place means to you in terms of history and everything else.
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: Yes.
Q. Despite the Rich and varied career that you’ve had, this is something of a last hurrah in terms of the Open Championship?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: Yes, it could well be. I’m not sure if I had attempted to qualify if the Open was at St. Georges or Livermore, somewhere further afield. The reason I did try and qualify and put my heart and soul into it was because it was here, and knowing that this is the last time that I’ll have the opportunity of playing at Troon. If it comes back every 12 years, as it seems to be 10 to 12 years, I’ll be out of the game competitively by then.
So this was the last time and possibly yeah, you never know. This could be the last time I play in The Open. I won’t be retiring from it, but at the same time, yeah, it could well be. So it’s fantastic opportunities arisen that it’s here, at Troon, at home, and as I said, I look forward to it.
Q. You started out by apologising for the weather. I just wanted to know, what’s your least favourite type of weather to play in, and what is the worst weather you’ve ever played in?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: The worst Open weather I’ve ever played in was 2002 at Muirfield. That was horrific. I regret scoring 74 on the second day because that put me out late in the awful weather. But that was the worst ever. I had lost circulation by the 5th hole. I had sent in for — I was with Callaway, you know these big, big mitts in July. What’s going on? It was crazy. I was playing with Nick Price, and we were both struggling.
The good weather for me, it doesn’t really — I mean, around here it doesn’t really matter. I know the course so well that I can play the course in a wind or I can play without a wind, so it doesn’t really affect me this way. I just hope for everyone’s sake, really, for the other 155 competitors, I speak on their behalf here, that I hope it’s fair. I hope the weather’s fair. That you don’t get what happened in St. Andrews in 2010 there where the afternoon on the Friday just got blown away. Let’s hope it’s not one of those, and hope it’s a fair test where the times don’t decide who wins or who loses or whatever the case may be.
I just hope that if it is blowing in the afternoon the first day, it’s blowing in the afternoon the second day, too. That’s why I’ve got two morning times.
Q. Your fellow Royal Troon member recently voted overwhelmingly in favourite of admitting women members. How important was it to get that issue out of the way before this week?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: Well, I think it was very important, and all credit to the captain for being brave and for bringing that decision forward. One of these things now that has to happen and it’s happened here, and it’s off the agenda now completely and we can concentrate now on the golf. I think it was a very brave and very direct and very good decision by the captain of the club here, and I think that he did the right thing.
Q. Do you think that links golf or even this course in particular negates the advantages of some of the long hitters like Rory and Dustin Johnson? Does it make them have to think a little bit more or does their advantage still exist?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: I was always once told by my Coach Bill Ferguson in Yorkshire when I started really playing medals and what have you, that the greatest asset in golf at that time was length. You can always control it, but it’s a fantastic asset to have. I mean, you’re talking today, Dustin Johnson will stand on that first tee and hit the green no doubt or have the length to hit the green, going on the greenside bunker doesn’t seem to affect anybody. The third hole as well at 290 to clear the burn at the third, that’s not a problem downwind. That’s a 3-wood, you know. So it is an advantage. There’s no question. I mean, I’d have loved to have played my career where he hits his drives; we all would.
But at the same time, if that driver is slightly off and the pin positions are as they’re going to be, which are hidden and on slopes and what have you, to protect the course as these links courses have to be, you can get into trouble, there’s no question. So you’ve got to be very, very careful at the same time. I don’t think it’s a bomber’s course as such. I think our motto here, Tam Arte Quam Marte, as you’re all aware of course as journalists and English scholars as you all are, you would know that it’s not just with strength, but with skill. So you have to have both. This course demands both, strength and skill. You did know that, didn’t you? You were aware. You’re all writing that down. Come on. Get that down. Come on (laughing).
Q. How proud are you to be a representative of the Senior Tour this week, and what will you look forward to telling your contemporaries when you go to Carnoustie next week?
COLIN MONTGOMERIE: Well, I look forward to Carnoustie as well. It’s a great three weeks of Scottish golf, a celebration of Scottish golf. Comes to Stuart last week and here and of course to Carnoustie next. But there are a number of Champions Senior Tour playing here. Vijay Singh qualified at the Quicken Loans. There’s Mark O’Meara And Mark Calcavecchia who won here in ’89, Todd Hamilton. So there are a number of Senior Tour players that are competing here. It will be interesting to see how they and I get on before we have another challenge at Carnoustie, which sets its own problems.