Monty May Respond to Home Sweet Home

By George WhiteJuly 13, 2004, 4:00 pm
Its been 37 years now since Colin Montgomerie first trundled out to play golf at Royal Troon. He was four years old then, and of course he didnt play on the big layout. He grabbed a little iron and swatted the ball around a childrens course at the club. It was, as Montgomerie said, just holiday golf.
The Montgomeries lived in northern England where Colins father, James, was president of Fox Biscuits. But the family had a summer home in Troon, and little Colin would pass the time flailing away while his parents actually played. Life is so simple when youre a sub-teen, you know.
Montgomerie is 41 now, a man who plays golf for a living. Colin would win the European Tours money title seven consecutive years. He has known the highest of highs since he started. But this year he has also experienced the lowest of lows ' the breakup of his marriage to wife Eimear. As he met the media at Royal Troon prior to this years edition of the British Open, he says he finally has come to grips with the split.
Professionally, though, its been difficult getting back to Troon. Montgomerie had to go through qualifying for the championship for the first time since the beginning of his career.
But it was worth it to be here, he said of the qualifying experience at Sunningdale outside London.
He isnt the favorite this time around ' far from it. British bookies peg him at 80-to-1. Monty says theyre probably right, although he hopes for a surprise or two. We've had some nonfavorites winning this tournament before, he reminds, so who knows? Who knows?
He would seem to have an enormous advantage, playing at the course where his father became secretary (general manager). Montgomerie would move to the town with his family in his teens and live until he went away to America to go to college at Houston Baptist.
I've definitely played this course more than anyone else in the field, he said. I'm the only member playing, I think. I don't know how many times one plays a golf course. Hundreds and hundreds of times, I suppose.

Monty wasnt allowed to play the big course until he passed the age restriction at 16. He played the childrens course at Troon, graduated to the shorter Portland course at 12. But when he was old enough to play the tournament course, he was a constant fixture until he left for America.
He contemplated sneaking onto the big course, but never had the nerve to try. The secretary at the time, Colin recalls, was a real hard nut. You never break rules around these type of places, and I wasn't prepared to do it either. ... I had to wait until 16 before I was able to play.
Montgomerie was 11 when Tom Watson won at Troon. By the time Mark Calcavecchia won here in 1989, Montgomerie was 25 and well into his professional career. After his return from a four-year stint at Houston Baptist, Montgomerie had at first considered going to work for sports-agent giant IMG. However, the job interview was conducted during a round of golf. Monty was 6-under after 10 holes, and the IMG personnel had seen enough.
You shouldnt be working for us, they said. We should be working for you.
That was in 1987. Montgomerie took their advice and turned pro, and by 89 he was winning tournaments. In 1993 he had advanced to become the leading European Tour money winner, a title he held until 2000.
But injuries began to take their toll, and so did an unrelenting personality that left him unable to deal with being runner-up. The quest for perfection finally led to the shattered marriage this year. Montgomerie sank to No. 28 on the European money list last year and this year is still only 27th - a far cry from the golfer who won all those Order of Merits in succession.
But maybe he can resurrect something this week on Royal Troon, a course he knows so intimately. He shot 68-69 in Open qualifying June 28, the first decent thing that happened to me on a golf course for a long time. And that was a big day for me and I feel that I've relaxed since then.
So, is this the week for a major upset ' Montgomerie as the British Open champion? Monty is OK with the thought ' not just earning a top-10 finish, but carting off the claret jug.
The reason I'm here is because I think I can still win, said a resolute Montgomerie. And that's why I'm here. That's why I entered, that's why I qualified - because I feel that I can still win. If I didn't feel that way I wouldn't be here.
So although my expectations are lower personally than they were, say, in '97, having been one of the favorites, I still feel deep down there's an opportunity to be here. And that goes for any tournament I enter.
Spoken like the pugnacious one. Monty may not be as good as he once was in the 90s, but dont bother trying to tell him. Hes at his old home in Troon, hes out on the golf course, and he finally has a sliver of self-confidence. Whos going to say, You cant?
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