Suck It Up Colin Montgomerie must play in the U.S. if he's to become one of the greats

August 13, 2000

Colin Montgomerie says he has a problem and, like a certain U.S.
president, it has to do with his legacy. Montgomerie, 37, has
been a good golfer for a long time. He has led the European tour
in earnings for an unprecedented seven straight years. He has 34
victories worldwide. He hasn't lost a singles match in five Ryder
Cups. Yet because he has won neither a major nor any Tour event
in the U.S., Montgomerie is worried that he won't be remembered
as a great golfer.

Montgomerie recently concluded that the odds on filling the holes
in his resume will go down if his appearances in the U.S. go up,
for two reasons: the law of averages and the benefits of playing
on a more competitive tour. The latter was driven home last month
at the Standard Life Loch Lomond in Glasgow, where he was
outplayed down the stretch by Ernie Els and Tom Lehman. "It was a
bit of a wake-up call," says Montgomerie. "The competition in
America makes players that little bit tougher." The point was
reemphasized the next week at St. Andrews, where U.S. players
dominated the British Open and Montgomerie, tense and pressing,
finished 26th.

Montgomerie knows what he needs to do, but here's the catch: He
abhors playing in the States. He has been scarred by the years of
fan abuse and is angry at CBS analyst David Feherty for making
fun of him on television. "Feherty has a lot to answer for," says
Montgomerie. "Americans think his Irish humor is funny, but we
see through it."

In his current state of mind it's all Montgomerie can do to come
to America for the three majors. "It's hellish," he says of the
heckling. "Very, very difficult to put aside. It has almost
gotten to the point where I know if I got into contention, I
couldn't possibly get over that hurdle and win. The emotional
hurdle would be 10 times higher than would be the golf."

Montgomerie isn't the first player to go through something like
this. Jack Nicklaus was hammered by Arnie's Army. Gary Player had
it even worse. Anti-apartheid protesters threw ice at him,
heckled him and, during the 1969 PGA, tried to assault him on the
course. Player almost won that tournament. "I dealt with it by
not fighting back," he says. "I didn't fight fire with fire." If
Montgomerie is truly concerned about his legacy, he must respond
as Nicklaus and Player did. He needs to get tough.

Montgomerie's capable of it. During the Ryder Cup at Brookline,
he got so mad at the jeering fans that he turned stoic, and
silenced the crowd by making putt after crucial putt. But more
often he's undone by the hecklers. He mopes, he sulks, he has
fans ejected. (He reportedly had eight spectators removed at
Pebble Beach during the U.S. Open.) The bottom line is that
Montgomerie is soft. Being impervious to spectators is as
important as having a sound swing. That's why the other players
roll their eyes when they hear him complain.

Montgomerie is losing this game, and the more he insists that
he's a victim, that he deserves justice, that he's in the right,
the more he's in the wrong. "Colin is smart, but nobody likes a
smart-ass," says his agent, Guy Kinnings. "He has to learn that
sometimes there are more important things than being right--like
being happy."

To achieve that blessed state Montgomerie must do two things.
First, he has to suck it up and roll with the punches, fair or
not. (Isn't that the first lesson of golf?) Second, he should
come to the U.S. Every top international golfer who has played
long stints in America has been better off for it--from Bobby
Locke to Nick Faldo. As great as Seve Ballesteros was, he would
have been greater had he played the PGA Tour. Same goes for Jose
Maria Olazabal.

Monty, go with your gut. It's not too late to change your legacy.
Ten years from now you may not have won your major or even a Tour
event. You may not have enjoyed your time over here. But when
you're making an accounting of your career, at least you'll be
able to say that you didn't leave anything in the bag.

COLOR PHOTO: PAUL SEVERN/ALLSPORT

The other players roll their eyes when they hear Montgomerie
(who recently lost 14 pounds in two weeks) complain.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)