Monty brings ‘hate to lose’ attitude to Wales

Colin Montgomerie, whose emotions can swing from charming to chafing in a nanosecond, carries plenty of baggage into Celtic Manor.

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Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson gave us split-personality portrayal through Jekyll and Hyde, now something of a behavioral brand. Golf offers the entertaining same through Scottish-born Colin Montgomerie. The dichotomy is not lost on the nonfictional character himself.

He knows two halves make for a Full Monty.

Clever, caring and charming sometimes give way for arrogant and curt, complete with a smorgasbord of facial expressions and eye movements. Undesirable golf shots could activate the darkness. You don’t become arguably the best Ryder Cup player of all time without hating to lose. Those eight PGA European Tour money titles, same thing. More than logos were worn on the sleeve.

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“He has more than once caught sight of himself on TV and been appalled at how he comes across – slumped shoulders and poor body language,” said longtime British golf journalist Lewine Mair, who co-authored Montgomerie’s 2003 autobiography.

We’ll be treated to perhaps his final emotional act on the world golf stage Oct. 1-3 at Celtic Manor in Wales. Captain Montgomerie will guide Europe against the United States in the 38th Ryder Cup Matches, and once more his passion, humor and idiosyncratic nature will be on full display.

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Colin Montgomerie

Like others, Graeme McDowell, the U.S. Open champion, labels his leader myriad ways, as a nice man, thorough captain and temperamental character. Regarding the latter, McDowell related that a European Open commentator once said Montgomerie was so worked up and rabbit-earred that “right now he could hear a ten-pence coin drop at Paddington Station,” a curious mental state considering he’s so wealthy he could “bungee jump off his wallet.”

John Hopkins, longtime golf correspondent for The Times of London, says he can’t wrap his arms around the polar-opposite moods of such an intelligent man, other than to chalk up the bad behavior to the dislike of losing.

Hopkins, one of a handful of writers who attended Montgomerie’s 2008 wedding, says he once experienced the good and bad Monty within four hours at St. Andrews – a public dressing down followed by charming apology via telephone call.

The articulate Montgomerie, 47, long has been considered golf’s best Wednesday interview, before a golf result could infect a mood. Yet the game face wasn’t impenetrable. Hopkins recalls Montgomerie flashing him a grin during the 2006 U.S. Open third round. When Mair apologized because a Sunday book session kept Montgomerie, one of the leaders, from practicing before the final round, he replied, “Not for long enough.”

Apparently he wasn’t kidding. Though intensely ambitious, Montgomerie often achieved without much rehearsal besides a few warmup swings. That reverse-C swing and unathletic body produced 31 European victories, Order of Merit titles in 1993-99 and ’05, five major runner-up finishes and a Ryder record that pales to none.

One senses he didn’t collect calluses as rapidly.

“If Monty puts his basket of balls down beside me on the range, I’ll move,” said three-time major winner Padraig Harrington. “Otherwise, I’ll get nothing done. Monty’s idea of warming up is like 45 minutes of talking and hitting 10 balls.”

Playing in all eight Ryder Cups in 1991-2006, during the height of the biennial event’s popularity, Montgomerie power-faded his way to a 20-9-7 record, including 6-0-2 in singles and 8-3-3 in foursomes. His 231⁄2 points are tied for third most, 11⁄2 behind the leader, 11-time participant Nick Faldo. Most impressive, while leading Europe to three victories in 1997-2004, he went 13-3-3. Only he and Bernhard Langer have played on five winning Euro teams.

“It used to be easy,” Montgomerie once said of his prime. “I turned up, played, finished (up top) and went home again. You don’t appreciate anything until you don’t have it anymore.”

The best player never to have won a major, Montgomerie says he wouldn’t trade his eight money titles for a Grand Slam title. That’s not to say the ones that got away, particularly the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, don’t gnaw. A par from the middle of the 18th fairway would have brought him victory, but he mis-hit a 7-iron shot to the right and made double bogey.

The 1997 Open at Congressional also was significant, for double pain. Montgomerie shot the best opening round, the lowest third round and had the best score of the leaders Sunday. Yet he didn’t win, his week sabotaged by a second-round 76.

What’s more, his troubles with American hecklers for a few years began that same Friday and escalated to the point that his father walked off during Sunday singles at the 1999 Ryder Cup in Brookline, Mass. Leading after a Day 2 rain delay at Congressional, Montgomerie admittedly made the mistake of firing back at some well-watered hecklers near the ninth green. Like parchment thin-skinned with two sides, Montgomerie shot back with, “Save your shouting for the Ryder Cup.” Later that day, someone from a balcony shouted “Mrs. Doubtfire,” a reference to the movie-title nickname given him by CBS funnyman David Feherty, a 1991 Ryder teammate.

The jeering became such sport that by 2002 a national magazine launched a “Be Nice to Monty” campaign, complete with pin-on buttons. Montgomerie has blamed some of his problems in the U.S. on Feherty, who once said the visually demonstrative Monty sometimes resembles a “bulldog licking piss off a nettle.” Little wonder then Montgomerie asked Feherty to leave the European team room in ’99; witty needlers and proud men who sometimes can’t laugh at themselves don’t tend to mix.

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Colin Montgomerie after missing a putt during the 2002 Ryder Cup.

Some European regulars have described Montgomerie as a likable introvert who doesn’t let people get close. At the same time, he’s one to hold court.

“You can go into the players’ lounge and you’ll always find the table Monty’s at is full,” Harrington said. “Everybody wants to sit down with Monty because he’s very talkative and very entertaining.”

If you can find him there, that is. The raconteur usually can be found dining with caddies, said former Ryder Cupper Robert Karlsson. “You never, ever see him in the players’ lounge,” Karlsson said. “He has breakfast and lunch in the caddie tent. Why? Caddies are a bit more talkative and easygoing. There are bigger egos in the players’ lounge.”

One can surmise that ego is behind the drama that has shadowed Montgomerie this year, in and out of golf.

His naming of Darren Clarke and Thomas Bjorn as vice captains signaled a healing of strained relationships. Bjorn once called Monty a “disgrace” and accused him of behaving like a 3-year-old. Clarke had been among those upset over an incident at the 2005 Indonesian Open. Montgomerie admitted he erred in improving his lie by dropping his ball about a foot from its original spot after a delay, but officials cleared him of wrongdoing and he donated his earnings to charity.

Apparently, bygones are just that. Now Clarke and Bjorn pledge support of Montgomerie and say he has everyone’s respect. “As Thomas has said, it is an honor to work under Monty,” Clarke said.

In June, Montgomerie apologized for the “hurt” he caused loved ones after a newspaper reported he cheated on second wife Gaynor, the widow of a furniture tycoon whom he married in 2008, with former girlfriend-neighbor Joanne Baldwin. He dated Baldwin for 18 months after his marriage to first wife Eimear collapsed in 2004 after 14 years. Another report had Montgomerie winning a July court injunction preventing another ex-girlfriend, model Paula Tagg, from revealing details of their relationship.

In August at the PGA Championship, Montgomerie declined comment about that reported injunction, adding, “I know a lot of you are having fun right now at my expense.” He also said his personal matters wouldn’t impact his Ryder duties or team.

At the end of the month, his picks of Harrington, Edoardo Molinari and Luke Donald ignited debate, raising eyebrows of those favoring then-world No. 8 Paul Casey and two-time 2010 PGA Tour winner Justin Rose.

Yet to hear his contemporaries, he’ll be a terrific captain, distraction and controversy be damned.

“All his speeches during the week and what he says and what he does, I’ll be fascinated to watch him,” Harrington said. “Certainly he always revels as the man out front, being the captain. He’s played the best in his career when he’s had that position, where he’s confident and puffs out that chest and strides out there.”

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