US Open golf: We speak to US specialist Colin MontgomerieJune, 2013
Colin Montgomerie, the nearly man of the US Open, reflects on the ones that got away – and the players he fancies for the championship this year
It should have been the moment. In his 58th Major, Colin Montgomerie stood in the fairway of Winged Foot’s final fairway having just hit two of the best shots of his career.
First a 40-footer at 17 for an unlikely birdie followed by the perfect drive minutes later, on a hole which shaped the wrong way for his trademark fade.
The whole of European golf was behind him seven years ago.
But, as we all know, it didn’t happen for Monty, as it hadn’t quite happened at Pebble Beach, Oakmont and Congressional before that.
When the ball left the club we were looking for the trademark hands beside the pocket, instead we got a puzzled look and commentary from the player himself; What shot was that?
It was short and right. And dead.
We met up at the re-launch of De Vere’s Mottram Hall to hear about the near misses and what made the Scot such threat in the game’s toughest Major.
What made you and the US Open go so well together?
It was my golden opportunity to win a Major. The courses suited me and they didn’t suit half the field, half the field was beaten before they started. I drove the ball extremely straight then and my iron play was as good as anybody’s from the fairway so I looked forward to it more than any other Major. I liked Pebble Beach, Congressional, Baltusrol, Winged Foot and so on, I liked every one of them.
Can you arrive at a US Open a bit out of sorts and still have a good week?
You cannot find your game at a US Open, if it’s not there then you can forget it. When I saw players on the range with their coaches I thought great, that’s far too late, that’s just far too late. I was thrilled when I saw good players and potential challengers working on their game in the week of the tournament.
Was there a period when you considered yourself the favourite?
Yes I did see myself as the favourite. I was number two in the world anyway and especially on courses that were so suited to me. I likened the US Open to being a clay-court or grass-court specialist in tennis, I was a US Open specialist. It was a course set up to favour me, whereas somewhere like Augusta didn’t.
How much did it add to things that it was their national Open?
I got a bit ‘it’s me against them’. To win the US Open was a big deal, Tony Jacklin had done it in 1970 and nobody from Erurope had done it since. To beat America on their own pitch was always wonderful, it meant so much to us to win that Ryder Cup in 1987 because it was away from home and at a game in which the Americans think they’re better than us at. It was a special time for me to compete at a certain level.
I did see myself as the favourite. I was number two in the world anyway and especially on courses that were so suited to me. I likened the US Open to being a clay-court or grass-court specialist in tennis, I was a US Open specialist… If you could take a US Open Mulligan would it be the putt at the 71st hole at Congressional or the second to the last at Winged Foot?
You can always miss a putt but I should never miss a 7 iron from the middle of the fairway especially when the pin is located on the right-hand side of the green. It was a gift, it was almost too easy.
I was playing with Vijay Singh and it took him nine or 10 minutes to extricate himself from a tented village and get back to where he could play an approach from.
I’m convinced that if I went and hit that shot in real time I would have won. I would have hit it on the green. It was almost easier for me to birdie that hole because of where the pin was and all I had to do was aim at the middle of the green and swing the club.
The ball would have naturally moved to the right and then gather down towards the hole. It was too easy and I had too long to think.
At the start of the week you said only one drive didn’t suit you – the 18th. Was there a sense that you thought you had done the hard part?
I won Shot of the Month for the drive, I did not win anything for the second (laughs).
I didn’t complete the backswing, I rushed it. What I have said in clinics since then is to wait for the shot. I was anxious and wanted to see where the ball was going to go.
What did you first think when you looked up?
I’m going to be polite and say whoops.
When did you see Phil Mickelson after the round?
He was coming up behind me and I was walking up to the clubhouse at the same time and he was as distraught as I was. He felt like he had thrown it away, as I had, and the door was open. Tiger Woods had missed the cut, it was his first tournament back since his father had passed away and, in that era, that didn’t happen very often. The door was open and Geoff Ogilvy walked through it and Phil and I didn’t.
Going back to your first US Open at Pebble Beach in 1992 Jack Nicklaus congratulated you on winning due to the poor weather that faced the leaders, looking does that niggle you?
Not at all, Nicklaus called it as he saw it and I believed him and everyone else did as well. The conditions were that difficult at that stage that it looked very possible.
I suggested to my caddy Alastair McLean that he checked into my hotel as, we thought, the worst that could happen was a Monday play-off and I could have afforded it had I won!
You said in your book that winning a Major then might not have been the best thing for your career?
I was rather fortunate, if you can call it that, that I didn’t win that one, I wasn’t ready for the weight of expectation that would have come with it. It would have been too much to play up to, it was my first US Open, I hadn’t won an Order of Merit and I remember Bruce Critchley saying at the time it was the right thing for my career and I agree with him.
I don’t think it would have been as long and as successful as it was had I won that US Open.
Do you still think that?
Yes I do.
Lee Westwood is now 40 and without a Major, has he ever come to you for a chat about what you learnt from being in a similar position?
No and I wouldn’t unless asked. He’s finishing inside the top 10s but he isn’t finishing off as everyone would like him to do. It was frustrating again at the Masters and the putts that have to go in aren’t. He is still hitting the ball as well as anybody and I hope that he does win a Major, I really do.