'You shake his hand then you get on the plane and think you should have won'
For all the talk of Colin Montgomerie and the US Open it was at Riviera that he played some of his best major golf as only Steve Elkington, in a play-off, got the better of him in the PGA Championship in 1995.
The Scot played in 21 PGAs in total, his most recent coming in 2015, and here he shares how he views what was the season’s final major and how the new place on the calendar might elevate it.
And this year the PGA Championship has its first start at Bethpage Black and Monty knows a thing or two about there as well…
Where did the PGA Championship sit for you in terms of set-up with the other American majors?
I’ve always felt that the PGA Championship was between the Masters, with little or no rough, and the US Open that is crazy though it sits closer to the US Open. The PGA Championship is the fairest test and the only one with the top 100 so it has the strongest field on the fairest course, which is a good start. I used to enjoy that I was competing against the best, with a field of 156 you should be able to accommodate the top 100 in there with every major.
How do you think the move to May is going to affect its status?
It’s only going to benefit by not being the last major. When it was the last major it was out on a limb a bit, the first three were the big ones. Now with the Open Championship at the end the PGA Championship will benefit.
The only issue is that they had set the dates until 2031 and they were set to play there in August when the weather is better. They’re pushing it a bit at Bethpage in May I can assure you in terms of the weather, condition and growth.
Going from the final major to the second one is a huge change. It’s just the weather when they go north. We’re playing Oak Hill in the Senior PGA Championship in May and it’s pushing it for us as well.
In terms of coverage it’s a no-brainer. We all accept that the NFL is massive, we in the golf world watch golf, while everyone else doesn’t. They watch NFL and they have an early game, one mid-afternoon and another in the evening and everyone’s watching it.
Did it give you as good a chance of winning one as the US Open?
The US Open always gave me my best chance of major success with the PGA Championship next. In my prime I always fancied the US Open as 100 of the field didn’t, they would turn up with the rough at five inches everywhere and they should have just gone home. I was loving it as I was fortunate that I could hit fairways, that was the game for me, hit fairways and greens. Now it’s so much a distance game.
And the other two?
Then it would be the Open and then Augusta. People say I was brought up at Troon but I left Scotland when I was six and went to Yorkshire and learned my golf at Ilkley. I really learned how to play at university in Houston where there wasn’t much wind. I’ve never really liked the wind to be honest and never really played well in it.
At Augusta, although I could get round in 71, I was never positive enough on the greens to score 66. I could two-putt the greens but I was always a bit tentative. So I would make the cut and finish 20th but I was No.2 in the world so that wasn’t really what I was looking for.
I went to the US Open in a very different mindset and if No. 1 wasn’t winning then I was the favourite. At Augusta, I was never quite long enough. It always favoured a high draw and I was low and a fader.
How do you look back at Riviera in 1995?
I had 17 more putts than him which is more than four a day. I hit 67 greens that week which was a record at the time and the 17-under total was also a record score not to win a major so I didn’t do much wrong. It was the best I could do tee to green.
I shot 65 on the Sunday and he had a 64. In the play-off I hit my drive one foot short of the one I hit in regulation and my 8-iron stopped dead whereas the first time it was quite firm. He birdied it and I missed mine so you just shake his hand and say ‘well played’, then you get on the plane and think you should have won.
What did you think of Bethpage when you first saw it?
We played the US Open there in 2002 and it’s a hell of a course; long, very narrow then and god it was difficult. The par 4s couldn’t go over 500 yards but they all seemed to be 490. We were still using Balata balls so it was hard work.
I could only just reach the 10th fairway which was a 260-yard carry and few others did. Hence Tiger won.
It’s an amazing place and it will be good, as long as the weather is mild. If it has a cold spell they might struggle.
When I played there Golf Digest gave out ‘Be Nice To Monty’ badges. I’ve still got two plastic bags full of them! I think it did help a bit with the New York crowds.
Would the PGA Championship benefit from having some sort of ‘rota’?
It would be good to have a 10-course rota which incorporated the Ryder Cup venues as the PGA Championship run that instead of bringing in more new courses.
I like the old classics like Winged Foot, Congressional, Merion and Oak Hill where you have to think your way around. Pine Valley will never be used but I’ve always loved that.
You last played the PGA Championship in 2015, what’s it like playing a major as a senior?
I’m proud to say I made the cut at Valhalla in 2014. Given most of the field are 40-50 yards ahead of you so have to manage the course so well and if you then play four days then you’re doing something well.
There is always a top-10 player who has missed the cut so you’ve beaten them and that makes you feel like things are still OK and that you must be doing something right.
Colin Montgomerie is an ambassador for Loch Lomond Whiskies, The official spirit of The Open. For more information and to buy the unique range of single malts, visit their website.