Colin Montgomerie vs. U.S. Fans: Golf’s Greatest Feuds

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He regarded them as insolent and ignorant. They looked back at him as a whiner and snob. Few loathe-hate relationships produced more sound and fury than the dysfunctional rapport between Colin Montgomerie and American golf fans. A look back at a feud that first caught fire at the ’97 U.S. Open, raged out of control at the ’99 Ryder Cup, and burned on for more than a decade before both sides finally doused the flames.
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The first outward signs of bad blood appear at the ’97 U.S. Open at Congressional, where rowdy fans pepper Monty with insults. Riled up by the abuse, the Scottish star fires back, calling one of his hecklers a “pillock” -- British slang for “wanker,” if you’re keeping score at home.
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Sensing that they’ve found themselves a sensitive target, Monty’s taunters at Congressional rush in for the kill. “Why don’t you save that for the Ryder Cup?” Monty fumes. Oh, don’t worry. They will.
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Monty’s been accused of having “rabbit ears," but even Elmer Fudd would have noticed the Scotsman’s hecklers at the ’99 Ryder Cup at the Country Club in Brookline. “He doesn’t deserve it,” Payne Stewart says, after conceding his singles match to Monty. “I don’t know if he’s got a big bull’s-eye on his back or what it is, but it’s not fair.”
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Sure, Monty bears the burden of fan abuse. But some say he also bears a share of blame. “Monty, in my opinion, brought this all on himself,” American Tour pro Billy Andrade says. “Of all the Europeans to come over to the U.S., he was the most Americanized. He went to Houston Baptist University. He dated a girl whose father had a suite at the Astrodome. I always thought when I played with him, it was amazing that he was the one that let people get to him.”
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Sickened by the slagging his son absorbs at Brookline, Monty’s father, James, walks off the course. “It was as if the very game had been defiled,” Montgomerie recalled in his 2002 autobiography, The Real Monty. “I looked for him after ... but he had walked back to the clubhouse, his lifelong love of the game having taken an irreparable blow.”
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For the throngs at Brookline, ganging up on Monty is just too much fun. “Mrs. Doubtfire,” they shout, saluting him with a cruelly comic nickname that Monty openly despises -- and which, ironically, was first slapped on him by his Ryder Cup teammate David Feherty.
American fans treat him as their pincushion, but Monty gets revenge by being a thorn in their side, especially in the Ryder Cup. Monty sinks the winning putts for Europe in ’97 and ’04 [pictured], and captains the winning European side in 2010.
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Monty has always been at his best during the Ryder Cup, where his career record is a sparkling 20-9-7. Here, a relaxed Montgomerie spends some with the European Team's wives and girlfriends during the 2004 Ryder Cup.
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In retrospect, Monty acknowledges his own errors. “I made a mistake and answered back,” he says years later of his interaction with fans at the ’97 Open at Congressional. “And I paid for it for about 10 years.”
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By the 2012, the worst is in the past. Or is it? In an interview that year with the BBC, he says American golf fans are “not as knowledgeable” as their counterparts in the UK. “I don’t think the golf fans in America are members of golf clubs in the way they are here,” he adds, handing ammunition those who still regard him as a soft-bellied snob.
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All is forgiven, if not forgotten, as Monty finds new life on the Champions Tour. “It’s actually been quite good, a great welcome from everybody in the States, fantastic,” he says as his 2014 campaign gets underway.
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Comfortable at last on U.S. soil, Monty wins the 2014 U.S. Senior Open, his second major on the over-50 circuit. A punching bag no more, he’s also learned not to be such a sourpuss. The golfing public responds in kind. “Again, I’ve matured,” Monty says. “I’ve realized that you need the fans on your side. There’s no point in fighting against a few thousand of them out there.”