Colin Montgomerie was very, very good — he won a record 31 tournaments on the European tour and eight money titles, including seven straight from 1993 to ’99. He played on eight Ryder Cup teams for Europe, earning 23 1/2 points while going unbeaten in singles play, and captained the 2010 European side to victory at Celtic Manor. But his record alone would not have made him such great copy. It was his willingness to tell you he was so good, and his beady eyes, and the way his fleshy cheeks turned pink when he was hot, mad or fighting for Europe.
Among the mementos that will mark Monty’s induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame is the torch he carried at last summer’s London Olympics, but what should be on display is his glowering mien and amber waves of fine fescue hair, always cut and styled and yet poking out at odd angles. His unique look — frumpy yet fierce — and big game made him irresistible to caricature in word and picture.
As a teenager, Montgomerie was shipped off to New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, but he crawled out his window in the middle of the night, never to return. He wound up at Houston Baptist. With no scholarship, no car and knowing no one, Montgomerie shot 71 at the first practice to make the traveling team. Before long he was driving around in a used Mazda GLC with vanity plates: MONTY.
He never won a major. At the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Jack Nicklaus prematurely congratulated him for winning, but Monty wound up third. After running out of every logoed shirt except a black one — his only matching pants were navy blue — he melted and shot 78 in a Monday playoff with Ernie Els and Loren Roberts at the ’94 Open at Oakmont. He lost on the first hole of sudden death to Steve Elkington at the ’95 PGA at Riviera, missed a five-foot putt on 17 to finish a shot behind Els at the ’97 Open at Congressional, and had a hand on the trophy only to double-bogey the 18th from the middle of the fairway and lose the 2006 Open at Winged Foot.
He got no sympathy. Like the British (and U.S.) press, fans delighted in poking the jowly, perpetually aggrieved Monty. They jeered him at Congressional and hazed him at the 1999 Ryder Cup outside Boston. As Montgomerie later lamented in his autobiography, “Why did they pick on me?”
Why? It wasn’t just his bluster, or that he was so easily bruised, or that he could hear every hot dog wrapper. It was also his self-belief and the ability to back it up — we wanted some of that, so we poked him for it and envied him for it until finally, won over by his Montyness, we came around to celebrating him for it.