TROON, Scotland — There are 156 players in the Open Championship field this week, but none know the lay of the land at Royal Troon better than Colin Montgomerie. He grew up in the town here and his father, James, was the club’s longtime secretary. Last month Monty finished third in a 36-hole qualifier to earn his spot in what will be his 22nd Open start and first since 2010. On Thursday morning, the 53-year-old will hit a ceremonial tee shot at 6:35 a.m., which will kick off both the tournament and his opening round.
On Wednesday morning, Montgomerie, a Rolex testimonee, made an appearance on behalf of the watchmaker, which is the official patron and timekeeper of the Open, to conduct a roundtable with a small group of media. What follows is GOLF.com’s portion of the interview.
So you’ll hit the opening tee shot on Thursday. How did that come about?
I was asked by the chief executive of the R&A, Martin Slumbers, before the draw came out. He said, “We’ve got an idea. Would it be OK?” Some people might say, “It’s 6:30 in the morning, it’s a bit early.” And the more that I thought about it, what a huge honor it is. It’s the first time it’s televised live. The BBC used to broadcast the Open and they’d come on the air at 9 in the morning and they’d videotape the first shot. So it wasn’t live breakfast TV. This year, Sky TV comes on a 6:30, and this is why it’s 6:35 in the morning and not 6:30. So it’s a huge honor and I treat it as such, to lead off on my own course.
How do you expect to feel on that tee? Emotional? Nervous?
I think it’ll be a bit of both to be quite honest. I think I’ll be quite emotional because you’re leading off the world’s great players. And also I’ll be anxious as I always am. I led off a few Ryder Cups in my days, and you play that shot in your head. I’ll be playing this shot in my head overnight. I’ve done this before and it’s OK. I think a little anxiety is a good thing. You don’t want to be overconfident, and you don’t want to be so nervous you can’t grip the club.
What’s your fondest memory of this course?
I attended my first Open Championship here when I was 10. We lived 100 yards from the first tee and that was in 1973. Tom Weiskopf won then. I used to caddie for my father, and I had walked around the course, but that was my first Open. That is really my first memory of this course. The weather was awful, and it was fabulous. I thought, ‘Well, one day I’d love to do that.’ And you think, ‘Forget it.’ But it’s happened and it’s great.
Did you meet any players or land any autographs?
No. I was always a quite shy youngster. I wouldn’t have done that. Not like some of them nowadays, you know, selfies. Everything’s available now. It’s a different world.
How has the Open evolved since your first start in 1990?
This particular championship is our first with Sky Sports. Of course we’re going to be compared to the BBC. There have been innovations here. There are special cameras on wires across the 8th hole now. There’s the shot tracer. There’s the Trackman. On the range there are people having long-drive competitions. There’s more interaction with the crowd. The scoreboards are fantastic, where they have questions about the rules of golf, and show the biographies of players. Gone is the writing up on the scoreboard and the manually putting of the scores in. It’s all digital now, and it’s all quick. It’s really enhanced the spectator experience. The stands are Wi-Fi’d. We live in a world that’s instant, and the Open has realized this, and they’ve gone forward with it.
What’s the lowest round you’ve ever shot at Troon?
I shot a 67 here in a medal. That’s five under par because as member we play the 11th hole as a par 5. And it should be a par 5 today because it’s so difficult! But five under is my best. In 2004, when the Open was held here last, the best score that week was 67, four under par. And you think, someone is going to score 63 or 64 and have a day. But it’s tough.
What type of player can thrive here?
This course is quite unique in many ways. It has the smallest green area of any of the Open courses. The greens are small, so that goes back to the tee shot, where you’ve got to hit the fairway. If you don’t hit the fairway, you don’t have control for the second shot. You’ve got to drive the ball well.
Do you have a pick to win?
Who are the best drivers? Look at the top four players and there’s a little bit of a gap: Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. They’re breaking away now from number five. Out of them you’ve got three great drivers: Johnson, McIlroy and Day. Of those three, you’ve got to possibly pick the No. 1 player in the world, Jason Day. He drives the ball the best of anyone, the straightest. That’s who I think is going to win.
You were set up to pick yourself and didn’t bite.
Oh, no. I’m realistic! [Laughs]