NEWPORT, Wales — If you could win a Ryder Cup on Wednesday with passion, charm and wit, European captain Colin Montgomerie would already be walking away with Samuel Ryder’s coveted little trophy.
Exhibit A was his Wednesday press conference, in which Montgomerie talked about Tuesday night’s team meeting, when the ailing legend Seve Ballesteros addressed the team via speaker phone. Ballesteros, battling brain cancer and too ill to travel, talked to the team for about 10 minutes.
“The passion is still very, very strong within Seve,” Montgomerie said. “So that was a real inspiration, especially for the rookies. It was a very different team meeting because of the passion that certainly engulfed the room.
“I was fortunate to play three Ryder Cups with Seve, and he captained me on my fourth appearance. I’ve never met anyone as passionate about golf as him.”
Montgomerie’s passion in talking about Seve’s passion was inspiring in itself. Monty reminded everyone why he’s been such a Ryder Cup force over the years, and why he’s going to be one of Europe’s best captains — a true player’s captain. He’s smart, knows match play and bleeds European blue.
“Motivated? We don’t need motivated,” Montgomerie said. “The only motivation this team needed was to lose the Ryder Cup two years ago. I was after some passion and, by God, I got it.
“I think it was only right to get Seve on the phone. Seve is our Ryder Cup, and always will be. It’s nice to not ever feel Seve is forgotten by us or by European golf. He was extremely open about our chances and about the team. We were just honored to have his presence in the room.”
It was a bonding experience for the European team, which has benefited in past Ryder Cups, some think, by being closer than their American counterparts. (American captain Paul Azinger wanted to create something similar two years ago when he split his team into three four-man pods based on personality types.) The Europeans are bound by a tour that requires international travel and less-than-perfect weather and course conditions. That is part of what has helped them, the logic goes, to unite and beat the Americans, who play for more money and seem, to European eyes, to have everything easier.
“We have been very close as a tour, and we call ourselves a big family,” Montgomerie said. “We are very, very proud of that. I think that has helped us in the past. As a European tour member, the Ryder Cup means the world to me.
“I had ample opportunity to go to America and join the U.S. tour as a player when I was No. 1 in Europe. I never took it. I always supported the European tour and the European cause, and that’s why I’m here.”
Monty has always been one of the guys on the European tour, the opposite of the 2008 European captain, Nick Faldo, who was a focused loner for most of his career.
“If you walked into a players’ lounge anywhere in the world, and Monty is sitting at a table, that table is always full,” Padraig Harrington said. “He attracts people in the sense that he’s good company. He’s always got something to say, and he’s got his opinion.”
The glib, charming and careful Monty proved Harrington correct on Wednesday afternoon. He filled reporters’ notebooks, in sharp contrast to U.S. captain Corey Pavin, who was tight-lipped and brief and not very quotable. Here’s a brief Monty sampler:
On Tiger Woods: “I think Tiger has come here as a very different individual. He is a part of this team and wants to prove he is part of the team and do well. There was a big piece missing last time, without Tiger. I’m glad Tiger is here with something to prove, and it will be interesting to see how Tiger plays.”
On changing from player to captain: “This is the first tournament I’ve really come to without my golf clubs, and it’s quite a strange position to be in — to get in someone’s buggy and go around the course and manage other players, to get opinions from my vice captains. It was a very, very difficult job of mine to get down to 12 players this time. Very difficult. I’ve got to get to eight tomorrow morning from a very difficult 12. So that’s my next difficult test, to narrow it down to only eight players.”
On Harrington’s disappointing play in his last two Ryder Cup appearances: “I think he would agree that he was trying a little too hard in front of his home crowd in Dublin in 2006. If you push in golf, sometimes it doesn’t quite happen. And in 2008, he had come off two major wins. I think he was emotionally drained; I can understand that.”
On possibly arranging for Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods to square off: “I almost want to avoid that situation. I can’t avoid it. There’s a one-in-four chance if Tiger plays Friday morning and if Rory plays. And there’s a one-in-12 chance that they meet up in singles, I suppose, and that’s all there is. It if does happen, great. I’m sure Rory would look forward to that challenge, and I’m sure Tiger would too. A lot has been made of this challenge. This is about a team, not about individuals. My team is set on gaining 14 1/2 points. It doesn’t matter who plays or who gets them.”
On Wednesday morning, the European team bonded further over a joke at McIlroy’s expense, when several players donned curly wigs reminiscent of McIlroy’s famous hair.
“It was the right thing to do, it was brilliant,” Montgomerie said. “It was fantastic to see them all tee off with their Rory haircuts, and off they went. There wasn’t an issue with Rory; they just wanted to build him up again.”
Monty had to cut his media session short. He had 45 minutes to get back to the hotel and get dressed in black tie for the traditional gala dinner. And he’d already had a busy Wednesday.