Colin Montgomerie as Mr Positive is not the most natural of fits. Over the years this combustible character has managed to find the light in the gloom as readily as he has spotted the good in American hecklers. But now Monty has no option. He must remain upbeat, repeating over and over: "Yes, we can!" Even when so many of his team have told him: "No, we ain't!"
The Celtic Manor Wales Open tees off on Thursday on the course where in four months' time, Europe will play America. A year ago, Captain Montgomerie assured the assembled press in the TwentyTen clubhouse that this tournament would be packed with Ryder Cup stars, all intent on acclimatising themselves with this new layout. As it is, the field will be brimming with just three members of the last side and no more than four of the next. Montgomerie will be forgiven for feeling like the director who turns up at the dress rehearsal only to discover his cast hasn't bothered.
Except the Scot is evidently determined not to express any disappointment, frustration or anger. "I'm wary of everything I say now, and will never say anything against my potential team. Never," he told The Independent on Sunday last week. "I have been put in a position by the European Tour to win back the Ryder Cup and in these economic times it is very important. Therefore I have got to remain positive. And with Luke Donald, Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell all playing in Wales, that is a great positive."
Well, not that great. The trio have also been playing in the Madrid Masters this last three days, an event which has also included Sergio Garcia and can therefore lay claim to boasting a stronger field than the supposed Ryder Cup reconnaissance. Garcia, like Lee Westwood, like Rory McIlroy, like Paul Casey, like Ian Poulter, all ignored Montgomerie's personal pleas to join him in Gwent and will instead join Jack Nicklaus in Ohio. So much for the benefits of local knowledge. "I'm not worried," said Montgomerie. "The guys will know it well enough. Take Lee Westwood, our top-ranked player. He's going down to Celtic Manor before and after the Open and will have played the course at least three times before we get there on the Monday night. Six rounds is ample preparation for Lee. And a number of other players will be doing the same."
The trouble is, when Sir Terry Matthews made a £40 million commitment to the European Tour to stage the Wales Open, he did so under the suspicion that the big names would be turning up at the same time as the crowds. "I feel some sympathy for Sir Terry, yes I do," said Monty, who has always had close and, it must be said, lucrative ties with Celtic Manor. "Unfortunately, it's the scheduling of the event. The date of the Wales Open was moved and now coincides with the Memorial event in America. With the US Open coming up, a lot of my team feel that is the place to play. They're individuals. I asked them if they could play in Wales and I got more than we've had in the past. Like I said, I would like to focus on who is playing."
Montgomerie will no doubt tread a similarly cautious path at Gleneagles at the end of August. The famous Perthshire estate – which will host the 2014 Ryder Cup – was the venue for Montgomerie's media pow-wow last Thursday when, in his role of promoter of the Johnnie Walker Championship, he sought to publicise the event where he names his dozen. Montgomerie will anticipate rather more than three of his men showing up that week, although again he refused to acknowledge a black mark being put next to the names of any who decline. "Let's just say it will be in their interest to be here," was as far as he would go when pressed on those who will be seeking a wild card.
It was conciliatory stuff from the Scot, who afterwards was heard telling his advisors: "That went well. The press can't whip up anything from that, can they?" They couldn't and didn't, instead making note of a polished performance by a man who is plainly adapting to the diplomacies of leadership. He spoke of travelling over to Pebble Beach for the year's second major in a fortnight to give the misfiring Garcia a pep talk and of consulting with Sam Torrance, Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam. But it was the counsel he will seek with another former captain which surely proves how seriously and selflessly Montgomerie is assuming his responsibilities.
Montgomerie and Sir Nick Faldo have not talked to each other for years, certainly not since the 2008 match in which the latter led Europe to their first defeat in nine years. No, the former Ryder Cup partners may not have talked, but they have still managed to drag an already frosty relationship ever further into the tundra. To be brief, Montgomerie has not been complimentary about Faldo's style of captaincy. And Faldo has bit back. During a live American broadcast earlier this year at the World Match Play in Tucson, the Englishman said to CBS commentator Jim Nantz: "Monty's too busy these days cutting my head off to try to make himself look taller." The barb was in retaliation to Montgomerie making it clear that he would not be going to his predecessor for advice. "I will consult with the captains who won," he said. At that stage it seemed more likely that Brian Clough would have gone to Don Revie for a few pointers.
But that was in February and this is now and it is fair to say the transformation – in Montgomerie, at least – has been stunning. He will not be looking to bury the hatchet with Faldo so much as remould it into a love spoon. "I will definitely be talking to Nick at the Open Championship in July," he said. "Not because I feel I have to, but because I want to. You can learn from defeat, sometimes more than when you win. I can learn from certain aspects of Nick's captaincy, if he can sit down with me and talk openly and honestly about what he would have done differently, in hindsight. He and I can sit down for the sake of the European Tour."
Will Sir Nick consent? With Monty in this mood it will be hard for him to do otherwise. He is a captain on a mission and the mission is to put the Americans back in their place after their finger-flicking display in Kentucky. Any reconciliation is bound to be beneficial as there is so much to link the pair. Montgomerie is also presiding over a side which even this far out can already be classed as heavy favourites. In fact, with seven Euros to five Americans in the world's top 15 – and with the influence of a certain world No 1 looking more destructive than ever – it is justifiable to claim that no Europe team has ever been heavier.
"Some European captains have played up to the underdog role and done very well because of it," said Montgomerie. "I don't have that advantage. When you analyse the number of our players there in the rankings and when you see their talent and when you put this with the fact we haven't been beaten at home since 1993, we will start as favourites. I can't deny that and don't want to deny that. All we have to do is prove we are better and win. Yes, because of that, if we lose I will be the fall guy. But I'll take that. I'll take every up and down that comes my way with this job. That's why I'm in this position. And that's why I'm enjoying it."
Watch out for the smile in his lonely Welsh valley this week.Reuse content