Comfortably the best. Content with his lot, thrilled by competition, Europe's finest is happy to take on the world. - Golf - Sport - The Independent

Comfortably the best. Content with his lot, thrilled by competition, Europe's finest is happy to take on the world.

The Colin Montgomerie Interview

To suggest that the man poised to become Europe's No 1 golfer for a seventh successive season has only just reached the threshold of stardom seems faintly odd. But Colin Montgomerie, known to millions as Monty, is no conventional British hero.

To suggest that the man poised to become Europe's No 1 golfer for a seventh successive season has only just reached the threshold of stardom seems faintly odd. But Colin Montgomerie, known to millions as Monty, is no conventional British hero.

At the age of 36, he could never be typecast as a rebel or pin-up boy. Yet at a barren time for the national football, rugby and cricket teams, this burly Scot with a golf swing like silk and the touch of an angel has become a beacon, if not quite an icon, for the sporting public.

Forget his six tournament victories this season, the latest a fortnight ago in the World Match Play Championship - such successes have become routine. But his bulldog defiance under the most extreme provocation during last month's Ryder Cup in Boston has led people to see him in a new light.

More significantly, perhaps, it has also prompted Monty to revise his own view of himself. "The Ryder Cup was a learning curve for me. Definitely," he said, reflecting on the crowd abuse which was sytematically directed at him throughout the three days at the Country Club at Brookline. "I think I'm learning to block out the barracking now. Every time somebody said something or tried to heckle, it actually threw it the other way even though they didn't realise it at the time. They thought it was putting me off but in fact it was making me more determined to succeed.

"If it had been a strokeplay event at Brookline I think I'd have done quite well. The more they heckled the more determined I became and the more determined I get the more successful I become. It worked to the reverse of their intentions.

"I've encountered problems with galleries before, but not to that extent. At the Ryder Cup, I was perceived as more of a threat to the American team than any other European player, which I suppose is a compliment of sorts, but we all suffered. The whole team got it, especially on the Sunday. They needed the crowd behind them and the crowd did their job.

"Looking at it five weeks later, though, one must say that we outplayed the Americans over the first two days. Before the match we were the underdogs and did extremely well to get 13 1/2 points considering we had seven rookies on our team.

"But golf's profile is rising and the word 'money' springs to mind. Is it getting out of hand? Is it too much? In America, they want to make it up to the level of the top three sports - baseball, basketball and American football - using Tiger Woods to get the TV exposure.

"But golf's not football or basketball, and it's attracting a different type of spectator. I sometimes wonder, is it selling its soul? What happened at the Ryder Cup is a problem and the authorities on both sides of the Atlantic have to get together to find ways of retaining the excitement of the occasion without losing sight of the fact that it's a golf competition."

This interview, conducted courtesy of his sponsors Lexus at La Manga in southern Spain last weekend, preceded the tragic death of Payne Stewart. But Monty specifically excluded the US Open champion from any blame for the Ryder Cup débâcle. "Payne was my singles opponent on the final day and was very good with me. He behaved like a complete gentleman throughout. He was apologising as we went round and pointing out hecklers to the marshals. I'm sure it affected him as much as it did me."

The test now for Montgomerie is to harness those positive feelings to silence one of golf's recurring mantras - that the man dubbed crudely by the United States media as "Mrs Doubtfire" will never win one of the four so-called major championships.

Three times the US Open has been snatched from his grasp and Steve Elkington's outrageous tramliner putt deprived him in a play-off for the 1995 US PGA title. More surprisingly, especially for one who learned the game as a child at Troon on the Ayrshire coast, he has never been a factor in the Open - due partly to the high flight of his iron shots and his anxiousness to shine in front of home galleries.

With nothing more to prove in Europe, it has been suggested that Monty should consider spending a season on the US Tour. He certainly knows the country well, having studied business management and law, along with golf, at Houston Baptist University. "Those four years taught me to play competitively at the highest level of amateur golf. It also gave me an insurance policy before turning pro in 1987."

But instead he aims to have just six trans-Atlantic outings next year - in the three US majors, the Players' Championship and the two World Golf Championship events.

"I've never won a US Tour event, but then Bjorn Borg never won the US Open in tennis," Montgomerie said. "He got to the final a few times, but so have I. I've been in the final a few times as well. Whether it happens or not, it won't hinder my career. I won't be a lesser player. I might be in their eyes but that doesn't matter. In my eyes, I've been successful and if I never win a major or a tour event in America people will want to talk about it but it won't change things.

"In 1992, when Jack Nicklaus congratulated me on winning their national championship at Pebble Beach, I thought 'My God'. It was my first US Open and the weather was getting worse. Then the wind died and Tom Kite and Jeff Sluman nipped past me. No one would have denied Kite a major on the basis of his whole career and if I ever win a major I hope that people will say that it was deserved overall.

"Over the next five years I've got 20 majors to play in and I reckon I might just get lucky in one of them. But I don't believe that the only way I can do it is to base myself over there. Going to America hasn't helped everybody. Nick Faldo won most of his majors from Europe. It's not for everybody - it's different and foreign, you're always away from home.

"The crowd factor is not the reason, it really is for family and personal reasons. I owe my wife and three children some time at home. On top of playing 28-30 tournaments a year, I give my sponsors a lot of days. I'm also involved now in course design and I've just launched my first teaching academy at Turnberry. It's a very busy life and scheduling everything is difficult to say the least. To please everybody is almost impossible, so we have to say no from time to time.

"But the future is secured for my family now. What I've got to do now is to protect what's there and try to win as many tournaments as I can because the feeling of winning is superb."

Faldo, his erstwhile Ryder Cup partner and the player he unashamedly hero-worshipped in his younger days, recently accused Montgomerie of being content to stay in his European "comfort zone".

"Am I in a comfort zone staying back here in Europe? Well I like to be comfortable but I don't play golf for money now, it's the thrill of competing and having a chance to win. I have the utmost respect for Nick Faldo, we all do. He's obviously struggling with his game right now and I think he was caught out by the press in Canada. It was his first time in the press room for a number of weeks and people were asking him questions about the Ryder Cup and of course my name came up. I think what he said was blown up to be honest."

Meanwhile, Monty will go into this week's American Express Championship at Valderrama, the final Order of Merit event of the season, knowing that only a miracle from Sergio Garcia or Lee Westwood can deprive him of his seventh European crown. With David Duval a definite absentee, he could even finish the tournament, which carries a $1m first prize, as No 2 in the world rankings - not bad for someone who rarely practises. Not bad also for someone who started his working life as a salesman for the Yorkshire biscuit company where his father worked. After college, he could have become a corporate lawyer in America - "I might have made more doing that than playing golf" - or even taken up a job offer from his agents International Management Group.

"I went to play with two of IMG's top executives at Turnberry - I was asked to join them on the back nine for a job interview. Well, I scored 29 and they turned to me afterwards and said: 'Look Colin, why don't we work for you instead of you working for us?' I thought there and then that I could do this."

Since then, success has flowed unabated. Popularity, though, has been more elusive, but as European golf prepares for coronation No 7, Mrs Doubtfire has been well and truly recast as Mr Surefire.

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