The lesson in Monty's sadness

Once, at an ungodly hour of the Las Vegas morning, I was trapped briefly in a lift in the sole company of a young and extremely angry Mike Tyson. It was, as you might imagine, a fairly terrifying experience. He was without shoes and dressed only in an armless T-shirt and a pair of skimpy shorts and whatever he had been doing a reasonable inference was that it had not been approved by an orthodox fitness trainer.

Once, at an ungodly hour of the Las Vegas morning, I was trapped briefly in a lift in the sole company of a young and extremely angry Mike Tyson. It was, as you might imagine, a fairly terrifying experience. He was without shoes and dressed only in an armless T-shirt and a pair of skimpy shorts and whatever he had been doing a reasonable inference was that it had not been approved by an orthodox fitness trainer.

Periodically, his eyes disappeared into the roof of his head, which would have discouraged too many conversational initiatives even if his chief sparring partner had not reported earlier in the day that Tyson's response to a cheery morning greeting was: "If you say another word, I'm gonna rip your head off." What is it that provokes such random flashes of memory. In this instance, it was a haunting line in one of the reports of Colin Montgomerie's bleak announcement that his marriage to the beautiful Eimear is now officially on the rocks.

It told of Montgomerie two weeks ago tramping quite alone, and with the body language of despair, along a pavement near the Augusta National course. That was the picture that took somebody back to the young world heavyweight champion. If he was an intimidating apparition at the doors of the lift, he also appeared unutterably sad. He had a thousand hangers-on and not a single friend and there he was, alone in the small hours, and it was as though, as he headed towards dissipation and a prison cell, that he may just have taken his first penetrating look beyond the ring lights and seen a terrible emptiness. That was the sadness.

But then, in a way, certainly no sadder than Montgomerie pushing into his forties, his marriage in ruins, and out of the Masters after two rounds, pounding a pavement, his shoulders slumped, his face a mask of pain.

Or for the fraught time currently being suffered by David Beckham, riding the downturn of his football career in Madrid on the thinly reassuring prospect of another brand-name mega transfer, this time in all likelihood to Roman Abramovich's skittle alley of superstars at Chelsea, and all the time trying to make sense of life in a goldfish bowl while his wife and sons remain in London. Or Diego Maradona's recent time on life support in Buenos Aires. Or George Best tottering beyond pathos from one life-threatening crisis to another - and Gazza, thin now and vulnerable, wondering what happened to his great days. Or boy wonders Bjorn Borg and Boris Becker reflecting on the emotional chaos that followed the days of glory.

Some might have minimum sympathy for such men, they may simply calculate the money they have earned, and in some cases so spectacularly wasted, and say they have fully contributed to their own problems. No doubt this is true to a considerable degree, but there are other sides to their stories. All of them have given vicarious life to some of our dreams, and maybe sometimes we forget that while they were doing that, they also had real-life business to negotiate. Think of the madness that assails Tiger Woods these days. In Augusta, while Montgomerie was walking his version of the Way of the Cross, the Tiger talked glumly of the "mass hysteria" that brands him a failure at 28, and with eight Majors already in the bag.

He could have zillions in the bank, but life would still be a strain as he unwillingly inhabits so many dreams other than his own.

For Monty, though, the recent Masters was not so much a trial as an evisceration. On several occasions he stormed away from the course, leaving his wife stranded and in need of a lift. There had been so much investment in a pursuit of the big prizes, so many huge profit margins on the European prize-winning lists, but now there was only fast diminishing belief in his ability to one day lay his hands on the major trophies that for long danced before his eyes like so many mirages. Phil Mickelson's triumph was a particularly savage cut. Mickelson had left his neighbour in Augusta in sole possession of the description that strikes at his golfing soul: the best player never to win a title. It must have been purgatory for Montgomerie to see Mickelson win and then, surrounded by his family and his wife, laughing and saying to their little girl, "Daddy's won - can you believe it?" And Mickelson stood there, on the ground that Montgomerie had yearned for so desperately, with his goofy grin.

Now Montgomerie has lost, along with the Majors, what he probably now knows should have been the most meaningful part of his life. Heaven knows, he has piled so much of the pressure on himself. In America, his taut and prissy manner has drawn out hecklers as effectively as gun-dogs flushing out the game. In the '99 Ryder Cup he drew invective that was quite sickening, and provoked a moving protest from the late Payne Stewart.

He said that nothing in golf could justify such behaviour, and of course he was right. But if there was a lesson for Monty, if this was evidence that he should for his own sake and the peace of his young family draw back a little and play from more within himself, it went unheeded. He was rooted on an escalator that would never quite take him to the top floor.

Certainly, the famous words of the great golfer Walter Hagen had always fallen on fallow ground. "Stop and smell the flowers," Hagen advised his co-workers. All across the spectrum of sport, that old advice has grown in value down the years. But if it could not have been designed more specifically for one man, Montgomerie has never found the time or the space within himself to listen.

Unlike Las Vegas there are plenty of blooms in Augusta, but Monty just marched on. He was locked in his own world, one that some of us may have been wrong to envy him so much.

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