Silence is golden for Monty

Andy Farrell hears words of wisdom from the guru behind Europe's key challenger
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The Independent Online
ONCE, a long time ago, a smaller, younger Colin Montgomerie could not get Bill Ferguson to talk enough. This week, as the golfer ranked No 2 in the world undertakes his final preparations for the US Masters on the Augusta National driving range, the best thing Ferguson can do is not utter a word.

That suits Ferguson fine. A Yorkshireman of wizened appearance, he would not earn a living if paid by the word. Instead, as a wizard of natural coaching, he knows when to leave well alone. "If I say nothing," Ferguson said, "then Colin knows everything is all right."

Ferguson was the professional at Ilkley Golf Club for 10 years, mainly in the Seventies when the Montgomerie family - father, mother and two boys - became members. It was the father, John Montgomerie, now the secretary at Royal Troon, who suggested that the nine-year-old Colin should caddie for Ferguson in the Sunday morning Captain-Pro challenge matches.

"He was a little lad who liked playing golf and was keen on the game," Ferguson recalled last week. "He was always full of questions such as 'Why did you hit that shot?' 'How do you hook the ball?' 'Why did you hit that club?' He was a very inquisitive young man."

Increasingly, over recent years during which Montgomerie has won the European Order of Merit three times and lost two play-offs for majors, Ferguson has travelled with his pupil. This year he will be almost everywhere Montgomerie plays and saw him win the Dubai Classic and come second in the Players' Championship in Sawgrass.

"Colin only needs to hit a couple of balls for me to see if there is anything wrong," Ferguson said in Atlanta, scene of the BellSouth Classic. "If there is anything wrong, it will be in the set-up. Nothing more complicated than that. We don't muck about with the swing, just stick with what we have done for over 20 years. He has kept his basic swing all his life because I don't like making changes for change's sake. I like to see people's natural ability and work with that. He has started this season where he left off last year, playing exceptionally well."

As a player, Ferguson won the 1976 Club Professionals' Championship and once beat Sam Torrance in the PGA Matchplay. He went a long way with a certain mental strength, which has rubbed off on Montgomerie. As a teacher, if he met a troublesome client, he would go on to the range and mimic the swing himself until he worked out how it could be improved.

"I haven't followed anyone's line, I just think it is a very simple game," he said. "If I had to sum it up, it would be a backward movement, followed by a forward movement and the ball gets in the way. If we could keep it as simple as that, it would be better for everybody."

It is at this point that, for most of us, the ball goes sideways. "Then you are not doing it quite right. I like to see people stand to the ball correctly. If the set-up is right, then you are 75 per cent on the way to hitting a good shot. If it is wrong, you are 75 per cent on the way to hitting a bad shot."

As a case study, bring on Ian Woosnam, the 1991 Masters champion, with whom Ferguson has worked since the US Open last June. "He was setting it up very badly, which led into the wrong backswing, which led on to the wrong downswing. Basically, it was a mess. He couldn't tell whether the ball was going to the right, left or dead straight. He used to have a wonderful swing and we are getting that back. Ian will tell you that after he won the Masters, he thought he needed a better swing, rather than sticking with what worked. He started trying to change things and asking people's advice and ended up in a mess. All I tried to do was get him back to simplicity."

Ferguson said it would take six months. At the start of the season, Woosnam won back-to-back to revive his hopes of adding to that first Green Jacket. Montgomerie's chances at Augusta depend in part on having learnt to play a draw. "He can do it as required," Ferguson said. "There are only really two holes you need it on, the 10th and 13th. We don't alter the swing, just strengthen the grip a touch."

As for Ferguson himself, he is enjoying what Montgomerie calls "a new lease of life". "As far as teaching goes, it's the icing on the cake," he said. "To stand and watch people of their ilk practise and have them ask for your advice, you can't go any higher."