There wasn’t much room left in the trophy case at Colin Montgomerie’s home near Gleneagles in Scotland earlier this summer.
Not with an impressive array of hardware representing eight Ryder Cups, eight European Tour Order of Merits, 31 PGA European Tour victories and a Senior PGA Championship already filling the shelves.
But now taking pride of place is the Francis D. Ouimet Memorial Trophy he earned for capturing the U.S. Senior Open in July at Oak Tree National in Edmond, Okla. That victory ended Montgomerie’s long quest for a USGA championship, which included three second-place U.S. Open finishes.
“The amazing thing after the win was the number of people coming up to me and saying, well done,” Montgomerie, 51, said prior to the Champions Tour’s Charles Schwab Cup Championship at Desert Mountain Golf Club, the circuit’s final event of the season. “Especially after my last U.S. Open opportunity at Winged Foot (in 2006, when he double-bogeyed the last hole and finished tied for second). To come back eight years later, even in a very different way, it’s a real honor to hear people now say, he won the U.S. Senior Open."
Montgomerie says his relationship with American golf fans changed for the better after he joined the Champions Tour last year.
“I’ve had incredible support since then and I couldn’t have said that in the past, through my own fault,” he said. “But now I really feel there’s a certain respect on both of our behalfs. Both had to give a bit. I’m making jokes with the crowd. They’re giving back again. I think it’s a great relationship now and I was even cheered on ahead of some of American players during the U.S. Senior Open. It’s a delight, it really is.”
That week at Oak Tree National remains vivid in Montgomerie’s mind.
“I loved the course,” he said. “It reminded me of a Valderrama-esque type course, where you needed to position your drives on the correct side of the fairway. That played into my hands. I was driving the ball well at the time. The only thing against me that week was the weather. It was bloody hot.”
He survived the heat, ultimately outlasting Gene Sauers by one shot in a three-hole aggregate playoff. It was Montgomerie’s second senior major title of the year, with his win at the Senior PGA Championship in Michigan seven weeks earlier serving as a confidence booster at Oak Tree National.
“That’s what I was thinking about during the final round,” said Montgomerie. “I had managed to win the Senior PGA by four shots. That gave me the confidence to do what I did at the U.S. Senior Open, to say, right, I have done this before and I can do it again. I could never have said that before, because I hadn’t done it. I hadn’t walked through the door. It was open in previous majors, but I just didn’t walk through it. Now I can say that I have.”
The senior major wins have been highlights of an incredibly successful season for Montgomerie, who has compiled 10 top-10 finishes in his second year on the Champions Tour to go along with two European Senior Tour victories. His performance in the U.S. allowed him to clinch a second-place finish in the Schwab Cup point standings behind 2010 U.S. Senior Open champion Bernhard Langer before the final event.
“I think I have mellowed with age,” Montgomerie said. “I’m less intense than I used to be and yet still highly competitive. It’s not the be-all and end-all now. Everyone out here (on the Champions Tour) has earned their spot. There’s no envy or jealousy, there are no big egos.”
The U.S. Senior Open victory also qualified him for the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash., a championship he never thought he would play in again.
“It will be seven years since my last one (a missed cut in 2008 at Torrey Pines). If I can play the way I did that first round at Oak Tree, well that 65 would have stood up in anyone’s game,” he said. “If I can do that consistently, I have a chance to compete. I’m not saying to win, but at least compete. It’s a great challenge.”
His approach will be much more relaxed than the one he took in his previous 16 U.S. Open starts.
“I used to go into those things as the No. 2- and No. 3-ranked player in the world and there was a lot of pressure to perform,” Montgomerie said. “Now, it’s very different. It’s more relaxed. I hate to say it doesn’t matter, but how many putts do you hole when you don’t care as much? Those tend to go in. The more pressure and stress you put on it, the more you miss. It’s strange.”
Montgomerie will try to defend his U.S. Senior Open title the week after the U.S. Open at Del Paso Country Club in Sacramento, Calif., and attempt to become just the fourth winner of consecutive U.S. Senior Opens, joining Miller Barber (1984-85), Gary Player (1987-88) and Allen Doyle (2005-06).
“I’ve heard they are two totally different layouts, so I much prefer to play the tougher one first and get that done with,” he said. “It will be a great two weeks for me. I’m really looking forward to playing both of them.”
While more positive interactions with fans have helped his public image, so too has his role as a television analyst for Sky Sports, NBC and Golf Channel.
“It’s given me an opportunity to be myself more and to have a bit of a laugh and fun with the guys. I give my opinions from a player’s perspective,” he said.
The irony of the role is not lost on the man who often had a contentious relationship with the media and fans over the years. At the 2002 U.S. Open, Golf Digest printed “Be Nice to Monty” pins.
“I turn up at The Masters this year and I have a media badge on and think, bloody hell? What’s happened?” said Montgomerie, laughing. “Full circle. But at the same time, it has been super, as has getting to know the guys like Johnny Miller, Brandel Chamblee and Frank Nobilo a bit more.”
As for the state of golf in general, Montgomerie echoes many when he says the critical point is addressing slow play.
“We have to find ways of playing in less time,” he said. “It might be digging bigger holes, which might sound stupid to some, but if it takes half an hour or 45 minutes off your round, then it might be worth trying. It’s taking too long to play the game of golf. It’s amazing how in tournaments we’ve allowed the first group four hours and 40 minutes to play a round. Well, you’re stuffed if that’s the first group! I’m not sure how, but putting everyone on the clock in these tournaments would be a start. Why wait until they’re out of position? Do it from the word go. Have a shot clock like in other sports. If you don’t play within the time, you are penalized.”
Until that happens, Montgomerie will continue to enjoy his winning ways on the Champions Tour and his improved relationship with American fans.
“I will go to Sacramento next year and really feel proud to be the defending U.S. Senior Open champion,” he said.
Tom Mackin is an Arizona-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.