Tending to every detail for his Ryder Cup team, Europe’s captain finally gets his major

By Jim Litke, AP
Monday, October 4, 2010

Monty: ‘The greatest moment of my golfing career.’

NEWPORT, Wales — Colin Montgomerie finally has his major.

Maybe not the one he had in mind at the beginning of his career. But there is no more fitting bookend.

Monty played in eight Ryder Cups, won five, went unbeaten in singles throughout, and contributed the second-most points of any European player in history. For all that, there was no question where this one ranked.

“This,” he said, standing alongside the gold chalice at closing ceremonies, “is the greatest moment of my golfing career.”

The dour, finicky 47-year-old Scot, like U.S. counterpart Corey Pavin, didn’t hit a shot in any of the 28, often stop-and-start matches that stretched out over four days due to rain. But from start to thrilling finish, Montgomerie hit just about every note right.

Weeks before the teams arrived at Celtic Manor, he walked through the place, inspecting every inch. At one point, he stopped outside what would become Europe’s team room, looked at the hinges on the door and ordered them changed on the spot. Montgomerie insisted that the door swing in, rather than out, if only to make sure none of his players inadvertently got hit walking in just as another was walking out.

His attention to detail hardly ended there. Appropriately, it was the very last decision he made, slotting cool-as-they-come Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell in the 12th and final singles slot Monday, that paid the biggest dividend in a match decided by the slimmest of margins.

“He’s everything there is in the Ryder Cup,” McDowell said after delivering the winning point in Europe’s 14 1/2-13 1/2 win. “To be able to do that for him today was really special.”

Unless he’s playing, the leader of any team can only do so much. That didn’t keep Monty from trying to steal any advantage anywhere he could.

His stars, Englishmen Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Poulter, outshined the U.S. trio of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk. His most controversial captain’s pick, Padraig Harrington, the three-time major winner he chose over Paul Casey, proved enough of a steadying influence to squire rookie Ross Fisher to wins in both foursomes (alternate shot) and fourballs (better ball). All of his other rookies contributed at least a half-point or more, too. He talked about the difference of putting in match play until he was blue in the face, and unlike the Americans, his players left precious few of their tries short.

Heck, the Europeans’ rain gear even worked better in the downpours that turned the Twenty Ten course into a soggy bog.

“All credit to Monty for everything he’s done this week,” assistant captain Darren Clarke said. “The way he’s gone through everything has been meticulous, but this is what you’ll have to do for the future. He’s been sensational.”

Yet Montgomerie also knows disappointment. His best playing days are far enough behind him to know he’ll never win the British Open, the major he wanted most growing up as a golfing prodigy and the son of the secretary at Royal Troon. Ditto for the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA Championship — the last two of which he’d already lost in playoffs.

Asked whether this made up for those elusive majors, Montgomerie did not hesitate.

“Oh, yes. I’d never go back at all. I only want to go forward,” he said. “There’s a different responsibility being captain than there is playing. Playing is a whole different responsibility and a whole different feel.

“It was my job to try and manage these great players this week and try to make them feel as comfortable as possible and to play their best. And I always said, if they can play to their potential, we would win. And I truly believe they did, and therefore, we did.”

On the eve of the matches, Montgomerie fretted that even his speech at Thursday’s opening ceremony could prove decisive. Left off the 2008 European team that was beaten at Valhalla, he refused to criticize then-captain Nick Faldo, a longtime Ryder Cup playing partner whose clumsy stabs at humor that year were roundly slammed.

In his speech, much the same way he plays the game, Monty hit it straight down the middle. But after Pavin forgot to mention U.S. golfer Stewart Cink during player introductions, the competitor in Montgomerie couldn’t let it slide by without a dig.

“We,” he said through a sly grin, “are 1 up.”

In retrospect, the Europeans may have started this competition further ahead than that. Montgomerie partnered or played for nearly every important figure in European golf during the last two decades — among them, Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Sam Torrance and Seve Ballesteros — and gleaned something from each.

So when both captains chose motivational speakers to talk to their teams, Montgomerie turned to Ballesteros. The Spaniard joined the Ryder Cup team in 1979, when, in a bid to make the matches competitive once more, the European selection process was opened to golfers from the continent. He went on to become European golf’s most inspirational figure.

Today, that legacy remains undimmed, even though Ballesteros hasn’t been seen in public for nearly two years while he battles brain cancer. His last appearance in a Ryder Cup was as captain of the winning side at Valderrama in 1997. Monty arranged for his former teammate and captain to talk to the European squad via speakerphone from the fishing village along Spain’s wind-swept northern coast, where Ballesteros first learned to play golf.

As champagne flowed on every side, Sergio Garcia, the slumping Spanish golfer whom Montgomerie added to the squad as an assistant captain, fought back tears. He said he hoped the win might give back some small bit of the fighting spirit Ballesteros’ talk had instilled in the team.

“I hope,” Garcia said, “he’s proud of us.”

Leave it to Montgomerie to make sure that was so.

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke (at)ap.org

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