UNTIL forming a beach-head at the tiny bar in Durban airport’s departure lounge last Sunday night, Alastair McLean thought he’d witnessed it all – through thick and thin – with Colin Montgomerie.
“In 22 years, I’ve never seen him have a whisky,” declared the Fifer, who caddied for Montgomerie in all but a handful of his 31 European Tour title triumphs and is back for a third spell on his compatriot’s bag. “I’ve barely seen him have a glass of wine, though he occasionally has the odd beer.”
While the choice of tipple may have been a surprise, Montgomerie makes no secret of the fact he often has a couple of refreshments on such occasions to try to help ease his fear of flying, something the Scot has found himself doing more often since joining the senior ranks last summer.
That move prompted Montgomerie to phone McLean, the pair having formed a winning partnership over the most successful 11 years of the player’s career, winning a record eight European Tour Orders of Merit and racking up seven Ryder Cup appearances.
First reunited for the 2004 Ryder Cup after a two-year split, Montgomerie then went on to claim his last Order of Merit title in 2005. But, despite that success, he ditched McLean again in 2007. Since then McLean has caddied for Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Alvaro Quiros and Simon Dyson but, like Montgomerie himself, the 58-year-old was ready for a new challenge when that call came through.
More than six months on, a first European Senior Tour title is already in the bag – Montgomerie romped to victory in the Travis Perkins Senior Masters at Woburn last August – and the pair are hopeful success on the Champions Tour in America will also be on the cards this season.
“It was nice that Colin called and it was also a nice time as my situation had just changed,” McLean told The Scotsman before boarding a flight to the United Arab Emirates, where Montgomerie played in last week’s HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship after starting his 2014 campaign in the Volvo Golf Champions. “I’d not only just finished caddying for someone on the European Tour but also sold our flat in Glasgow and moved everything over to America. I’m now based in Charlotte and it has worked out well because when Colin said he was going to be playing mainly on the Champions Tour, that made the decision to link up with him again a lot easier.”
McLean laughs when it is put to him that eyebrows were raised when he swapped the jet ski he was riding off the Carolina coast for the capricious Montgomerie’s bag once again. “While it’s quite common for people to get married a second time, I can’t think of anyone who’s done it three times,” he joked. “But we know each other and also respect each other. I know what he expects and we both have boundaries. Monty has always been funny, but he’s a lot more relaxed now. Now the playing field is level again in terms of distances, it is fun for him once more and that feeds back to me.”
With his 60th birthday on the horizon, McLean is starting to feel aches and pains from lugging giant Tour bags around courses that have got increasingly longer since he first started out. “I feel things hurt now that didn’t hurt a few years ago, whether it’s something in my shoulder or back,” he said. “At least Monty knows I’m getting old and tries to keep the bag lighter by leaving as much as possible out of it.”
Montgomerie believes the pair have “unfinished business”, setting his sights on the regular major they missed out on. “That would be nice, but it’s a wee retirement plan for me,” said McLean. “Five years probably, though I’ll probably be on my knees by then. Whether you’re a caddie or a player, however, you can’t beat winning and that’s one thing Monty has been awesome at in his career.”
McLean remains a member of Lundin, where he cut his own golfing teeth and got a taste for caddying with Sandy Stephen, the club’s former Scottish Boys, Amateur and Professional champion. “My next round there is probably going to be one of the most expensive in the game’s history because it’s been so long,” he said. “But I will always pay my membership because it’s an awesome club and they were so good for me when I was young.”
While another Lundin member, Michael Thompson, is also working on the European Tour for Brooks Koepka, McLean reckons caddying is undergoing a sea change. “A lot of them these these days are either friends or college team-mates,” he said. “It’s tough out there today, both for players and caddies.”
He’d have no problems getting people to drink to that.