COLIN Montgomerie fears Sergio Garcia could step on to the first tee at this week’s US Open at Merion to a chorus of boos as the Spaniard makes his first appearance on American soil since aiming a perceived racist remark towards Tiger Woods.
Few people are in a better position to talk about being a target of abuse from fans on the other side of the Atlantic than Montgomerie, who constantly ran the gauntlet of drink-fuelled spectators at American events when he was the long-time European No 1.
At the 1997 US Open, the Scot responded to one of the obscenities aimed at him and later admitted that had been a mistake as he “paid for it for about ten years”, the abuse getting so bad, in fact, that, for the same event at Bethpage in 2002, Golf Digest led a ‘Be Nice To Monty’ campaign by printing 25,000 badges carrying that slogan.
“There might not be badges sent out, the way they were for me, but I think Sergio could well be booed, which would be most unfortunate,” said Montgomerie in offering his view on what might be waiting for the Spaniard this week on the back of the “fried chicken” comment towards Woods on the eve of last month’s PGA Championship at Wentworth.
Garcia admitted it had been “stupid and out of place” as he made an unreserved apology to the world No 1 and is hoping to get the chance to meet Woods face-to-face at the season’s second major to clear the air over a spat that had escalated out of control since last month’s Players’ Championship at Sawgrass
“It would be sad for our game if Sergio is booed, but we’re only a couple of hours from New York this week and it’s a lively crowd, so I think he could well be,” added Montgomerie, whose unsavoury experiences with American fans also included the 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline.
There, the heckling and abuse got so bad that Payne Stewart, playing the Scot in the last-day singles, picked his ball up on the 18th fairway and halved the match out of courtesy to his opponent.
“I think Sergio is going to have a difficult time this week so the best thing he can do is play his golf and score 66 on the first day as that will silence all the critics,” said the 2010 Ryder Cup-winning captain. “It was a thing I tried to do and failed miserably at it.
“At least Sergio could plan for this because it’s expected for him. If it’s unexpected, you ask, ‘what the hell is that all about, I’m not ready for that’.
So at least he’s prepared for it. He spoke to me at Wentworth on the Thursday or Friday
and he said ‘it’s going to be difficult in America’. I said, ‘I know it is, but you get on with it and play your golf’. That’s all he can do.
“If he can go to America this week and compete, and I mean top ten, he’ll do extremely well with what’s due to be the scenes there for him, unfortunately.”