Confidence in the US camp has been restored thanks to the task force set up in the wake of a 16½-11½ hammering at Gleneagles in 2014. It came up with a winning formula at Hazeltine last year and that success was then backed up by a thumping victory against the Internationals in the Presidents Cup in October.
That double boost led one leading American golf writer to predict a “decade-plus of blowouts” for the US in the Ryder Cup, saying they had players who are “young, talented and hungry” at a time when many of those who helped Europe win eight out of ten matches are heading into the twilight of their careers.
“Whoever that was has to be careful what they are saying,” said Montgomerie, Europe’s Ryder Cup talisman as a player before winning as a captain at Celtic Manor in 2010. “We never said it had become irrelevant when we won six out of seven or eight out of ten, did we?
“I can certainly understand what someone is saying about the US having some confident and very good players at the moment, but we have a couple of extras coming in there in Jon Rahm and Tommy Fleetwood. They’ll be in next year’s team and that is only getting better from the one that lost at Hazeltine in 2016. I anticipate a very close match indeed in Paris.
“If it was needed, we have always looked upon ourselves as underdogs going into a Ryder Cup and we are now. The Americans are strong, we know that. But over 18 holes of match play anything can happen – and generally it does. I think they will have to win the way we did, ie three in a row, before people can start talking about the tide perhaps having turned.”
As he prepares for the start of the new Champions Tour season in Hawaii next month, Montgomerie has linked up with coach Kevin Craggs, who also works with Catriona Matthew, paying a visit to Kingsfield Golf Centre on the outskirts of Linlithgow last month to see him and come up with a plan to save shots around the greens.
“I drove the ball well and my irons were good this year and I also putted very well,” said the 54-year-old, speaking at an Aberdeen Standard Investments golf clinic. “But my chipping and pitching wasn’t up to scratch. I went to Kevin about ten years ago and he was excellent. I must admit that he’s the most enthusiastic and positive coach I’ve ever had and he was terrific when I went to see him recently.
“Kevin is going to help me out because whereas someone like Bernhard Langer turns 69s into 66s with good chipping and putting, I tend to do it the other way around. I need to improve when it comes to shot wastage.”
Montgomerie, who was pleased to end his 2017 campaign with two wins, including one in Japan, after being out with a nasty ankle injury earlier in the year, is to make a rare return to the European Tour when he lines up in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic at the end of January.
“It will be my first time in Dubai for six or seven years. It [the Majlis layout at Emirates Golf Club] is the one course of the three in the Middle East Swing that I feel I can still get round. The others are a wee bit long, but this one isn’t. You see Miguel Angel Jimenez’s success [a closing 63 as he finished in the top ten] recently on a course in Hong Kong that was 6,800 yards long. Dubai is still around 7,000 yards so it is very playable and I feel like I can do OK there.
“I’m looking forward to it. It’s just the distance to Dubai from Hawaii, where I’m playing the previous week. It is crazy the distances I am travelling these days, to be honest. I thought that when I turned 50 I might ease up a bit, but that hasn’t happened. I’m as busy now if not busier than I have ever been. It’s because of the extra travel back and forward from the States. My golf used to involve going to places like France, Switzerland, Stockholm etc. It’s three weeks before I get started again, but I can’t wait to get out to Hawaii.”