John Huggan: Montgomerie never stood out that much

NEWS last week that a transplanted Glaswegian, Douglas Alexander, has taken over as president of “Golf Canada” – the Canuck version of the Scottish Golf Union – underlined the fact that, no matter where you go or look in the world of golf, there is likely to be found a son or daughter of Caledonia.

Angus Moir along with John Huggan, front right and Colin Montgomerie, back centre in 1984. Picture: Contributed
Angus Moir along with John Huggan, front right and Colin Montgomerie, back centre in 1984. Picture: Contributed

Truly, we are all over the place. You name it, we are operating at the highest levels of the game globally. Players, club professionals, coaches, caddies, referees, administrators, businesspeople, journalists – Scots have just about every aspect of our national sport covered.

One who has done – and is doing – his bit on more than one of those diverse fronts is Ellon native Angus Moir. Now based in Hilversum in the Netherlands and currently general manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa for the multi-national sports conglomerate Nike, the 1984 Scottish Amateur champion and former assistant professional at Cruden Bay has eyed the game from a variety of angles during his 50-and-a-bit years.

Way back in 1983, Moir even found time to carry your correspondent round Portmarnock in the morning foursomes of the Scotland versus England match at the Home Internationals. A heavy load indeed, although the happy result was a 6&5 victory over soon-to-be Ryder Cup player David Gilford and future Spanish Open champion Andrew Sherborne. Go figure.

So the Moir career in golf has been one of great variety, if not always great success. Like so many leading amateurs, the former Scottish Youths champion struggled in vain to make the transition into the paid ranks.

“I turned professional at the end of 1985,” says Moir. “Maybe misguidedly, I had set my heart on making the Walker Cup team that year. The match was held at Pine Valley and I carried around a wee cutting about the course in my wallet. Winning the Scottish in ’84 gave me a chance to make the side, but, when I came back from college in Houston [St Thomas University] for the Home Internationals at Royal Troon, I played very poorly. It was a bit of a disaster really. I think I lost every match I played.

“The next summer wasn’t any better. I missed the cut in the Scottish Stroke-play Championship and my chances of Walker Cup were all but gone. So I then did what so many do after not making that team – I turned pro. After my time at Cruden Bay, I went to the European Tour school at La Manga in 1987 and failed there. I remember coming in after my opening round of 72 and thinking that wasn’t a bad start. Then I looked at the board and found that Steen Tinning of Denmark had shot 61. I think I knew then I wasn’t really good enough.

“Anyway, not long after that an opportunity came up to join Wilson Sports as a technical rep. So I took it. I’m thankful now that I did. It was a great start in the golf business. I ended up running Wilson’s global golf business from their headquarters in Chicago for three years.”

With Nike since 2009, Moir has had a close-up view of the contribution modern equipment has made to a game steeped in tradition. Not everyone – this writer, for example – is totally enamoured with the way the game, especially at the highest level, has evolved in the 21st century.

“How far the ball goes and the role of technology in the game is part of a bigger discussion golf needs to be having,” counters Moir. “The professional game seems to be in reasonable health. The likes of Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods are playing for extraordinary amounts of money. And even the guys around the 100-mark in the rankings make a great living. But if you peel the onion a little bit, the overall state of the game isn’t as good as it could be.

“We need to look at how long it can take to play a round of golf, how difficult the game is and how much it costs. People these days have less time on their hands and golf needs to react to that. The 18-hole model has to change. We need to put more smiles on faces. Golf is tough, but it has to be fun too. And that’s where we come in.

“It has to be a concern that golf has never been easier to play in terms of the “help” you get from modern equipment, yet fewer people seem to be taking up the game. My feeling is that the time factor is the biggest thing contributing to that. Golf maybe needs to market itself in a different way. It has an image problem in that many people think it is too much of a rich man’s sport. And some clubs are seen as unwelcoming. While I might disagree with some of those views, there is no doubt that those are widely held perceptions. We need to change that. It’s a big challenge for all of us.”

Still, amidst any middle-aged angst he may be feeling over the state of the game that has dominated his life, Moir is able to look back on his playing career with nothing but affection. He is especially fond of recalling the, ahem, incredibly lucky bunker shot he holed at Renfrew’s 14th hole during a closely-contested quarter-final en route to his Scottish title.

“I look back on my own golf as hugely enjoyable,” he says. “Winning the Scottish was the obvious highlight, especially my victory in the quarter-final. And I loved playing for Great Britain & Ireland in the St Andrews Trophy against the Continent of Europe at Saunton in 1984. They had a young lad by the name of Olazabal in their side. I often wonder what happened to him.

“Later in life, I have to say playing to the reasonable level that I did has opened many doors for me. Many times over the years, I’ve been described as a ‘former Scottish champion’. It has been a great help. Golf has been very good to me. I’ve seen a lot of the world, played some wonderful courses and met all kinds of interesting people.

“When I look back at those I played with and against, I must admit I wouldn’t have said Colin Montgomerie was going to be the one who would win eight Orders of Merit. He was always good, but he never stood out that much to me.

“As for my own game, if I’m honest with myself I probably wasn’t quite dedicated enough. Yes, I was a decent player, but you have to be so much better than that these days. Plus, I probably wasn’t enough of a bastard to make it. So many of the players I came across had an air of arrogance about them – you need a wee bit of that in any walk of life – but that was never me. To get to the very top in any competitive sport you have to be both single-minded and self-absorbed. I never had that kind of self-belief.”

Maybe not. But Angus Moir was a fine player. And he remains a good man. Still haven’t quite forgiven him for that bunker shot though.