Senior Open: Colin Montgomerie in the driving seat

Colin Montgomerie lifts the Alfred S Bourne Trophy after winning his first 'major', the 2014 Senior PGA Championship at Benton Harbour, Michigan, in May. Picture: Getty
Colin Montgomerie lifts the Alfred S Bourne Trophy after winning his first 'major', the 2014 Senior PGA Championship at Benton Harbour, Michigan, in May. Picture: Getty
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IT’S 455 miles from Dunning to Porthcawl, the journey Colin Montgomerie will make to play in the Senior Open Championship starting in south Wales on Thursday. In comparison with some of the road trips he has made this year, though, it will almost feel like popping into Perth or Auchterarder.

To play in Champions Tour events in America, the eight-times European No.1 has driven thousands of miles on road trips during which he has visited Florida, California, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Michigan, Georgia, Illinois, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania.

“Bloody hell,” he exclaimed, having come out from behind the wheel to chew the fat with a posse of golf writers over a breakfast hosted by HSBC during the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool. “Talk about the length and breadth of America. I forgot it was that big.

“There are times I’ve started a trip and thought ‘god, this is longer than I thought’. The longest I’ve done is LA to Biloxi, Mississippi, which is 1,600 miles and took me two days…with wife [Gaynor] and still married afterwards. That was a good effort. West Texas was a little bit boring. 830 miles of Texas. Nothing.”

More than two years ago, Montgomerie made a 900-mile overnight drive from Wentworth to Perthshire to pick up a putter for the US Open qualifier at Walton Heath. He simply prefers to go to as many places as he can by road rather than jumping on a plane and getting there much quicker.

“It relaxes me,” he insisted. “This year I’ve also driven from New York down to North Carolina then back up over to Chicago. The average between events is about 10-12 hours of driving. I put on XM radio and listen to all sorts of crap. The sensible players fly. They go above me with no traffic lights. I do the road trip.

“I’ve seen all sorts that I’ve never seen before. On the drive from Birmingham, Alabama up to Benton Harbour, Illinois, I went through Elizabethtown. I didn’t know Abraham Lincoln was born there. I also went to Bowling Green, Kentucky – all the Corvettes were made there. I was getting a history lesson on the way and I really love it.”

Spending more time in America than he has ever done has coincided with Montgomerie’s management company, IMG, being bought by Hollywood-based William Morris Endeavour. Has that brought any nice perks? “We went to Las Vegas last week and got Celine Dion tickets for the Colosseum. My wife likes her. It was Independence Day, so it was a big do. Marvellous. And they were good seats… funny that, eh?”

At Porthcawl, Montgomerie will be the box-office attraction. It’s not only in a car, after all, that his driving skills have been polished this year. Two over-50s majors have fallen to him. In May, he held off both Tom Watson and Bernhard Langer to win the Senior PGA Championship at the aforementioned Benton Harbour. Then, just a week ago, he added the US Senior Open in a play-off after overturning a four-shot deficit heading into the final round.

“Yes, that’s me two majors up this year on both Tiger and Rory,” he said, laughing. “You wait 24 years for something to happen and two majors turn up around the same time – it’s amazing. I definitely feel it’s been a case of getting a monkey off my back, especially in America.

“I think it’s just a confidence thing. I gained a bit of that from the way I played at Benton Harbour in the Senior PGA and that gives you confidence. You know that you’ve beaten these guys once then feel you can go out and do it again.

“I really do feel as though I am playing as well now as I did in the ’90s and Alastair [his caddie Alastair McLean] would back that up. Technology has improved, of course, and I’m hitting the ball further and also straighter than I did when I was winning my Order of Merit titles. But I feel as though I am playing as well tee to green and especially so around the green as I ever did.”

Eyebrows were raised when Montgomerie secured membership of golf’s Hall of Fame despite the fact he had failed to win a regular major. It got him on to the Champions Tour last season without having to go through the Qualifying School.

“I feel I belong there now,” he admitted. “As a Hall of Famer, I was using an invite category and I’m delighted that’s not the case any more. I can use a winner’s category. I feel that I can walk a bit taller in locker-rooms now.”

In an event won back-to-back by Brian Barnes in the mid-’90s, Montgomerie will be locking horns again with both Watson and Langer. His title rivals will also include the pony-tailed Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez as he makes his debut in the event.

“I’m very proud to be coming home as a major champion,” Montgomerie confessed. “I’ve never been west of Cardiff before, so never seen Royal Porthcawl.

“They have added Royal Portrush to the Open rota and they are looking at Porthcawl, and we are sort of testing it out, so we’ll see how it goes.”