Colin Montgomerie says I he has a problem and, like a certain U.S. president, it has to do with his legacy. Montgomerie, 37, has been a good golfer for a long time. He has led the European tour in earnings for an unprecedented seven straight years. He has 34 victories worldwide. He hasn't lost a singles match in five Ryder Cups. Yet because he has won neither a major nor any Tour event in the U.S., Montgomerie is worried that he won't be remembered as a great golfer.
Montgomerie recently concluded that the odds on filling the holes in his r�sum� will go down if his appearances in the U.S. go up, for two reasons: the law of averages and the benefits of playing on a more competitive tour. The latter was driven home last month at the Standard Life Loch Lomond in Glasgow, where he was outplayed down the stretch by Ernie Els and Tom Lehman. "It was a bit of a wake-up call," says Montgomerie. "The competition in America makes players that little bit tougher." The point was reemphasized the next week at St. Andrews, where U.S. players dominated the British Open and Montgomerie, tense and pressing, finished 26th.
Montgomerie knows what he needs to do, but here's the catch: He abhors playing in the States. He has been scarred by the years of fan abuse and is angry at CBS analyst David Feherty for making fun of him on television. "Feherty has a lot to answer for," says Montgomerie. "Americans think his Irish humor is funny, but we see through it."
In his current state of mind it's all Montgomerie can do to come to America for the three majors. "It's hellish," he says of the heckling. "Very, very difficult to put aside. It has almost gotten to the point where I know if I got into contention, I couldn't possibly get over that hurdle and win. The emotional hurdle would be 10 times higher than would be the golf." Montgomerie isn't the first player to go through something like this. Jack Nicklaus was hammered by Arnie's Army. Gary Player had it even worse. Anti-apartheid protesters threw ice at him, heckled him and, during the 1969 PGA, tried to assault him on the course. Player almost won that tournament. "I dealt with it by not fighting back," he says. "I didn't fight fire with fire." If Montgomerie is truly concerned about his legacy, he must respond as Nicklaus and Player did. He needs to get tough.
Montgomerie's capable of it. During the Ryder Cup at Brookline, he got so mad at the jeering fans that he turned stoic, and silenced the crowd by making putt after crucial putt. But more often he's undone by the hecklers. He mopes, he sulks, he has fans ejected. (He reportedly had eight spectators removed at Pebble Beach during the U.S. Open.) The bottom line is that Montgomerie is soft. Being impervious to spectators is as important as having a sound swing. That's why the other players roll their eyes when they hear him complain. Montgomerie is losing this game, and the more he insists that he's a victim, that he deserves justice, that he's in the right, the more he's in the wrong. "Colin is smart, but nobody likes a smart-ass," says his agent, Guy Kinnings. "He has to learn that sometimes there are more important things than being right—like being happy."
To achieve that blessed state Montgomerie must do two things. First, he has to suck it up and roll with the punches, fair or not. (Isn't that the first lesson of golf?) Second, he should come to the U.S. Every top international golfer who has played long stints in America has been better off for it—from Bobby Locke to Nick Faldo. As great as Seve Ballesteros was, he would have been greater had he played the PGA Tour. Same goes for Jos� Mar�a Olaz�bal.
Monty, go with your gut. It's not too late to change your legacy. Ten years from now you may not have won your major or even a Tour event. You may not have enjoyed your time over here. But when you're making an accounting of your career, at least you'll be able to say that you didn't leave anything in the bag.