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For someone who is more associated with the west coast of Scotland Colin Montgomerie has a long and deep affinity with St Andrews. He represented Scotland there in the Dunhill Cup as far back as 1988, they would famously beat England in the final seven years later, and he also has a Dunhill Links title on his CV when he edged past Kenny Ferrie. Earlier that year he came close to rewriting the history books with an Open success at the Home of Golf. Not since James Braid in 1910 won The Open had a Scot prevailed around the Old Course and, for three and a half rounds, Montgomerie was right in it.
Tiger Woods would outlast him then, to make it back-to-back victories around St Andrews, but the flame for the most famous piece of golfing turf still burns bright. Had he not been playing in a senior major he would have given Open qualifying a go this year and, if he was to play one last shot, it would be the approach to the 18th at St Andrews.
The course designer Pat Ruddy says, along the lines of this, of St Andrews – ‘Every time I see the Old Course, it makes me want to cry’ – how do you feel about the place?
It’s the most iconic golfing sight in the world, you can throw your Pebble Beaches into a cocked hat, this is it. It’s the Home of Golf and, when you see the signs for St Andrews and being a Scot and so proud of what they have there, you can get emotional over driving into the town. It’s a fabulous town; the university, the shops, the golfing tradition, the West Sands beach, the history of the place. You see the Old Course Hotel on the left and then you drive past the clubhouse and the 18th – how many courses finish into the town? It’s so special, it’s the best of the best.
I can honestly say that anyone who is part of this year’s Open will have that romanticism about the place, it is phenomenal. Someone will hole a putt on that final green to win The Open and I won’t miss a shot and I’m not even playing.
What do you make of the opening tee shot?
It’s actually a very poor opening tee shot if you were thinking about major championship golf. It’s more ceremonial, as a professional if you can’t hit an area of 110 yards with an iron the you shouldn’t really be there but there will be someone who hits it out of bounds right on the first day, particularly if the wind is off the left. You are thinking more about the second shot where you have to get over the burn and yet not too far over the burn as you don’t want to be three-putting down the hill.
Related post: What's it like playing the Old Course?
In 2016, when I qualified at Royal Troon, the R&A’s Martin Slumbers came to me and said that they were starting this tradition of someone local or with an affiliation to the club would be hitting the opening tee shot and would I like to? I can tell you that it was busy at 6.35am, I was paired with Mark Leishman and Luke Donald and they were delighted as that was the best part of the day. I wonder who it will be this year?
You’ve played in 22 Opens, St Andrews in 1990 was the first as well as being your first major, what do you remember about that occasion and how does it suit your game?
The draw came out and I was paired with Tim Simpson and Lee Trevino. Trevino never shut up but he was wonderful to play with, he relaxed everybody and I made the cut. My first round there was a few years previous to that, I had always played more on the west coast, and my first Dunhill Cup for Scotland was 1988 just after I had turned pro.
I’ve had some success at St Andrews as I’ve generally been on the right side of the fairway. The beauty of St Andrews is that’s where the trouble is but you’ll have a great line in, you can hook everything off the tee but you’ll never score, it’s all about angles. My fade was perfect, left is safe but you’re not scoring.
What is the most underrated hole?
You can put the 12th on any course with that plateau. It’s not much over 300 yards but there are so many bogeys where your approach will spin back down off the slope and you’ll take three putts, it’s a super hole. After you’ve parred 11 you think that you’ve done OK and there’s a bit of a chance of a birdie. You tend to switch off on birdie holes and that’s when it gets you, there are a lot of fives at the 12th.
The first time that I played it I was the same as anyone, what’s this all about? The 9th is as flat as a pancake and you’d get shot if you designed that hole nowadays but, with the wind off the right and those two bunkers, it’s game on. It’s so flat but the subtle breaks are amazing and you can talk about every hole that way, it’s an extraordinary place.
The Road Hole 17th has always played as the hardest hole on the Open rota, what’s the best way to tackle it?
Again, it’s a fade off the tee down that wall and that’s the only way in. The tee shot suits me but the second shot doesn’t as the fade is going against the hole – the ideal is to fade your drive and draw your second shot. I’ll try and play for that front right of the green and two-putt up the hill. It gets quite narrow towards the road on the right and you can easily go over. You can be short right but not too short as the angles get worse. It’s an amazing golf course and, the more you play it, the more you appreciate it.
St Andrews has also provided you with your best finish in an Open when you were second behind Tiger Woods in 2005. How special a week was that, to be in contention with Tiger at an Open at the Home of Golf?
The support that I had was phenomenal, I’d never seen so many Saltire flags. To go out with Tiger, last off on the Saturday, is something that I will always treasure. I just wish that I had been playing better, I wasn’t putting as well as I could and, to really compete with him, I really had to hole out, like not miss, and I didn’t. I got within one at the turn with 27 holes to play and again I was close the following day around the turn but the wind picked up on the Saturday and Sunday which played into his hands more than me. He could get over these bunkers and I couldn’t. I’ll never forget that feeling on the 1st tee, being Scottish at the Home of Golf and being The Open, it’s the perfect storm. It was unbelievable.
What would you predict for this year’s Championship?
I do worry in some ways about having a flat calm morning on Thursday or Friday and somebody getting off to an outrageous start. You could pick up a lot of early birdies and then you’re into the the loop and the scoring holes and then you’re thinking can someone break 60? If someone scores 13 under for a round of golf then good luck to them but I don’t want it to happen at St Andrews, it wouldn’t be right somehow. If it’s calm and the pins aren’t hidden too much, and they will have to tuck them away, and you can get to pins with wedges then I fear for it and I don’t want to. It doesn’t deserve to have a 59 on it.
Colin was playing in the One Green Way Invitational pro-am at Quinta do Lago
Mark has worked in golf for over 20 years having started off his journalistic life at the Press Association and BBC Sport before moving to Sky Sports where he became their golf editor on skysports.com. He then worked at National Club Golfer and Lady Golfer where he was the deputy editor and he has interviewed many of the leading names in the game, both male and female, ghosted columns for the likes of Robert Rock, Charley Hull and Dame Laura Davies, as well as playing the vast majority of our Top 100 GB&I courses. He loves links golf with a particular love of Royal Dornoch and Kingsbarns. He is now a freelance, also working for the PGA and Robert Rock. Loves tour golf, both men and women and he remains the long-standing owner of an horrific short game. He plays at Moortown with a handicap of 6.
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