Winning changes everything, but the transformative powers of golf’s greatest event never seemed more acute than when watching Europe’s Ryder Cup players disappear into the night to celebrate the defeat of the United States at Celtic Manor.
There they were, shoving, giggling, arms around one another’s shoulders — millionaire sportsmen into giddy schoolboys, ultimate competitors into the ultimate team — and there in the middle of it all, as he had been all week, stood Colin Montgomerie, who has long been one of the most divisive figures in the game but who for one week at least had turned into the father figure of European golf.
“We wanted to do it for Monty,” said Padraig Harrington after Sam Ryder’s coveted bauble had been returned to European hands. “I think everybody in the team was aware that this was the one opportunity he would get to really cap off an unbelievable Ryder Cup career and we didn’t want to let him down.”
The Irishman is a good friend of Montgomerie, so maybe he would say that. But what about Ian Poulter, who has had two highly public and highly publicised rows with the Scot in the past few years but who seemed to have no greater desire this week than to keep his old verbal sparring partner happy? “Going into singles I told the captain, put me wherever you want, I will get you a point. And I did,” he said, beaming.
Montgomerie beamed back. Friends reunited, Ryder Cup-style. And there was more of the same as the 2010 captain identified Jose Maria Olazabal as his preferred candidate for the 2012 captaincy at Medinah. “I think he has watched what was done this time and he has notes over his playing career the same as mine. We both played eight Ryder Cups — and a lot of them together — so he has a lot of experience, as much as I have, and he will do as good if not a better job than I did,” he said.
Eighteen months ago Montgomerie and Olazabal were not on speaking terms, choosing instead to air a misunderstanding about the offer of a vice-captaincy to the Spaniard for the Celtic Manor match through media outlets. But when the call for help went out, as it did when bad weather forced the captains to put six pairings out on the course at the same time, Olazabal, on site as an “ambassador” for a coffee-machine company, gladly accepted his battlefield promotion. He became a vice-captain alongside Sergio Garcia, Paul McGinley, Thomas Bjorn and Darren Clarke — the last two of whom have endured a fractious relationship with the Scot down the years.
There are two sides to every enmity, of course, so the blame for whatever went on in the past does not rest entirely with Montgomerie. But acknowledging that does mean ignoring the fact that the Scot has two distinct sides to his personality, as he himself has admitted. He can be charming and he can be inspirational but he can be jaw-droppingly rude, the last man you might want to call upon in your moment of greatest need.
Rightly, much has been made of the “little things” Montgomerie got right during his captaincy — not forgetting to mention a member of his team at the opening ceremony and waterproof suits that kept the rain out, to name but two — and the impact such minor details have on morale. Whereas his American counterpart, Corey Pavin, made a point of stopping his players using Twitter, the Scot let Poulter and Graeme McDowell tweet away, knowing it could help forge the bond between team and fans.
But what helped the European effort most of all was Montgomerie’s achievement in bringing only the best of himself to Wales. All week the media were waiting for the voluble Scot to do his best Krakatoa impersonation and, God knows, he had plenty of chances. At various times during play Pavin was to be seen hovering around match referees as rules decisions were made that, apart from being an insult to the officials, seemed to be a senseless waste of energy. Montgomerie stayed well clear of any such potential controversy, saving himself for better things.
Publicly every member of the team spoke glowingly about the way he conducted himself in the team room. Of course they did. But off-camera and away from the microphone the compliments aimed his way were no less effusive . “He keeps the speeches short and there is none of the rah-rah stuff. He mostly concentrates on the golf and the players sit and listen to him, rapt,” one member of the European team’s backroom staff said.
Westwood, the on-course “captain” of the team, identified Montgomerie’s Ryder Cup history as the source of this respect. “I grew up watching Colin. I went to the Ryder Cup in 1993 and I stood on the 10th tee when Colin was playing at The Belfry. He’s got a long record of great Ryder Cup results and built up a great legacy there,” the world number two said.
Montgomerie, at 47, has added a captain’s victory to that legacy but, more than that, he seemed to have burnished his reputation as a man — no more glowering at photographers, no more hissing at marshals. He is a national treasure now, at least until the first camera goes off in his backswing.