News & Opinion

Monty’s bluster brings Open telecast to life

It’s become as much a part of the immutable Colin Montgomerie charm as the harrumphing, jowly scowl that he displays when he’s not playing well.

Monty, now making a nice living working for two major TV networks when he isn’t hauling cash on the PGA Tour Champions circuit, has the unique gift of saying something with such conviction that listeners truly want to believe it.

No matter how preposterous it might sound.

Monty is back in the broadcast booth this week at Royal Birkdale for the 146th British Open. Although he is Scottish by birth, he features a measure of Irish blarney in his delivery that makes his unique brand of color commentary on Golf Channel and Sky Sports as blustery as the event’s onshore breeze from the Irish Sea.

The World Golf Hall of Famer worked the early shift on Golf Channel’s telecast Thursday morning, well before most fans in the States had gulped their morning java. Montgomerie started the week with an emphatic description of Royal Birkdale.

“It’s the best course in England on the rota, by a mile, in my opinion,” Monty said earnestly. “Turnberry has the character, St. Andrews has the history, Carnoustie has the toughness, and Birkdale has it all.” 

We’ll dismiss the fact that the first three are located in Scotland, because when Monty starts rolling, it’s too entertaining to let details derail the proclamations. It’s safe to assume that if Monty were active on social media, he’d be a serial abuser of the keyboard’s exclamation-point button. 

Indeed, at the game’s biggest tournaments, it’s become an aural treat when Montgomerie offers input on how best to win major championships, though he famously never won a Grand Slam event among his 51 worldwide victories. It’s become part of the slightly comedic undertow, really. Monty, thankfully, isn’t above poking fun at himself, within limits.

When American standout Justin Thomas showed up Thursday wearing a cardigan sweater and a necktie, Monty was asked by booth mate Mike Tirico whether he had ever worn similar garb on the course. Mind you, on his best day, Monty looks like he slept in his clothes.

“Uh, no, but you knew the answer there, didn’t you, Mike?” Monty said, drawing laughs.

Tirico teed up Monty plenty, as a good host should. Though the analyses often include comments that cause eyebrows to move steadily heavenward, Monty makes his share of canny points, too. As the morning weather turned foul, there was some question as to whether bothering with a warmup was worthwhile.

“You wonder, you wonder,” Montgomerie said. “At Birkdale, there’s no one hole that goes in the same direction together. So it’s very awkward when you actually get a shot that you haven’t practiced at all in the last hour, and it might well be on the first hole.”

Like most of the field, Montgomerie spends much of his time playing in the U.S. Last week, he competed in a Champions event and the temperatures topped 100 degrees. It was roughly half that when the early starters teed off in the first round at Royal Birkdale.

“This is all about adaptation,” he said. “A number of the players are saying, ‘Oh, the greens are slow.’ Well, hit the ball harder. Links golf is all about adapting to the conditions given to you.”

Monty was one of the greatest players in European Tour history, while his father was a longtime club official at another Open venue, Royal Troon, so there’s no doubt that he possesses the bona fides for the gig. Rather than take the conservative, verbal road most traveled, he often climbs out on a limb until he hears a cracking sound, then crawls a few more feet anyway.

There might never be a more melodic sound in golf than when Monty says something that’s right on the border of credible and absurd. No question, he has a FootJoy planted on either side of that line at times. For instance, early in the day, before sunrise in the States, Ian Poulter rolled in a 15-footer for par that sent Montgomerie into a lengthy riff on the shot’s perceived importance.

“This is the classic major [championship] momentum putt,” Montgomerie said. “It might well be the sixth hole – you never know; we’ll sit here on Sunday and discuss it – but that could be the winning putt. He could go back and say, ‘The sixth hole Thursday that went in, that gave me the extra confidence, that boost to keep going, that momentum.’ ”

It seems doubtful, but he might be correct. It keeps viewers engaged, and therein lies the beauty of Monty. As my mom used to say when discussing active imaginations, there’s a fine line between fertile and fertilizer. Monty, as in Python, keeps both in balance.

As Las Vegas betting co-favorite Jordan Spieth teed off, somebody asked Monty what it was like being listed among the players to beat during his prime.

“Horrible,” he said, drawing laughs. “Especially when you are second-favorite to Tiger.”

The paradox of Monty – who can’t seem to decide how seriously to take himself, either – is partly why a parody Twitter account called @Darth_Monty has 19,000 followers. The social media account is a combination of faux, Trump-sized ego and Hugh Grant-quality self-deprecation. Mostly the former.

There are times when Monty could charm the sidearm from a police officer, such as when he tried to explain what passes for summer in the U.K. to the American audience.

“I do apologize, everybody, that the weather here is rotten,” he deadpanned. “We’ve never sold our country on the weather.”

When it comes to sheer entertainment, versus pure enlightenment, we’re sold on mercurial Monty, one of the most distinct voices in golf.

Steve Elling has covered golf for the Orlando Sentinel, CBSSports.com and numerous other global print and online outlets. Email: ellingink@gmail.com; Twitter: @EllingYelling