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Montgomerie looks forward to Benton Harbor and defending PGA crown

May 6, 2016
| By Pat Evans |
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Colin Montgomerie
Colin Montgomerie will be shooting for a third consecutive Senior PGA Championship, May 24-29, in Benton Harbor. Courtesy Harbor Shores Golf Club

Mike Todman believes the Senior PGA Championship at Harbor Shores Golf Club in Benton Harbor is a big deal for the community.

A few weeks ago, a Benton Harbor resident told the tournament chairman St. Joseph-Benton Harbor is the place to be — something that wouldn’t have been said two decades ago.

“The championship serves as a reminder, truly, about how important Harbor Shores has been in helping this community recharge and regenerate itself,” said Todman, a 23-year resident of Benton Harbor.

“Not that long ago, this was abandoned land, dilapidated vacant lots, factories and the city land fill. Today, you look at the optics and narrative that surround the St. Joe and Benton Harbor community, and it’s overwhelmingly positive,” he said.

With the tournament less than a month away, Senior PGA and tournament officials and defending champion Colin Montgomerie made a stop at the tournament’s media day held last week.

It’s the site of Montgomerie’s first major championship, which he won in 2014 following five second-place finishes in PGA Tour major championships. He followed up with a second consecutive win at the Senior PGA Championship in French Lick, Indiana, last year.

Now, the Scottish-native and World Golf Hall of Famer returns to Benton Harbor with a chance for a three-peat, something that hasn’t been done at the Senior PGA Championship since Hale Irwin in 1996-98.

“When I speak for the fellow 155 pros coming here in less than a month, we all love it here,” Montgomerie said. “What you do in the community is fantastic and it’s great to be here again and to walk into the clubhouse with my picture on the wall — which, I’m sorry for the workers here — it means a great deal to me.”

Montgomerie sat down with Julius Mason, PGA of America’s communications director, during the day’s press conference to talk about his career and this month’s tournament.

Q: Professional golf was not always your goal?

A: No, not at all. I was asked to join two executives from IMG; they asked me to join them for a job interview to be an agent or manager for the likes of (Nick) Faldo, (Greg) Norman, (Nick) Price … here in America. It was something to do with the Cleveland office. They asked me to join them on the back nine.

As you’re doing an interview, you watch your Ps and Qs; you’re not really interested in the golf at all — that was meaningless. It was more about what I was saying and how I was portraying myself in front of these two executives.

I holed out on the last hole to finish with a 29, which, as you’re probably aware, is quite good. They said, ‘Well, Colin, we’ve been talking about this and, you know, you’re not going to be working for us; we’ll be working for you.’

I said, ‘Well, that was a complete disaster. That hasn’t worked at all. All the effort, I played reasonable, and I don’t even get to work for them.’

Obviously, they felt I was good enough for this pro game and … it changed my whole view on pro golf and what I could do for a living. It’s amazing. I think we all have a time in our life that changes, a time and place — the right time and place — to be in both. And that was my time and place. They gave me the confidence to believe I could do this job.

Q: Did you foresee the career you’d have?

A: Not at all. How could I? I was turning pro at a time, in 1989-90-91, with a great British run of success in the Masters. How could I possibly compete against these guys? All I did was try to learn from those players who were better than I was.

I was playing Tiger (Woods) in 2005, where Tiger won the Open at St. Andrews and I was playing with him. Someone asked me, ‘How do you beat Tiger today, Monty? You’re starting three behind him.’

I said, ‘Well, I’m not going to beat him driving the ball because he drives the ball longer and straighter. His irons play better than mine. His short game is immaculate; you can’t beat him there. And he’s the best putter that’s ever lived. He’s never been in the bunker in his life. And he’s the strongest mind ever.’

I said, part-jokingly but serious, ‘The only way I’m going to beat Tiger Woods today is score lower than him. I’m not going to beat him in any technical way; all I’m going to do is try to score lower than him.’

It was going well for the first half, and then he took over. That’s how I saw the game. To beat the likes of those guys … I was only going to beat them by scoring lower. That’s all I had.

Q: You finished second in five majors. Is it possible to look at any and say you should have won it?

A: I was beaten in ’94 by the heat. There’s two majors I lost to Ernie Els. In 2005, I was beaten by arguably the greatest golfer to play the game (Tiger Woods). I beat the rest of them, nothing wrong with that.

2006 was the problem. One shot I’d love to have back again was my second shot on the 18th at Winged Foot. The European Tour has this thing where they have a Shot of the Month Award, and they gave it to me for my drive on the 18th, but they didn’t include the next five shots. To win, you have to play 72 holes, and I only played 71. That was the one: the 2006 U.S. Open.

Q: Who’s the best golfer you have ever seen play?

A: The game of golf? (Bernhard) Langer, he plays the game of golf properly. There have been better golfers, naturally. You go back to the Nicklaus/Player era, but Langer, to me, does everything right. He does everything in a very professional and diplomatic way. And I think he’s been the standard out here for many years, and it remains that way today. He’s the one score we always look for. He’s the one person in the whole golfing scene that I totally, 100 percent, respect.

Q: What do you like about Harbor Shores?

A: I like Jack Nicklaus golf courses. It gives you some room off the tee, but it’s mostly about the second shot. That’s been my career. I hit my iron shots the right distance, whether it’s 178 or 165 (yards), I don’t really care what club it is. I have the ability to hit that distance more than not and that’s this course. You’ve got to have the ability to hit the ball the right distance. The greens are very severe. That’s why l like this particular golf course.

Q: Should (PGA of America President Derek Sprague) just give you the trophy now? Can you be beat on this golf course?

A: Oh yes, by 155 other people. As soon as you think you’ve mastered the game, it can come back and bite you. We all know that. So you’ve got to be game-on. The competition on this Champions Tour is getting better every year. But I’ll be back, I love the golf course. I’ve won here, that gives me some confidence.

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