JOHANNESBURG – A slightly rotund Colin Montgomerie didn’t look much like “Braveheart” but all of Scotland hailed him as a courageous champion at Loch Lomond 19 years ago when he scored his first victory in his home country in the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond.
Under pressure from the home fans and, early on, from our own Retief Goosen, Monty bogeyed the treacherous par-four closing hole but still managed a brilliant 64 for a 16-under-par aggregate of 264. Out came the bagpipes as men in kilts paid homage to a remarkable golfer who completed the tougher inward loop in just 31 strokes.
So why, you may ask, dig up old history? Well, the Scottish Open was the week before the Open Championship at Carnoustie in 1999 and this year we have the same situation as next week’s Open is indeed at brutal “Carnasty” and the “Goose”, at the ripe old age of 49, has impressively qualified for the 147th edition of the world’s oldest Major.
One of the highlights of the golf year is the run of three northern hemisphere summer tournaments in Britain and the Emerald Isle, namely the Irish Open, Scottish Open and the Open Championship.
Fans will have noted that no less than 11 South Africans made the cut in last week’s Irish Open and European Tour rookie Erik van Rooyen very near won the thing. He led by four with one round to go and, okay, the nerves may have got to him on the final day but he did finish a respectable fourth in what is proving to be a successful and lucrative first season on the big stage.
Back to the Scottish Open, and the year after Montgomerie’s triumph, our own Ernie Els prevailed on the bonnie banks. Just 12 months later it was Goose’s turn. Then Ernie took the honours again in 2003 and little Tim Clark in 2005.
So South Africa had four winners inside six years, and I was fortunate too see them all do the business in my travelling days as a full-time golf writer.
There’s been no winner from our shores since, but hopefully this time (at Gullane, not Loch Lomond) will be different and the same pipes will pay homage to one of our tribe. Goosen earlier this month secured his place in The Open after progressing through Final Qualifying at Prince’s in Kent. The two-time US Open champ was among just 12 qualifiers from a field of 288 younger men. With 35km/* winds making conditions extremely tricky he birdied the par-five seventh, his 16th, and then holed a putt from 30 feet for a two at the short eighth. He thought he had missed out, however, when his chip at the ninth lipped out and he took two putts for a bogey.
But at one under par after rounds of 71 and 72, Goose was one of only three players to finish under par and confirmed his place in the Open field for the first time since 2015.
“I am glad it played tough today as I play better golf when conditions are difficult,” he said. “Carnoustie will be my last Open as a regular tour player but I’m looking forward to it. It is always tough but that doesn’t bother me.”
I started this column by digging up some history about Montgomerie winning the 1999 Scottish Open. Hopefully, the Goose can dig up some of his old Major magic next week. But from tomorrow, may the birdies drop thick and fast for the South Africans at Gullane.