Crowds kind, scores aren't for Monty

FARMINGTON, N.Y. -- Colin Montgomerie is as warm and cuddly as razor wire. His Scottish sarcasm has more bite than a hungry chihuahua and he's been known to suffer from a severe case of rabbit ears. He can be a tad pithy, condescending and whiny when the mood strikes him, which is a bit too often for everyone's tastes.

But Mrs. Doubtfire isn't a total doofus, though you'd never know if you listened to the overserved and under-braincelled that lined the ropes at, say, the Ryder Cup in Brookline, or assorted PGA Tour stops across the country. Montgomerie has been booed and generally picked on by mean, nasty Americans. He just seems to rub hecklers the wrong way.

In response, Montgomerie vowed to skip the States altogether. Then he reconsidered. Then he said he'd stop by after all. And just to make sure everybody behaved themselves, Golf Digest, the Miss Manners of magazines, launched a "Be Nice To Monty,'' campaign just in time for the U.S. Open at Bethpage, complete with buttons and an accompanying story.

Asking New Yorkers to be nice to anybody is like asking the tabloids to ignore John Gotti spinning in. But we're proud -- and pretty much stunned -- to report that Monty was showered with enough guilty love and affection that you thought you were in Edinburgh, not a $150 cab ride from Manhattan.

Because of the crammed Open schedule, half the field teed off on No. 10, including the threesome of Montgomery, Mark O'Meara and Craig Stadler. Located in the far reaches of Bethpage, there wasn't much of a crowd at the tee box when the starter cleared his throat and said, "This is the 8:35 starting time. From Scotland, please welcome Colin Montgomerie.''

That's when the cheers and applause and "Go, Montys'' came from the small crowd. Maybe it was sincere. It sounded like it. If nothing else, Montgomery earned brownie points with a USA-flag headcover on his driver.

"Play well, lads,'' Monty said to O'Meara and Stadler.

With that, Montgomery striped his drive down the middle of the 492-yard par-4.

"Beauty!'' yelled someone.

"Great shot!'' said another.

Monty was suddenly America's sweetheart. It didn't matter that he bogeyed No. 11, then No. 12, or that he hardly acknowledged the support. Whenever he got within shouting distance of the gallery, someone would pipe up.

"Go, Monty. We love you, baby.''

"That's the ball, Monty.''

"Go get 'em, Monty.''

"Good luck, Monty.''

Montgomerie was big on gritting his teeth and going about his business of surviving another mean American: Bethpage Black. He didn't say a peep as the Port-O-Potty doors slammed nearby like windows shutters in a storm. He was borderline pleasant when he instructed some photographers to move from his putting sight line. He hardly flinched as clueless cart drivers hauled garbage away as he prepared to hit.

The grandstands were full of Monty maniacs. Some of them wore those silly buttons. Others professed their new love. Montgomerie could have done a fully Monty and received a standing O.

He finished the first nine at 3-over. Had he made a few putts. . . who knows?

When Montgomerie reached the first tee box he was greeted by another ovation from the grandstand crowd. This time he nodded to the fans.
Montgomerie parred the first four holes, but you would have thought he was in the red rather than the green.

"Rock-n-roll, Monty!''

"Get it going, baby!''

"C'mon, Colin, let's go, baby!''

Only once did I hear a discouraging Monty word. It happened at the edge of the seventh green. Montgomerie was in the first cut of the fairway on the 489-yard par-4. He pulled out an iron, swung and then watched as it squirted left. . . and toward trouble.

"C'mon, Monty,'' said the guy next to me, "right in the bunker.''

The ball plopped in the sand.

"Yes,'' said the guy.

I tapped him on the shoulder. "Isn't there a 'Be-Nice-To-Monty' thing?''

"That's what they say,'' he said, pleased with himself.

There were no Thursday incidents. No tantrums. No staredowns. No knife fights.

It was also a day where Monty managed just one birdie to go along with his six bogeys and a first-round score of 75. Afterward, he took a seat in a white Ford minivan, tooled back to the clubhouse, and said little when he arrived.

Asked if he had noticed the kinder, gentler American gallery, Montgomerie said, "I just wish Monty was being nicer to himself and holed some putts.''

Sorry. No buttons for that.

Gene Wojciechowski is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at gene.wojciechowski@espnmag.com.