GREATEST MOMENTS | Houston Baptist gave Colin Montgomerie his Hall of Fame start


Houston-Baptist-greatestThe sports moment judged the greatest in Houston Baptist history happened on a golf course in Scotland the day after the 1986 British Open.

Colin Montgomerie, a recent HBU graduate who helped lead the Huskies to three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances from 1985-87, played a round at Turnberry with two senior executives at IMG. The sports management company’s client list included many of the top European golfers and Montgomerie wanted to represent them off the course.

But the executives talked him out of the job after watching Montgomerie shoot 29 on the back nine.

Afterward, Montgomerie told Golf Magazine in 2015, “they said, ‘Well, Colin, that was impressive. You’re not going to work for us, we’re going to work for you!'”

The rest, as they say, is history with Houston Baptist basking in Montgomerie’s triumphs.

The golfer who was the Trans America Athletic Conference Player of the Year in 1985 and set the conference tournament record with an 11-under 205, went on to a Hall of Fame career, including 49 professional victories — 31 on the European Tour.

The native of Glasgow, Scotland, captained the Europeans to victory at the 2010 Ryder Cup, and he was one of the most accomplished players in the history of the event.

In the four major championships, Montgomerie had 10 top-10 finishes with runner-up showings at the 1994, 1997 and 2006 U.S. Opens, the 1995 and 2005 Open Championships, as well as the 1995 PGA Championship. His best finish at The Masters was a tie for eighth in 1998.

By chance, Montgomerie ended up at Houston Baptist after a brief, unhappy stop at New Mexico Military Institute. He called his father, who told his son to get on the first flight to a major American city and call him back.

There were four planes leaving that morning from Albuquerque, N.M., for Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas and Houston. The first went to Houston, which is where Montgomerie landed. In 2010, Golf Digest recounted Montgomerie’s arrival:

A friend of a friend of a friend, a minister, knew the golf coach at Houston Baptist University. Like nearly every cleric in the world — priest or Protestant — the vicar was at least a devout if not a profane golfer. Montgomerie’s résumé (the Scottish Youth Team, basically) wasn’t overwhelming. “But they invited me to be a ‘walk-on,’ whatever that was,” he says, “and if I played well enough, they’d see about a tuition scholarship the next year.”

Monty had a thousand dollars to last him five months. “It seemed like all the money in the world at the time,” he says, “but it wasn’t.” He landed a $4-an-hour job at a country club picking up range balls in one of those little caged carts, “with everyone aiming at you,” he says, “and I’d do the same.” Figuratively, he would spend his entire career riding back and forth in that slow, rolling shooting gallery, being bombarded from every angle.

But Houston Baptist was a stunning success. “I had a thoroughly great time,” he says. “It was a fantastic way of life.” From the Astrodome to the Space Center, he took in everything he could. It’s possible that Montgomerie knows America and Americans better than any other golfer who ever crossed the ocean. “I even went to the Southfork Ranch up in Dallas,” he says, “to say hi to J.R. Ewing.” Of course, about five minutes after Montgomerie unpacked his clubs, he was the No. 1 player on the team. He had that rhythmic, metronomic swing even then. Unlike most foreign amateurs, who just pause at U.S. colleges, Monty stayed four years and was graduated (business and pre-law). He missed the cap-and-gown ceremony for a Walker Cup at Sunningdale, the right choice then and now, but feels a palpable disappointment still.

“I got an education at Houston Baptist,” he says, “and not just a sit-down-in-a-classroom education. It was an education in life. I learned to budget my money, to live on my own.” He let go of amateur golf, “where everybody sits around at night talking about their games,” and steeled himself for the pros, “where nobody is interested.” As he says, “The college coach cares what you did on the seventh hole, how unlucky you were. ‘Aw, that’s a shame, Monty.’ ” But the coach wouldn’t be going with him to the next level, where, as Montgomerie didn’t have to say, “everybody’s delighted if you play rubbish.”

Montgomerie rarely played rubbish. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2013 and was also named No. 3 of the Top 25 All-Time Best Athletes from Christian Colleges.

Today, he is synonymous with Houston Baptist golf, which was dropped in the late 1980s and returned in 2007 with David Shuster as coach.

“Everywhere I go and I wear my HBU golf gear, people say, ‘Oh, yeah. Colin Montgomerie played there.’ I hear it all the time,” Shuster told the Houston Chronicle in 2015. “He brought people to remember HBU in his heyday. They were one of the top 10 programs in 1985.”

• Houston Baptist Hall of Honor

On the cover: Colin Montgomerie helped lead Houston Baptist to three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances in the 1980s. (Courtesy Houston Baptist University Archives)

Monday: High Point and Hofstra
Tuesday: Holy Cross and Houston
Wednesday: Houston Baptist and Illinois Chicago (UIC)
Thursday: Incarnate Word (UIW) and Jacksonville State
Friday: James Madison

Mike Bambach

Mike Bambach is senior web producer for ASN.