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Thursday 24 October 2019 16:34, UK
Looking through a large window of the restaurant at Rusacks Hotel, St Andrew's, Colin Montgomerie surveys the 18th hole of the Old Course.
It is one of golf's most iconic views, yet the eight times European Tour Order of Merit champion does not have the sport he served so brilliantly on his mind right now.
"I really didn't think he would stay, I thought he'd go in the summer, he has to do it this season. I can't see him staying again, can you?"
The topic of conversation is Marcelo Bielsa and whether the Leeds United head coach can improve on last season's near miss in the Championship promotion race. The Scot's love affair with Leeds runs deep. His devotion to the club began with a family move from his childhood home.
"My father's business was McDonalds Biscuits on Hillington Estate in Glasgow," Montgomerie explains. "He changed jobs and went down to Fox's Biscuits in Batley, West Yorkshire. We moved to Ilkley, and half way between Ilkley and Batley was Leeds. My father was supporting Partick Thistle for many years. With my brother, we all loved football and suddenly there was this team that were very good and on our doorstep. So we got season tickets.
"In 1970 I was seven, my brother was nine, and with my mum and dad we had four season tickets at Elland Road. Back then there were a lot more Scotsmen in the league. The Gray brothers, Billy Bremner, Peter Lorimer and David Harvey. There was a bunch of good Scots in that team so it just happened to be a Scottish-Leeds connection. That was when I started this love of football.
"It was a sustained period of success for Leeds through the late Sixties and Seventies. From the end of the Don Revie era up to the Brian Clough era. I remember going to the 1974 Charity Shield at Wembley during Clough's 44 days in charge. Kevin Keegan and Bremner got sent off and had a bit of a fight, in a charity match! I'll never forget that, it was my first trip to Wembley with the old Twin Towers. It was a proper day out back then."
Revie and Clough were giants of their time in the domestic game. Bielsa has not made a lasting mark in this country just yet, but he is revered overseas. The Argentinian coach has breathed new life into Leeds, though, and he intrigues observers.
"Nobody could quite believe they had got this guy," Montgomerie continues. "He can't speak the language, he doesn't look at people, just looks down and doesn't appear comfortable socially. But then you hear the way Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino talk, saying they are his disciples. You start getting deeper into Bielsa, reading up about him. Then the recent Leeds documentary that came out, wow, that was emotional at the end. You think about the way he behaves, sleeping at the training ground. Nobody understood him until 'Spygate' came out, and he called a press conference and explained it all, laid the whole thing out and I was thinking, 'Bloody hell is this the level this guy goes into it?' People suddenly took a different view of him then after this three-hour PowerPoint presentation."
So has Montgomerie acquired the essential Bielsa merchandising accessory yet? "I've got a bucket, yes, you need a blue bucket. I paid 82 quid for it at the club shop!"
Management and teams sports fascinate the Scot, who excelled when he was given the opportunity to play and manage in a golf team - at the Ryder Cup. On six occasions he won the trophy: five times as a player and once as captain of the team.
"The team I captained had major champions in it, like Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell. Then special players like Rory McIlroy. But to win a Ryder Cup every one of my 12 players contributed at least half a point to the victory. You cannot win a football match with seven or eight players, they all need to contribute. Those five wins as a Ryder Cup player I got more out of than the things I won individually. I played with Ian Woosnam, Seve Ballesteros, Sandy Lyle and so on. It was so important to have that feeling of them playing for me as well as me playing for them.
"It must be like that for footballers. They're all from different backgrounds, all good at what they do, all different and need managing in different ways."
Earlier that day, in his role as ambassador for Loch Lomond Whiskies, the Official Spirit of The Open, Montgomerie played a few holes just down the road from St Andrew's at the Kingsbarns links course. His languid swing looked as effortless as ever, and he appears to be relishing the challenges of the Seniors Tour. Yet even when Montgomerie was winning seven Order of Merits in a row between 1993 and 1999, football was never far from conversation.
"In golf we all have our teams," he explains. "Everyone you spoke to on the European Tour when I was playing had a team. Darren Clarke was Liverpool, Lee Westwood Nottingham Forest. Lee's caddie, Billy Foster who caddied for Seve too, was also Leeds. It was great bar chat. After our rounds we stayed in the same hotels, we got the same courtesy cars, flew in the same planes. We ate and drank together and talked about football. I remember especially on the Saturday nights, when there was less football on Sunday, everyone played golf on the Saturday afternoon and then we all had a result to talk about that evening."
It was during this era when Montgomerie made his one and only visit to Old Trafford.
"Manchester United v Leeds United in the Premier League, I'll never forget it," he adds. "I was invited as a guest to draw the tombola. I sat next to Teddy Sheringham, who was injured. They called me down at half-time, I walked onto the pitch in my suit and drew the raffle. The guy from MUTV came up and said, 'First time at the theatre of dreams, are you enjoying yourself?' They were winning 1-0 so I just said, 'The problem is the score is wrong, I'm a Leeds United supporter'.
"Nobody was really paying attention, fans just milling around and chatting, and then as soon as I said that everyone suddenly noticed. I was cheered onto the pitch but I was certainly booed off it, the whole way from the centre circle to the touchline. There were 3,000 Leeds fans in the corner chanting 'Monty is a Leeds' fan on my way back, so I gave them a wave. By the time I got back to the directors' box Teddy just gave me this look and said, 'I didn't realise we needed security in here'."
A second round of coffees has arrived, it has been a longer chat than expected, but the truth is that Montgomerie could talk about football all day long. He is both excited and nervous about what the future at Leeds might hold.
"It's amazing, there's opportunity here, there's a new belief with the way they are playing football," he concludes. "We took our father to Elland Road for the Boxing Day game against Blackburn last season when we won 3-2, Roofe scored two in the last couple of minutes. I've never seen Elland Road like that since the heyday, the place was packed and it went nuts. It's ready to go again. But you can see the ground needs financial help, it's getting tired, it's an old ground. It needs the finance, even just to get into the Premier League for one year to get the finance going, we just need to get up."
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