Colin Montgomerie says it is “distressing” to see the European Tour return to smaller scale tournaments with prize funds of less than £1m.
The 56-year-old Scot, who won a record eight orders of merit, describes the Tour’s proposed schedule as a “total reset”.
But he would not like to see this year’s Ryder Cup in Wisconsin to be played without fans and revealed that when he was captain a decade ago, tour bosses told him the benefits of a European win would be “massive” because of economic difficulties at the time.
Montgomerie, the most prolific British winner on the European Tour with 31 titles, now plays on the veteran’s Champions Tour in the United States. He has strong reservations about returning there during the current civil unrest and coronavirus crisis.
‘I feel for young guys coming through’
He does welcomes July’s resumption of the European Tour season though, with six events in a British swing that features two tournaments at Celtic Manor in Wales, where he led Europe to a thrilling victory in 2010.
“It’s sensible,” he told BBC Sport. “I know the prize money isn’t what they’d expect but it gets the membership playing golf.
“It’s a total reset and I feel for the young guys coming through who thought they were going to be playing for millions.
“It’ll take a few years before we get back to those times. It is distressing because the likes of Ken Schofield, George O’Grady and now Keith Pelley worked hard to build this European Tour up to what it is today.
“It is a shame for all the hierarchy of the tour to see it just stop.”
Resuming on 22 July, the British Masters at Close House is the first of six tournaments, each with a total prize purse of around £890,000, funded by the European Tour.
“The Rolex Series events playing for $7m (£5.5m), my God that was a complete year in our day,” said Montgomerie
“This is a reset of 10-15 years into the past isn’t it?”
Back in 2010 the European Tour was also under financial pressure and as Ryder Cup captain he was made aware of the difficulties by senior officials.
“I remember Richard Hills, who was the director of the Ryder Cup and chief executive George O’Grady holding meetings and saying to me: ‘This is important, a home win for a European Ryder Cup team, is massive.’
“It kept the sponsors that we had, I wouldn’t say it increased any, but at least it kept the sponsors we had at a time when economically 2008 through 10 was horrific.
“And this will be much worse. So I can understand the Tour wanting to get it done in an economic sense.”
Ryder Cup returning to odd years has benefits
While he would hate to see this year’s Ryder Cup in September played without spectators, he accepts that financial implications might dictate that the Whistling Straits match may have to be played without fans.
When he was skipper, Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell claimed the winning point with a vital putt against Hunter Mahan.
“Imagine Graeme McDowell holing that putt at 16 and only somebody in the distance claps and just sheep are watching,” Montgomerie said. “No, no, it just wouldn’t ring true.
“But I suppose these are extraordinary times and extraordinary rules and regulations apply. It would be a shame if the economy dictates the Ryder Cup is played behind closed doors.”
Montgomerie sees benefits in the match being delayed and returning to odd years, saying it would ease the crowded schedule currently in place.
“Four majors, the Olympics and a Ryder Cup that’s a hell of a lot in a year, that’s too many,” he said. “The Ryder Cup going back into an odd year would be great.”
‘I’d rather go east than to the US’
He is delighted Celtic Manor will stage the Celtic Classic on 13-16 August and then the Wales Open the following week.
Remembering his role in Europe’s triumph a decade ago on the same course he laughed: “I’m sort of an honorary Welshman aren’t I? I think it’s great they are going back to back there.”
With lockdown restrictions lifted, Montgomerie is playing occasional nine hole rounds at the Wisley Club in Surrey and at Wentworth and he continues to hit balls into a practice net he erected in his back garden.
“It’s been difficult,” he added. “I’ve tended to get up later, obviously, because it’s been like Groundhog Day. It’s like being on holiday, I have lost track of the days.”
But the Surrey-based Scotsman is in no rush to board a plane to return to the Champions Tour in the United States and is unimpressed with the way the country has fought the coronavirus outbreak.
“We are not looking forward to getting on an aeroplane, especially heading to America,” he said. “I’d rather go east to be honest.
“It’s the lax way the Americans seem to be over this. We are much more strict in the European countries than the Americans seem to be.
“They were last to close their country down and first to open it up. That doesn’t seem right to me.”
Montgomerie will watch closely when the PGA Tour resumes at Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas next Thursday. “They are the guinea pigs, the PGA Tour,” he said.
“Our Champions Tour starts six weeks later and we can learn from that as we go on. The European Tour can learn the same.”
If he does not head back to play with the old stagers, he will probably take up a standing invitation to join one of the fields at Celtic Manor.
“I’d love to play there once more,” he said before joking, “I want Monty’s tees, all my par-fours have to be under 400 yards – I want privilege. These 600 yard par-fives I’m not into that at all.”