Remembering John Montgomery: "Senior"
One of the game's greats died this summer at 80 without many headlines, but if you were part of professional golf in the late 1970s through the 1990s it was hard to not know John Montgomery Sr. (right, with Jack Nicklaus), or call him anything but "Senior." He was to tournament operations what his best friend, Jack Nicklaus, was to winning majors and so it made sense that they went arm-in-arm, or needle-for-needle, for over three decades.
There was a ceremony to honor Montgomery last Friday at the TPC-Sawgrass clubhouse in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Nicklaus spoke. So did PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, who credited Montgomery's company, Executive Sports, with helping to grow the game. "A writer once said that there are three types of golf tournaments," Finchem said. "Tournaments that aren't run by Montgomery. Tournaments that are run by Montgomery. And tournaments that want to be run by Montgomery."
They held the memorial in the Jacksonville area because it was John's adopted hometown and because his impact was felt at the home of tournament golf in the years before the PGA Tour started running golf tournaments themselves. John goes back to the old Jacksonville Open, the forerunner of The Players, but he was also instrumental in the development of the Memorial Tournament as the most well-run event on tour. Someday, they should find a place for Montgomery in the World Golf Hall of Fame under the distinguished service category.
Driving to the service, Jackie Nicklaus, the eldest son of the Golden Bear's five children, made the observation that Senior always reminded him of John Wayne. When Montgomery's widow, Nancy, was told that, she grinned. John Wayne was always one of Senior's heroes, to tell you what kind of man Senior was.
I met John back in the late '70s covering the events at Inverrary and Doral, and along with Larry Dorman (then the golf writer at the Miami Herald), Senior used to tease us about our hair and our beards and our shorts--or something we wrote, especially if it put us in the Golden Bear's doghouse. John was an old-school guy who played football at Duke and worked his way up through the ranks of the FBI and Southern Bell before turning to golf. We'd imitate him and his North Florida accent, just to shut him down, or maybe do our Nicklaus imitations in front of him. He'd go off chuckling, threatening to tell Jack.
As I said, Senior loved to needle. Some of his greatest pranks occurred at Nicklaus' expense, usually around Jan. 21, Jack's birthday. Jack lives in Lost Tree Village, a gated community in North Palm Beach, Fla., but every year Senior would work his way through the guard gate transporting various forms of gag gifts. One year it was a donkey, which he tied to the mirror of Jack's Lincoln Continental. Another year he arrived by boat, spread chicken feed all over Jack's backyard and unloosed dozens of chickens. There was the monkey that did a strip tease and the five-ton pile of manure with the pin flag that said, "Happy Birthday" on top.
But if Montgomery was famous for anything, it was helping to write a page in golf history-—and perhaps motivate Nicklaus to his greatest triumph.
It was Montgomery who took a particular Atlanta Constitution article written by Tom McCollister previewing the 1986 Masters and taped it to the refrigerator at the home Jack rented in Augusta and shared with Montgomery. In the article, McCollister wrote that Nicklaus had no chance of winning, that he was done, finished, washed up. Later that week, Nicklaus won his sixth green jacket. As Nicklaus said concluding the service, John's probably still laughing about that one. It was part of the legacy he left behind.