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Pro golf: Overseas players Colin Montgomerie, Nick Faldo impressed by local flavor at AmFam

Colin Montgomerie and Sir Nick Faldo as Badgers?

In their dreams.

“I wish I had come to the University of Wisconsin golf program,” Montgomerie said shortly after getting his first look around University Ridge Golf Course, where he’s in the field for the American Family Insurance Championship that begins today.

“If this is their course and what they do, it’s superb,” he said. “Even to walk into the golf shop to see all the red and white … my, this is a great program. I’m excited to play the course.”

Faldo, making his first PGA Tour Champions appearance in two years, had much the same reaction.

“Lucky college kids,” Faldo said. “This is some setup for a college golf course. I mean, this is very impressive. Great place for youngsters to be out there beating golf balls all day long. So I would’ve been very happy here.”

Of course, Faldo, 59, had already won four of his six major championships and Montgomerie, 53, had garnered the first of his 50 wins on the European Tour by the time University Ridge was opened in 1991.

While they missed out on a collegiate career here, they will be able to play together today alongside another United Kingdom compatriot Ian Woosnam.

The three longtime Ryder Cup teammates will form one of the marquee groups, teeing off the first hole at 9:50 a.m.

“It’s a super grouping and I look forward to reminiscing with them,” said Montgomerie, a native of Scotland.

“I know a good joke about an Englishman, a Welshman and a Scotsman, yeah, that play golf,” said Faldo, the Englishman in the group. “We’ll start with that one. I need to go and Google silly jokes about an Englishman, a Welshman and a Scotsman. I’m sure there are plenty. That’s fine, that’s the Brexit three-ball.”

While there may be some good natured kibitzing along the way, it won’t interfere with some serious golf.

Montgomerie, runner-up to Bernhard Langer in the Schwab Cup race the past three years, is looking to get his season on track after missing three months with an ankle injury. Currently ranked No. 41, Montgomerie hopes to make up some ground this weekend — Langer will sit this one out as he attends a wedding.

“He can go to as many weddings as he wants, as far as we’re all concerned,” said Montgomerie, inspired by Langer’s message in January as he accepted the Cup. “He told me to keep trying, in front of everybody, which was a bit harsh.”

All in good humor, of course. That’s all part of the vibe on the senior circuit.

“It’s very different,” Montgomerie said. “They say it’s the best tour in the world and I agree with them. I’m not saying things against other tours, but there’s definitely no envy out here. We’ve all done OK to be here.

“I think for the first time in my life I feel there’s a genuine delight for anyone that does well.”

The chummy atmosphere of the Champions tour has also warmed his formerly testy relationship with the fans. Back in the day, he was often taunted by American fans and he would egg them on, especially in Ryder Cup competition. But these days there are no more “Mrs. Doubtfire” jeers from the galleries, who now embrace him.

“And I’ve embraced them,” he said. “I think it’s been 50/50, to be honest. I think I’ve given and they’ve given and we’re actually, hate to say friends, but there’s certainly a relationship now there never was before, which is super and I’m really enjoying it.”

Faldo, whose most recent Champions event was in the 2015 Senior Open, doesn’t quite know what to expect.

But less than a month short of his 60th birthday and nearly 30 years removed from the first of his six major championships, Faldo knew time was running short if he was ever going to try to compete again.

“It’s been fun gearing up,” said Faldo, taking advantage of a break in his schedule as lead golf analyst for CBS. “I’ve got all the fancy gear, working on everything. I’m trying, as they say, to pretend to be a golfer for a while.

“I’ve been sitting up in that booth for a long time, so this is my first golfing run, if it all pans out. I’ve been up there 13 years so it’s nice to get out and get some fresh air.”

Faldo, renowned as a fierce competitor in his prime, has gained perspective in his years as an analyst — a job that allowed him to show a more fun side to his personality.

Which side will show up at University Ridge?

“Hopefully, I think more the fun side,” he said. “That was a different era. Wow, 40 years ago. We were just striving to make a career.”

He doesn’t have to sweat that anymore, with three British Open and three Masters titles on his resume.

“Bottom line, I’m looking forward to it,” Faldo said. “Whatever happens, happens. Fortunately, I don’t have to feed four children anymore.”

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