Gallacher’s Quest For Gleneagles

AGADIR, MOROCCO | On the eve of the Trophee Hassan II, a bemused but weary Stephen Gallacher said that he had been taken out of his comfort zone. It had nothing to do with playing around the walls of Agadir’s royal palace and being attended at table by Moroccan waiters in yellow slippers. Rather, it was down to his win in the Dubai Desert Classic at the beginning of February. “I’d made my plans at the start of the year and suddenly everything changed,” explained the 38-year-old Scot, whose only previous win on tour was in the 2004 Dunhill Links Championship. There had been much excitement surrounding his Dubai triumph. Over the four days, he notched five eagles and holed four full shots, with a final-round wedge from 117 yards for a 2 at the par-4 16th the last of them. It enabled him to shake off Richard Sterne, the South African who had posed a threat all afternoon. The reward was a cheque for €309,233, along with invitations to the WGC-Accenture Match Play and the WGC-Cadillac Championship. At the same time, all the talk was of how he was poised to make a first appearance at The Masters. Gallacher was flirting with the big time and the general consensus was that no one deserved it more than he did. Only golf being the game it is, the magic disappeared. He lost in the first round of the Accenture to Ian Poulter and finished a lowly T53 in the Cadillac. “You don’t,” he noted in all seriousness, “want to be going into events like that cold.” Back on the European Tour, a T22 in Malaysia did little for his flagging confidence and, by the time he had shot over 80 in the pro-am in Morocco, he was visibly shattered. He could have done with a spell at home, but how could he give up on his Masters quest when a win in the Trophee Hassan would make it happen? (Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Marcel Siem, Richie Ramsay and Scott Jamieson were among others still in with a chance.) “It’s the only reason I’m here,” said Gallacher. “I’m going to give it a good crack – the best crack I can – but I have to be realistic. Since I’ve only won twice in over 400 starts, it’s a bit of a tall order to expect another win.” A wind-torn opening 75, though he followed it with a thoroughly encouraging 68, suggested that it was going to be Plan B – a family holiday back in Dubai – rather than a trip to Augusta. Yet you would have to suspect that it will not be too many days into this holiday week before his original plans for 2013 are happily back in focus. These plans never touched on The Masters; they were all made with the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in mind. “There will be a Masters next year and another the year after but I only have this one chance of playing in a Ryder Cup in my homeland,” he said wistfully. His uncle Bernard, a three-time Ryder Cup captain, played in the matches eight times and had singles wins over Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus and Lanny Wadkins. Stephen will tell you that it is because he was reared on Bernard’s Ryder Cup stories that he is so intent on being a part of things in ’14. His 12-year-old son, Jack, who has been exposed to the same tales, feels no less strongly. Jack, who has an 18-handicap, follows his father whenever he can, keeping yardage charts of his own and assessing the line of every putt. Indeed, there are times when you can hear him muttering to himself, “Left lip, left lip!” or whatever might be appropriate. So far, Gallacher’s Gleneagles campaign is bang on course. His stated aim at the turn of the year was to be inside the world’s top 50 by the time the Ryder Cup points system comes into play at the Wales Open at Celtic Manor. With five months to go, he is lying 64th. Courtesy of his Dubai heroics, the run-up to Celtic Manor will include two more American events – the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship. He expects to do better over there second time around: “The more you play in these things, the more you feel you belong,” he said. “When I go back, I’ll know what to expect.” Much though he admires Lee Westwood for taking his family over to America in his bid to win majors, Gallacher himself would never want to go down that road. His foundation for young golfers is thriving, while the Gallacher clan could not be more settled. On top of that, he describes himself as “a home boy through and through.” It goes without saying that he would love to have a major on his CV, with particular reference to an Open. But in his mind’s eye he can see nothing in his career that could match playing at Gleneagles with Jack and half of Scotland behind the ropes.


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