BERNARD GALLACHER reckons his nephew Stephen would swap a Masters debut for another major appearance this year – the one on his own doorstep.
Stephen is in the running to earn an invitation to Augusta after climbing to 60th in the world rankings on the back of his dramatic Dubai Desert Classic victory yesterday.
He needs to climb into the top 50 by the end of March to earn his first invitation to the season’s opening major.
But, according to his uncle, the No. 1 target for Gallacher this year is a spot in The Open at Muirfield in July.
“It would obviously be great if Stephen could find himself making his Masters debut in April and he’s obviously given himself a chance now,” Bernard told the Evening News, “but my own view is that he is trying very hard indeed to make sure he’s at Muirfield this summer for The Open. He doesn’t want to have to rely on coming through one of the qualifiers as they can be bit of a lottery.
“Stephen wants to get into that top 50 in the world and get into The Open as it would be awful for him if he was sitting at home at Linlithgow when that was going on just down the road.
“He plays a lot of golf these days at the likes of Gullane and The Renaissance Club and it’s great that he’s now in a good position to put some of that links practice into play at Muirfield.”
Stephen soared 51 places in the rankings after claiming his second European Tour triumph with a three-shot success in the Middle East.
Three ahead going into the final round, he lost that advantage after just two holes and had to wait until the 16th, where he holed his second shot for an eagle, to move back into the driving seat again.
His uncle watched the final few holes in the clubhouse at Arcos Gardens in Spain along with his wife, Lesley. “We both nearly jumped out of our chairs when he holed his shot at the 16th,” admitted the three-time Ryder Cup captain. “It was a great win – one that was set up by his first and third rounds of 62 and 63.
“It’s tough when you are out in front, as he was yesterday, and it’s been a while since he found himself in that position.
“What mattered was that he finished off the job and you always need a bit of luck to do that, whether you are playing in The Open or a normal tournament.
“Hopefully this will give him the confidence to really take his career forward.”
Bernard’s brother Jim and his wife Wilma celebrated their son’s success by popping a bottle of champagne at home in Bathgate.
“We’re normally out there at the Dubai event, but I don’t think my nerves could have taken a dramatic last day like that,” said Jim. “We’re both so proud of Stephen for coming through the way he did in the end and I’ve got a nice bottle of champagne that will be opened to celebrate the occasion.”
Just as proud was Gallacher’s 11-year-old son Jack, who has become a bit of a celebrity himself at Tour events over the past two or three years.
“It was an amazing win and I knew after both the third, when he holed a good putt, and the ninth, where he hit an incredible shot from the trees, that he was going to do it,” said the youngster. “He’s definitely cool in my book and I can’t wait to congratulate him when he gets back on Monday.”
One of Gallacher’s first ports of call on arriving home will be Kingsfield Golf Centre near Linlithgow, close to his home and his base these days.
“No-one deserves a win like that more than Stephen,” said owner Robert Arkley. “His work ethic is unbelievable and Stephen is a bit like Paul Lawrie in that something has clicked with him in the past couple of years.”
Gallacher’s win has almost certainly secured him a spot in next week’s WGC Match Play in Arizona and his manager believes next year’s Ryder Cup is also a distinct possibility as well.
“Stephen already had a robust plan in place for Gleneagles and it’s certainly far more realistic now,” said Iain Stoddart of Edinburgh-based Bounce Sports.