WATCHING Europe pull off their “Miracle at Medinah” has made Stephen Gallacher all the more determined to get his first taste of Ryder Cup action on home soil.
The Lothians star heads into this week’s $5 million Dunhill Links Championship aiming to kick-start his bid to finish in the 30 in this season’s Race to Dubai. That would earn him a place in next year’s Open at Muirfield, where he’s yet to play in the world’s oldest major.
But the 37-year-old’s main long-term goal is to be on the European side that will defend the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in 2014. “I’ve been about these players all year, having dinner with the likes of Paul McGinley, Paul Lawrie and Peter Hanson,” said Gallacher of the dramatic 14½-13½ weekend win in Chicago. “Nicolas Colsaerts is also a good friend of mine and it’s great to see these guys doing well. It just makes you want to do well, too. I’m trying to put together a two-year plan to get in the next one at Gleneagles. I’m in the throes of that just now.”
Repeating his 2004 success in the Dunhill Links would be the perfect springboard in that bid to follow in the spikemarks of his uncle Bernard, who played in the biennial bout before going on to become a winning European captain. Gallacher could be a useful man to have at Gleneagles, having compiled a string of good performances on the PGA Centenary Course in the Johnnie Walker Championship. But his game has been honed in recent weeks for the links tests at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns over the next few days. “I will always have good memories from the Dunhill Links and I can’t wait to get started this week,” he declared.
“I’ve been down at The Renaissance quite a bit preparing specifically for this event and I also played a practice round at Carnoustie. Everything I’ve been doing over the past couple of weeks has been to do with how to play links courses. I’ve been getting used to putting from off the green, landing shots short and letting them run on, all that sort of stuff.
“I want to finish in the top 30 in the Race to Dubai as that would get me into next year’s Open at Muirfield – that’s my goal for the rest of the season and I’ve got five tournaments to achieve that.”
Martin Kaymer, who holed the putt that retained the trophy at the end of a dramatic afternoon on Sunday, is joining Gallacher in this week’s field.
So, too, are Lawrie and Hanson, as well as Dustin Johnson, one of just three American winners in the last-day singles at Medinah. Lee Westwood had also entered but, after delivering one of the key last-day points for the Europeans, he pulled out at the beginning of the week. Adding to the Ryder Cup flavour, though, are all four of the European vice-captains – McGinley, Thomas Bjorn, Darren Clarke and Miguel Angel Jimenez. Kaymer and Lawrie are both past Dunhill Links champions, the former having recorded his win straight after the Ryder Cup success in Wales two years ago.
Among those bidding to stop him pulling off the same feat are Open champion Ernie Els and fellow South African major winners Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen. As well as Johnson, the American contingent in the event also includes John Daly, Rich Been, Shaun Micheel and Pat Perez.
Hollywood star Bill Murray heads the amateur cast, the Caddyshack actor being joined by the likes of rock music legends Huey Lewis and Bon Jovi drummer Tico Torres. The sporting celebrities this year are headed by two newcomers, Olympic swimming legend Michael Phelps and South African runner Oscar Pistorius, known as “blade runner”, because of his prosthetic legs. Phelps took up golf after the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and is being taught by Tiger Woods’ old coach, Hank Haney.
“This will be the first time I have played golf in Scotland,” said the American. “Swimming training does not leave much time for golf, but now I have retired it is going to be a bigger part of my life. And what better way to start than playing at the Home of Golf in St Andrews.”
Entrance to the event is free at all three courses on Thursday, Friday and Saturday while on Sunday admission to the Old Course costs £15 (£10 concessions).