PAUL McGinley, the European captain, has urged Stephen Gallacher to be himself after handing the Scot a dream debut in the Ryder Cup alongside Ian Poulter in this morning’s opening fourballs at Gleneagles.
Likely to be loud enough to echo down Glendevon all the way to Dunfermline, an almighty roar will greet Gallacher as he steps on to the first tee alongside Poulter to take on the American rookie pairing of Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed.
Of the three newcomers to the biennial event in the European team, Gallacher is the only one to be sent out by McGinley for the first session, which includes a tasty match at the tail as Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia join forces against Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley.
It will have added spice following Mickelson’s jibe earlier in the week about McIlroy’s ongoing legal wrangle with one of his team-mates, Graeme McDowell.
“It’s great to get Stephen out in the morning,” admitted McGinley after revealing his first hand at the opening ceremony for the event’s 40th staging and first in Scotland since the 1973 match at Muirfield.
“It’s always a thrill when you’re on stage and your name is read out for the next morning. It’s particularly important being a rookie and great for Stephen being Scottish.
“He knows the golf course (Gallacher has recorded seven top tens on the PGA Centenary layout since 2001) and the very strong wind conditions forecast in the morning are right up Stevie’s street.
“He’s proved himself being worthy of being one of the top 12 players in Europe, so he just needs to go out and be Stevie. He has a big atmosphere guy on his shoulder and he’ll enjoy the prospect of playing his first Ryder Cup match. Who wouldn’t with Ian Poulter on your shoulder playing at home?”
Gallacher, the third Bathgate player to make the Ryder Cup after his uncle Bernard and Eric Brown, was always going to be guaranteed a warm welcome on the first tee but admitted the noise level could be even higher now.
“For my first Ryder Cup, having it in Scotland, I couldn’t have done better than to play with Poults,” said 39-year-old Gallacher, who played his opening practice round on Tuesday in the company of the Englishman and watched him lap up the applause in typical Poulter style after holing a bunker shot at the last.
“He’s the epitome of the Ryder Cup, the passion, everything it involves. He’s been there and knows what to do. He will be a calming influence as well. We’re similar players, so I’m just going to go out there and enjoy it and hopefully we can make lots of birdies as we have got to give the fans something to cheer about.”
In four previous appearances in the event, Poulter has racked up 12 wins from 15 matches, four of which have come in fourballs. In that format at Medinah two years ago, he birdied the last five holes on the Saturday afternoon to hand Europe the lifeline that led to their record-equalling fightback and a 14½-13½ victory the following day.
“It will be mind-blowing,”
said the Englishman of Gallacher’s debut in the event, coming not just on home soil but 37 miles from his home on the outskirts of Linlithgow. “The ovation he got last night (at the Gala Concert in Glasgow) was incredible and I think what he’s going to get on the first tee tomorrow is going to be phenomenal.
“It will be good for him; it will be good for the team. It’s going to be amazing seeing the crowd pulling for him and that’s the energy you need out there in the Ryder Cup. You need to feed from them. You need to enjoy it and you need to embrace it and you need to play with passion. I think Stevie’s going to have a fantastic Ryder Cup.”
Spieth, the world No 13 and highest-ranked player among the quartet, insisted the American duo were confident they could overcome their rookie status to claim a notable scalp in the opening salvos for Tom Watson.
“I don’t think you could have picked out people that we want to play against more,” said the 21-year-old, who played here in the 2010 Junior Ryder Cup. “It will be great to get out there against Ian, with his Ryder Cup history and, fire, and our job is to win a point. We can do that with these two guys. We’re going to really lower their team morale, I feel.”
Spieth described Poulter as a “great guy” and a “great competitor”. But he doesn’t envisage much will be said between the two pairings in the heat of battle. “There won’t be much small talk,” said the member of a losing Walker Cup team at Royal Aberdeen in 2011.
Watson described Spieth and Reed as “two tough kids” and added: “I told them today, ‘I’m going to throw you in the ocean without a life preserver. You’re on your own. You get out there and you get it done.”
Both McGinley and Watson book-ended their opening pairings with arguably their strongest teams. Out first for Europe are Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson up against Bubba Watson with the McIlroy/Garcia versus Mickelson/Bradley arguably the pick of the four ties.
McGinley said the American line-up, which is completed by Rickie Fowler teaming up with rookie Jimmy Walker, was “kind of what we expected”. But he insisted: “We are more concerned with ourselves and getting our ducks in a row, getting our house in order and getting our attitude and motivation right”.
Watson, who plans to play all 12 of his players on the opening day – Jim Furyk and Matt Kuchar, the world No 4 and
No 9 respectively were left out of the fourballs – said he’ll let his namesake decide if he wants to hit his opening shot amidst a cacophony of noise, as Bubba did at Medinah two years ago. “If he wants to do that tomorrow, that’s fine with me,” said the American captain.