STEPHEN Gallacher has admitted he surprised himself by producing the stunning performance that effectively sealed his dream Ryder Cup debut at Gleneagles later this month.
The 39-year-old secured a wild card for the match in Perthshire along with English duo Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood after coming within a shot of taking the last automatic spot from Graeme McDowell.
Needing a top-two finish in the Italian Open, Gallacher stormed home in 30 in the second round, then shot the same score on the outward journey en route to a 65 in the final circuit to end up in third position.
It was that performance which sealed the Scot’s selection, so he will now follow in the spikemarks of two fellow Bathgate members, his uncle Bernard and Eric Brown, by facing the Americans in the biennial bout in just over three weeks’ time.
“I don’t know,” admitted Gallacher in reply to being asked how he managed to turn things round so spectacularly in Turin, where he started out his second round 15 shots off top spot and 12 behind second.
“I had to dig unbelievably deep. I think if you want something badly enough, sometimes it can just happen. I just knew I had to have a big back nine. I had to do it and I almost willed myself to do it.”
Paul McGinley, the European captain, admitted Gallacher had been selected on merit after watching the player record ten top-ten finishes in the year-long qualifying campaign.
The Lothians man ended up tenth – one outside the automatic berths – on the points list and, as an added bonus, has chalked up seven top-tens on the PGA Centenary Course since 2001.
Gallacher, however, admitted he feared his hopes of facing Tom Watson’s side on 26-28 September had started to slip away after missing the cut in last month’s US PGA Championship at Valhalla.
“I did, yes,” added the three-times European Tour winner. “You need big performances and the place to do it is in the majors and the States. I think I just tried too hard out there.
“The hard thing for me was to take it easy, but everywhere I turned I was getting asked questions about it and being put in the spotlight. Ultimately, I just had to get on with it.
“Having come so close and not made it, I would have been distraught. I’m so happy that Paul fancies me for the team.”
After missing out on automatic qualification, Gallacher went through hell on Monday as he waited for McGinley’s call as the Irishman weighed up his options along with his two vice-captains, Sam Torrance and Des Smyth.
Having seen how things were panning out in the final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston, where both Poulter and Luke Donald were playing, McGinley started making his calls to the lucky ones – and not so lucky ones – at 8:30pm. “I didn’t do much yesterday,” revealed Gallacher. “I didn’t really know what to do – I still don’t know. I’m still in a bit of a daze. It was a really long day. We went for a bit of dinner with the family and then, after getting the call, I had a couple of glasses.”
While no-one could begrudge him that celebratory swally, McGinley revealed that the two-times Dubai Desert Classic champion has already shown that he is taking this huge honour in his career very seriously indeed.
“His first words were, ‘that’s brilliant, wee man’,” McGinley told The Scotsman of his call to Gallacher. “I said, ‘Stevie, you can go and have a drink and celebrate’, and he said, ‘okay but can I go and have a drink?’ He is taking it serious, no doubt.”
That’s not a surprise when you consider that, as a kid swinging a club at Bathgate, he probably dreamt more about playing in the biennial bout than holing putts to win the Open Championship.
When your uncle made eight appearances in it before captaining Europe three times, including a 2005 win at Oak Hill, it’s perhaps only natural, then there is the Brown factor, too. He was also both a player and captain in the event.
“It’s massive for me and my family,” admitted Gallacher, the first Scot to earn a wildcard for the event since Colin Montgomerie was picked for the match in Detroit ten years ago. “It’s been a goal of mine all my days to get in. I can remember watching my uncle at West Palm Beach (in 1983) – that was the first one. Kiawah (in 1991) was a big one, watching that at Bathgate Golf Club and feeling terrible for my uncle as it came down to Bernhard Langer’s last putt.
“You go to the club…there’s pictures everywhere of Eric Brown and Bernard. I always wanted to join them.”
While already a popular figure, Gallacher is bracing himself for a large portion of the West Lothian population –he’s from Bathgate but now lives just outside Linlithgow – to be getting in touch for tickets, even though the event is a sell-out on the three match days.
“I’ve not touched my phone (since the announcement), but I know it’s just about to go off the wall as I’ll be in demand for tickets,” he said, laughing.
For any player to earn a Ryder Cup appearance on home soil is praiseworthy on its own. To do so for the first time and in the first match to be held in the home of golf since 1973 makes it even more so. Add in that impressive record on the host course and no wonder Gallacher will have a bounce in his step over the next three weeks. “It’s a course that fits my eye – it’s a perfect fit for me, really,” he admitted.
McGinley, meanwhile, will complete his backroom team with Paul Lawrie, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Irishman Padraig Harrington, being tipped to join the aforementioned Torrance and Smyth.