YOU never look back. So said Stephen Gallacher as he was awarded honorary membership of the Professional Golfers’ Association at a lunch bash in Glasgow yesterday. That might indeed be so but, in his case, 2014 is certainly worthy of reflection.
He became the first player in the 25-year history of the Dubai Desert Classic to retain that coveted title. He also recorded eight top-10 finishes, a consistency that will result in him ending the year sitting as the world No 35, a rise of 31 spots from 12 months ago.
He also turned 40 and, last but certainly not least, he made his Ryder Cup debut as a member of the winning European team on home soil at Gleneagles. “It’s one that’s going to be hard to top,” he admitted, though that’s exactly what he aims to do after a short break to recharge his batteries.
For Gallacher, the highlight of the year was the way he earned one of Paul McGinley’s wildcards for the biennial contest in Perthshire. After back-to-back missed cuts in America, including the US PGA Championship, he finished seventh in the Czech Republic then third in Italy in the final two counting events. “All I could see in the last round in Italy was David Howell’s arse as he picked the ball out of the hole,” he said of the Englishman firing a final-day 63 to deny his former Walker Cup team-mate an automatic spot but not, as he had feared, killing Gallacher’s Ryder Cup dream.
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Selected ahead of the likes of Luke Donald, the Lothians man was paired with fellow wild-card pick Ian Poulter in the opening fourballs. It looked to be a masterstroke by McGinley, but is the one thing the Irishman regrets from the week.
While he had prepared Graeme McDowell to take Victor Dubuisson under his wing and also got it right by pairing Jamie Donaldson with Lee Westwood, Poulter simply wasn’t playing well enough to be the senior partner Gallacher perhaps needed on his debut.
“Paul’s reasoning, and he told me this, was that he thought playing with me wearing a Saltire on the jersey and us having a big crowd would be the spur for Ian as he hadn’t been playing as well as normal [in the build-up to the Ryder Cup],” said Gallacher.
“It obviously didn’t work,” he added of the comprehensive defeat handed out to the pair by US rookies Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed. “Neither of us played well – we only had one birdie. But I have absolutely no negativity about the Ryder Cup. I only had positives. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
That is despite the fact that Gallacher didn’t re-appear until the singles, where he came up against Phil Mickelson, a man with a point to prove, as later became evident when dissent within the US ranks towards captain Tom Watson became apparent.
“I wouldn’t take anything back from the Ryder Cup – I thought it was absolutely brilliant,” he added. “Even just to spend a week with the best players in the world and see them up close. If I wanted to ask them questions, or if they wanted to ask me questions.
“It’s just when you get into that environment, you realise you belong there and you are not far away. You are one decent week away from being right amongst them and I think that is the motivation that I need.”
During the season-ending Tour Championship in Dubai last month, McGinley sent a letter to all 12 players on his team at Gleneagles. Gallacher admits he has “taken a lot of confidence” from the words the Irishman chose for him.
“McGinley sent me a text first and then a letter,” he said. “I’ll probably not show it to many people because it’s a personal letter, but the stuff he said has been brilliant and it’s a mark of the man.
“He talked to me about how I handled being left out, as did a few of my peers. There are 12 guys and you leave your egos at the door. It’s purely the result that you want and it doesn’t matter how it happens.
“Yes, I would have liked to have played a bit more. But would I swap that and get beat? No, I wouldn’t and against Mickelson was probably as good as I’ve played all year. “But you are playing one of the top guys outwith Tiger [Woods] who has won five majors. Also, if he doesn’t do that he can’t have a go at Watson [as Mickelson did in a press conference that sparked the US task force that has seen been set up]. I held my head up high and I enjoyed it. I desperately want to play it again.”
First up for Gallacher in 2015 is a trip to California to test out some TaylorMade equipment. He also intends to use that for a refresher with Dave Stockton, the putting guru he first visited just over a year ago.
His first outing of the year will be in Qatar – Abu Dhabi has been left off his schedule this time around – before he then defends the Dubai title for a second time, with a trip to Malaysia completing his first major foray of the new campaign.
“You never look back,” he said. “You know you’ve had a good year – but all you’re trying to do is bottle that formula and keep doing it. You don’t end up 34th or 35th in the world by having one good year. You’ve got to have two or three good years, or it cascades away. I’m getting more consistent. I just want to improve slightly in places, that wee bit here and there – and, who knows, you could be in the top ten as quick as that. It’s such a fine margin.”
Former North Berwick professional David Huish, Emma Fairnie, the ex-Gullane trainee now working in New Zealand, and John Muir, the driving force behind Deer Park being one of the Tartan Tour’s longest-running tournament venues, were also honoured at yesterday’s event.
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