DCSIMG

Stephen Gallacher is motivated by past Masters

Jose and Sandy Lyle [pictured] still play Augusta well  Picture: Getty

Jose and Sandy Lyle [pictured] still play Augusta well Picture: Getty

  • by MARTIN DEMPSTER
 

HE’S no different to his own son, Jack. As a kid himself, Stephen Gallacher was a golfing sponge. Nothing beat hitting a ball out on the course at Bathgate but, starry-eyed like every other youngster, he never missed the chance to watch golf on the television.

And, when that happened to be The Masters, he’ll forever be grateful to his parents, Wilma and Jim, for allowing him to stay up late on Sunday nights so that he could log a memory bank of magical memories from the season’s opening major.

Gallacher will re-live many of them when he makes his debut at Augusta National this week, having earned his place alongside Sandy Lyle, the 1988 winner, as the only Scots in this year’s field after catapulting himself into the world’s top 50.

By the time Thursday’s tee-off comes around, however, his mind will be firmly focused on the future, not the past, as the Lothians man is determined to make his first Masters experience a memorable one.

Given that Fuzzy Zoeller, back in 1979, was the last player to don the Green Jacket as a debutant, it’s a tall order to expect the 39-year-old to ­become ­Scotland’s first men’s major winner since Paul Lawrie was crowned as an Open champion 15 years ago.

Having used back-to-back Dubai Desert Classic victories as well as a career-best WGC performance – joint sixth in the Cadillac Championship at Doral – to build up a nice head of steam, though, Gallacher certainly isn’t here just to make up the numbers.

“After all those years watching the Masters, it’s nice to be here myself,” he admitted, having arrived in Georgia on Friday along with wife Helen, the aforementioned Jack and his younger sister, Ellie. “This is a tournament I’ve watched all my days since I was a kid. It’s the one I was allowed to stay up late for and be grumpy at school the next day. I can remember Seve [Ballesteros] hitting it into the water at the 15th [in 1986]. I can remember [Nick] Faldo and [Greg] ­Norman [in 1996], Woosie [Ian ­Woosnam winning in 1991] and, of course, Sandy hitting his fantastic shot out of the bunker at the last when he won in 1988.”

Accommodating as ever, Lyle was quick to offer Gallacher the chance to pick his brains about the Dr Alister MacKenzie-designed Augusta National course, which he did during a practice round they played together on Saturday. He’s also hoping his preparation will include a similar exercise with Jose Maria Olazabal, a two-times winner.

“Jose and Sandy still play Augusta well,” he noted. “There must be a way to play it. Fred Couples is another one who still plays well here and I might ask him for a game in practice as well. I’ll ­definitely try and play with somebody who knows the course.

“You’ve got to play the course yourself and learn about it, but I already know that here, perhaps more than ­anywhere else, there are certain places you can’t hit it for certain pin positions.”

Distance control is also important. Gallacher learned that from watching Faldo, his golfing idol along with Ballesteros, claim three Green Jackets. “He was unbelievable round here when it came to that aspect of the game,” he recalled. “And that’s one thing I know that you have to be able to do if you want to do well in this event.”

To give himself the best possible chance of doing that, Gallacher is aiming to have all the souvenirs bought for ­family and friends long before stepping on to the first tee on Thursday. “I’m going to get the tourist bit, getting all the merchandise stuff for my pals, out of the way early then get into the ­tournament,” he said.

Gallacher is glad that he waited to make the journey down Magnolia Lane for the first time with a coveted invitation in his back pocket. “I’ve had two chances to play here before now but turned them down,” he revealed. “One was a year back from a member and the other four weeks ago. But I didn’t want to play then. I wanted to drive down Magnolia Lane and play the course for the first time, when it’s in all its ­splendour with the azaleas.”

Having seen his own career blossom over the past few months, Gallacher couldn’t be heading into a tournament that sees him complete the set of majors feeling more confident. “The more you play in these events and WGCs, the more comfortable you feel,” he stressed. “Look at a guy like Graeme McDowell. He probably played in 60 of them before he won one [the 2010 US Open].

“There are very few guys come straight out like Patrick Reed and win one of them,” he added of the American’s stunning success in the Cadillac Championship at Doral. “It’s like an ­apprenticeship and this is probably only my 12th major or WGC event.”

The majority of them have been ­attended by Jack, who will be sharing caddy duties with his sister in Wednesday’s Par-3 competition. “He’s been so excited over the past wee while that we’ve almost had to scrape him off the walls,” laughed Gallacher of his 13-year-old son.

It’s a common belief that, in Ryder Cup year, the two teams don’t really start to take shape until after Augusta. Gallacher currently occupies one of the nine automatic spots in Paul McGinley’s European team and can take another huge step on the road to Gleneagles by making his presence felt on the ­leaderboard this weekend.

He’s well aware, though, that this week alone won’t determine that ­particular goal, especially with places already locked up for the three other majors this season as well as the Players’ Championship and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

Gallacher also looks set to play in two more PGA Tour events before the qualifying race ends. Instead of travelling halfway across the world to tee up in the ­Malaysian Open, he’s staying on in America next week to play in the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head in South ­Carolina. And, later in the season, he is eyeing the possibility of getting an invitation for the Wyndham Championship, which comes straight after the USPGA Championship at Valhalla.

For the moment, though, Gallacher is only thinking about a Masters debut that will be fuelled by so many special childhood memories.

 

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