IN HIS successful bid to get into this year’s Ryder Cup team, Stephen Gallacher embarked on a pretty exhausting schedule in the height of the season. During a nine-event run that started at the US Open and went through to the Italian Open, he took just two weeks off.
It was all about chasing points, his schedule being dictated by what events carried the biggest rewards in that respect. Hence, for example, his reason to stay in America after missing the cut in the US PGA Championship to play in the Wyndham Championship rather than tee up in the European Tour’s Made in Denmark event that same week.
He’d do it all over again, of course, if it meant he got another chance to spend a week in a team environment with the likes of Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose. But, in 2015, it will be more about quality than quantity for Gallacher. He wants to “peak” at the right times in the new season, with a fortnight in July his particular target in that respect.
No-one is probably more excited than the Lothians man to see the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open heading to Gullane for the first time. Admittedly, it’s a composite course being used for that, but visits there in recent years for games with the likes of Scott Knowles and Simon Mackenzie, two leading Scottish amateurs at one time, will give Gallacher an advantage he’s keen to exploit to the full.
The week after that, of course, sees St Andrews stage the Open Championship and, helped by some useful tips from Nick Faldo during a practice round nearly 20 years ago, the current Scottish No 1 has enjoyed some memorable moments there, notably, of course, when beating Graeme McDowell in a play-off to win the 2004 Dunhill Links Championship.
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“I’m going to try to peak for certain bits of the year and Gullane before The Open is brilliant,” admitted the double Omega Dubai Desert Classic champion.
“Those two weeks are the ones I would love to win – both of them. I’ll be targeting them.
“Gullane have been great to me. They give me playing rights and I know the courses pretty well. And obviously St Andrews, the home of golf… when The Open is there, it’s a different atmosphere to anywhere else in the world.
“If you asked any golfer on the planet, they would want to win either the Masters or The Open at St Andrews.
“Having won around the place (the Old Course), I understand it. You are basically playing the weather and not the course. You know where the pins are going to be, but if the wind is blowing in four different directions, it’s four different ways to play a hole.
“If it’s flat clam, you need to shoot low. If it’s blowing, it can be the hardest course in the world to get close and it is understanding what you need for each day.
“I played a practice round with Nick Faldo once, maybe in 1995. He had book upon book, permutations on permutations. ‘If the flag is there and the wind is there, I hit it there’. That sort of stuff.”
Gerald Micklem, a renowned British golf administrator and former English Amateur champion, presented Faldo with those handwritten notes, which, of course, helped him claim the Claret Jug there in 1990.
“He was a strategist and that is what that course needs,” observed Gallacher. “Faldo couldn’t overpower the course, so he did it another way.”
Another peak period for Gallacher in 2015 will be early in April, when he returns to Augusta National for his second Masters appearance. As debuts go there, finishing in the top 35 was a pretty decent effort. It would have been even better but for a third-round 81, which he admits was a learning curve for him about taking on pins when a safety-first approach was called for.
“I’m going to take the week off before The Masters, because I think Augusta is a place where you need to play as much as you can,” said the 40-year-old.
“I’m going to try to play with [Jose-Maria] Olazabal and big Sandy [Lyle] again, guys who have been round it.”
While Gallacher admits he was “absolutely shattered” when making his early exit from the USPGA Championship at Valhalla in August, that, coupled with a missed cut the following week in the Wyndham Championship, actually proved to a blessing in disguise as far as the Ryder Cup was concerned.
“Missing those cuts actually wasn’t a bad thing because I got home and rested, went to the Czech Open and finished seventh, then gave it a right good go in Italy (where he finished third in the final counting event).”
Next year he is determined to go into the season’s final major – being held at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin – feeling properly prepared.
That could mean him playing in the Quicken Loans National on the PGA Tour the same week as the new Saltire Energy Paul Lawrie Matchplay event at Murcar Links in preparation for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational the following week.
“It’s quite important to get it right,” said Gallacher of his scheduling as he bids to use the 2015 campaign to kick-on after establishing himself inside the world’s top 50 this year.
“I think feeling more comfortable comes with maturing,” he added. “The pressure coming down the stretch anywhere is the same, no matter if it’s The Masters, The Open or the Czech Open. It’s the same feeling – you’re trying to win it and I’m actually better when I get in that place because it’s my kind of psyche.
“I like being up for it. I struggle when I am going through the motions. If I’m tired or what not, I’m useless. I need something to aim for, so the big tournaments are great for me.
“It’s fatigue that’s the killer. It’s my nemesis. That’s why I need to get my schedule right.”
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