STEPHEN Gallacher has revealed that a secret flying visit to California, which was recommended by Open champion Phil Mickelson, is fuelling his all-out bid to play in next year’s Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.
The 38-year-old made the long trip without telling anyone other than his circle of family and closest friends to spend some valuable time on the west coast of America working with putting guru Dave Stockton.
Gallacher, the Dubai Desert Classic champion, had been using Stockton’s methods since first being told about them by Martin Laird when the pair represented Scotland in the World Cup in China two years ago.
However, he was keen to meet the former US Ryder Cup captain in person to learn more about what he teaches and so he jumped on a plane almost straight after returning from the European Masters last month.
“I arrived home from Switzerland at midnight then flew out at seven the next morning…I spent two days with Dave and it was a brilliant experience,” Gallacher told The Scotsman.
“I’d played with Phil Mickelson a couple of times this year, including the US PGA Championship, and, having asked him, he said that Stockton was brilliant with short-game advice. I’d pretty much been doing a lot of the things he preaches since playing in the last World Cup with Martin Laird, who also worked with him. I’d also read his book and watched his DVD, but getting the chance to see him was better as he was able to talk me through why I should be doing certain things. He gave me a couple of drills to work on and told me what to be aware of so that I could self-teach.
“He’s meant to be the best in the business when it comes to putting and he’s helped with my chipping as well, which is an added bonus as that’s a big part of the game, too.”
While his first outing following the Stockton session resulted in him missing the cut in the Dunhill Links, Gallacher has seen positive signs on the greens in his two events since then. “It was a difficult transition at first and I think I maybe overdid things at the Dunhill, but the last two events I’ve putted really well,” he added. “I putted great in the Seve Trophy. While coming down the stretch in Portugal on Sunday I holed some lovely putts. It’s starting to feel really good.”
Having tied for third in Portugal – his second top five in three events – Gallacher is sitting 14th in the Race to Dubai heading into the European Tour’s new Final Series. It comprises four events – two in China and one each in Turkey and Dubai – carrying a total prize fund of just over £20 million. “Anyone winning one of these events will be three-quarters of the way to playing in the Ryder Cup next year,” noted Gallacher, who will also be competing for a huge prize pot when he heads straight from the Dubai event to play in the World Cup of Golf in Australia. His 2013 campaign may not finish there, either.
“If I do well in these four events coming up, it will also give me a chance to get in the Nedbank Challenge (being held in South Africa in December but an early event on the 2014 schedule) as well. It counts for the Ryder Cup and also offers big world ranking points, so these are definitely the events you want to be playing in.”
Gallacher has just become Scotland’s top-ranked male professional, having climbed above both Laird and Paul Lawrie since recording his second European Tour triumph in Dubai earlier in the year. Of more importance to the 56th-ranked Gallacher, though, is getting inside the top 50 heading into 2014, when the Ryder Cup returns to Scotland for the first time in more than 40 years.
“I’m not trying to think about the Ryder Cup,” he insisted. “I’m just trying to win tournaments and a definite goal is getting into the top 50 by the end of December as that will get me into the Masters for the first time.
“As for being the Scottish No 1, I’ve held that position before, after I won the Dunhill Links in 2004 and it’s not something I’ll be dining out on. It’s nice, but it would mean more if I was in the top 50 or, even better, the top 30 in the world. However, Martin Laird has won on the PGA Tour this year and Paul Lawrie, a Ryder Cup player last year, is someone I’ve always looked up to as being one of the top players. So, if you are ahead of them in the rankings, then it is a good sign.”