PAUL Lawrie’s decision to miss out on potential Ryder Cup points by skipping the forthcoming Hassan Trophy in Morocco so that he can attend the League Cup final has been backed by Bernard Gallacher, who wishes he had made the same choice himself more than 30 years ago.
After weighing up the pros and cons, Aberdeen fan Lawrie has plumped for his side’s Hampden showdown against Inverness Caledonian Thistle a fortnight tomorrow instead of teeing up in the European Tour event in North Africa.
“It’s been 14 years since the Dons were in a Cup final and 19 years since they won a trophy, so I can’t miss the chance,” he said. “Whenever I’m at home and able to go to the football, I do. And a Dons’ appearance in a cup final is one occasion I can’t pass up.
“It’s not as if I have a long-time association with the Morocco event and I don’t feel as if I will be letting anyone down. I like Morocco and hope to play there in the future, but it would have been a stand-alone event for me, so missing it lessens the impact.
“With Aberdeen also going well in the Scottish Cup, there had been the chance of seeing the Dons in two finals this season, but I’m definitely playing in Spain on the weekend of the Scottish Cup final, which falls the week before Wentworth and there is no way I can miss that event as its in the middle of a busy period for me.”
Gallacher, who last night received a lifetime achievement accolade at the Scottish Golf Awards in Glasgow, was in exactly the same position when his team, Hibs, also reached the League Cup final against Celtic in 1972. He chose golf ahead of football – and has regretted that decision ever since.
Recording their first knockout trophy triumph in exactly 70 years, Hibs, managed by Eddie Turnbull at the time, won 2-1 thanks to goals by Pat Stanton and Jimmy O’Rourke, with Celtic’s reply coming from Kenny Dalglish.
“Looking back now, I think I would have done the same as Paul,” admitted Gallacher. “I followed Hibs all the time and didn’t ever see them win anything. The only chance where they looked like winning was the League Cup in 1972 and the funny thing is that final was up against the event in Morocco as well.
“I chose to go to Morocco and I wish I hadn’t because Hibs ended up beating Celtic 2-1 in the final. So I can empathise with Paul on this. And why shouldn’t he because it’s a big moment for his team. Without taking away from the Moroccan event, it’s a smaller event on the calendar. Whether he would have done that if it was the PGA, I’m not so sure.
“But I can’t blame him for giving the event a miss. In fact, going to the final instead might do him some good. It certainly will if Aberdeen win!”
In addition to knowing he was missing out on a potential glory day for the Easter Road club, Gallacher revealed he had also made the trip to Morocco feeling nervous after the previous year’s event had taken place against the backdrop of a coup.
“It was a pro-am in those days and I wasn’t keen on going because the year before there had been a coup when the king was put in jail and a couple of tourists were shot dead on the beach,” recalled the 65-year-old.
“Some players, including Angel Garrido and John Cook, who was next in line, thought they were going to be shot and they probably would have been if the coup wasn’t called off in the nick of time for them. But I went anyway – and regretted it!”
To the delight of more than 800 guests, including skip David Murdoch and his silver-medal winning Team GB curling team from Sochi, Gallacher was presented with his lifetime award by Sandy Lyle, the recipient 12 months earlier on the same stage at the Hilton Glasgow. “After my attack, I think they said ‘we better do this quick!’ ” quipped the 1995 Ryder Cup-winning captain of the serious health scare he suffered last year and the reason he is now fronting a campaign to have defibrillators on hand at every golf club in the UK.
During a glittering career in which he combined club duties at Wentworth with playing, Gallacher was Rookie of the Year, won 13 European Tour titles – three more, frustratingly, than he is given credit for by Wikipedia – and was involved in 11 Ryder Cups, eight as a player.
“Winning my first professional tournament was the highlight for me,” revealed Gallacher of claiming the 1969 Schweppes PGA Championship at Ashburnham in South Wales. “I had some good moments before that, including playing for Scotland at Gullane. And people say that the Ryder Cup captaincy must have been the greatest experience for me.
“But, really, when you turn pro you never know if you are good enough, so when you eventually do [win], that is the moment that stands out. For me, that win in 1969 beats the Ryder Cup because it’s all about playing. If you asked me if I would rather be a player in the Ryder Cup or a captain, I would say a player.”
On a night when four other Scots to experience that thrill – Lyle, Harry Bannerman, Norman Wood and Andrew Coltart – were also in attendance, Catriona Matthew won Player of the Year for her role in Europe’s historic Solheim Cup success on US soil, while Phil Mickelson got the prize for Shot of the Year for his play-off chip that secured the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Castle Stuart.
THE WINNERS ARE
Player of the Year - Catriona Matthew
Lifetime Achievement Award - Bernard Gallacher
Amateur Golfer of the Year - James Ross
SGU Seniors Order of Merit - Lindsay Blair
Shot of the Year - Phil Mickelson
SLGA Girls Order of Merit - Connie Jaffrey
SGU Boy’s Order of Merit - Ewen Ferguson
SLGA Ladies Order of Merit - Eilidh Briggs
SGU Men’s Order of Merit - Jack McDonald
Adam Hunter Award - Robert MacIntyre
Team of the Year - University of Stirling
Junior Club of the Year - Fortrose & Rosemarkie
Volunteer of the Year - Liz Taylor