STEPHEN GALLACHER is looking forward to leaving the scorecard and pencil in his bag for the first time competitively as a professional. In his amateur days, the Lothians star played plenty of match-play golf and chalked up some notable success under that format.
In 1992, he won the Scottish Championship at Glasgow Gailes, beating David Kirkpatrick in an all-Lothians final on the Ayrshire coast.
Three years later, Gallacher helped Scotland win the European Team Championship in Belgium and was then in the winning Great Britain & Ireland team in the Walker Cup at Royal Porthcawl.
The Bathgate player won both his singles matches in Wales, beating Trip Kuehne on the second day as the hosts ran out 14-10 victors against an American side that included Tiger Woods.
Yet, in the near 17-and-a-half years that have passed since that encounter, Gallacher has not played a single match-play encounter as a professional.
It’s why he’s relishing his first-round match tomorrow in the WGC-Accenture Match Play, even though he faces a daunting task in the Arizona desert against head-to-head specialist Ian Poulter.
“I used to play match-play all the time as an amateur and it’s a nice feeling when you get out on the course without a card in your hand,” admitted the 38-year-old TaylorMade staff player. “It’s the uncertainty of what can happen when it’s just you against the man you are playing against and not the rest of the field.
“I definitely think the excitement of the Ryder Cup has shown how enthralling match-play can be and I can’t wait to get a taste if it again.
“It all comes down to who plays best on the day. You can shoot 67 in match-play and get beat. Yet you can go out and shoot 75 and still win.”
Since securing his place in the elite 64-man field on the back of winning the Dubai Desert Classic a fortnight ago, Gallacher was faced with a string of possible opponents.
Initially, it looked as though he’d be up against Masters champion Bubba Watson in the seeded draw, but then on-form Brandt Snedeker pulled out due to injury.
That left him facing a likely clash against another American, Jason Dufner, before Swede Fredrik Jacobson threw a late spanner in the works.
His move up the world rankings after tying for third in the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles meant another shuffle, with Gallacher finding himself paired with Poulter in the final draw.
“Dufner would have been tough enough, but Poulter was the match-play king of the Ryder Cup,” said Gallacher of his task in the £5.6 million event at Dove Mountain tomorrow.
“I’ll have my work cut out trying to force my way past him – I’ll need to be at the very top of my game – but I am not losing any sleep over my draw.
“I am coming off my second career win in the Dubai Desert Classic and my form has been good this year, so I’ll focus on my own game.”
Gallacher’s fireworks in securing that success in the Middle East has seen him earn three nominations in the European Tour’s Shot of the Month competition for February. The performance also earned him lots of pats on the back as well as a surprise letter from a well-known Scottish crime author.
“I’m still a bit of a dinosaur in the respect I go out and buy books,” he said.
“Quintin Jardine is one of my favourite authors and he’s helped me get a couple of fine copies in the past.
“When he saw I’d won in Dubai, he got my address from someone and sent me a lovely letter along with a copy of his new book.
“That was brilliant and I have to say that I felt very humbled by all the messages of congratulations and cards I received.”
Having climbed another spot to 56th in the latest world rankings, Gallacher’s next goal is to get into the top 50 as that will secure a place in the WGC- Cadillac Championship at Doral in a fortnight’s time.
“It’s important that I don’t get too far ahead of myself, but I hope my schedule keeps getting altered in the next few weeks and includes a first Masters appearance as well,” he said.