NESTLED in a chair in the plush but homely new £1 million clubhouse at Macdonald Spey Valley with the snow-capped Cairngorms over his shoulder, the setting was a far cry from the frenzy that will envelop Gleneagles in September.
It was inevitable, however, that the Ryder Cup figured prominently in Stephen Gallacher’s sitdown with some members of the Scottish golfing press at the official opening of the Aviemore facility and, as ever, he was open and honest about that goal.
“For me to get in I’ve got to have the best year of my life,” he admitted. It started superbly when he became the first player in the event’s 25-year history to win the Dubai Desert Classic back-to-back. That got him into the world’s top 50 and the events that matter for Ryder Cup qualification.
Until Sunday, Gallacher was effectively sitting in one of the positions in Paul McGinley’s side for Perthshire. Only nine qualify automatically but he was lying 11th in the standings in the battle for 12 spots.
Martin Kaymer returning to form with a vengeance by winning the Players’ Championship at Sawgrass changed that – the Scot, who missed the cut there, is now 14th on the overall list – but Gallacher isn’t panicking. Next week’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth marks the start of the business end in the Ryder Cup race and he’s relishing the challenge.
“I always knew that,” he said of former USPGA champion Kaymer, the man who holed the putt at Medinah to retain the trophy in 2012, and others such as Justin Rose, Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and Francesco Molinari starting to warm to the task of making McGinley’s team.
“These are proper, big-time players, major winners, these are the guys I’m up against,” he added. “That means it’s not going to be easy, but I know that I just have to peak for a little bit, for a couple of weeks like what Kaymer’s done. He wasn’t having as good a time as he’d previously had for a good while and bang, pops up with a big win. Poulter and Donald have also started to play well and these are the guys you want to get in.
“McGinley will be rubbing his hands at the prospect of these guys playing well. His top guys firing. You’d expect these guys to be in anyway. There’s just a couple of spots we’re going for so the tournaments I’m playing in the next while are all massive and you only need to hit top form and it can happen for you.”
After Wentworth, where he finished fourth in the Tour’s flagship event four years ago, the 39-year-old heads to Sweden, then has a week off before travelling back across the Atlantic for the US Open at Pinehurst. He’s got the Irish Open after that then, after a week’s break, has a three-week run taking in the French Open, Scottish Open and the Open Championship.
After recharging the batteries following that run, he has the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational then USPGA Championship back-to-back, by which time the Ryder Cup qualifying campaign will be reaching simmering point.
“I know if my game is in decent shape I can compete,” insisted Scotland’s top-ranked player. “That’s what playing in America has done for me – I know if I’m on form I can compete with the best of them.”
With a Ryder Cup – the first in Scotland since the 1973 match at Muirfield – on his doorstep, he’s desperate to be involved, but says scrutinising the standings won’t help his cause.
“I never look at the rankings,” insisted the Lothians man. “I have never been a looker, to be honest. When you look you tend to get obsessed with it. I have been there before when I’ve been trying to get into the Seve Trophy team and other teams and all you do is end up focusing on that and you just either make it or miss by a fraction.
“It increases the pressure and you’re under enough pressure as it is anyway. So it’s a case of just trying to prepare to win the next tournament and if you get your game plan in shape and are playing well and have a bit of luck you’re in contention. Paul [McGinley] says he’s looking for the form guys and this is the big push, the next 12 tournaments are massive events – the form section. He’s not looking at the guys who won last year. It’s current form, I’d say. That’s why I’m leaving blank spaces [after the USPGA] for Denmark and the Czech Republic as I might need to go there and do well.”
Whatever happens between now and then, Gallacher has already pencilled in a trip to Aviemore to see out 2014, having fallen in love with the Macdonald resort over the past few years. The Dave Thomas-designed course will stage the Scottish Hydro Challenge next month for the sixth consecutive year and, according to Gallacher, the new clubhouse is a welcome addition. “The course is very good and adding a £1m clubhouse like this with the views completes the package,” he said.