THEY locked horns as opposing captains in the infamous “War on the Shore” at Kiawah Island. Now, 23 years on from that fiery clash, Bernard Gallacher and Dave Stockton are on the same side of the Ryder Cup fence.
At least they are when it comes to one of the 24 players now confirmed to do battle for Europe and the United States at Gleneagles later this month.
Stephen Gallacher, a well-deserved wildcard selection by European captain Paul McGinley along with English duo Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood, will make his debut in the inter-continental contest on home soil with that duo’s help: one, his uncle Bernard, having offered lifelong advice, and the other, Stockton, providing short-game advice over the past year.
“To have a former American captain help you get on the team is a bit of an anomaly, I suppose,” admitted a smiling Gallacher, who, after being advised to link up with Stockton by Phil Mickelson, paid a flying visit to California in between tournaments last October to kick-start a process that has undoubtedly improved his putting.
In closing with a 65 in the Italian Open last Sunday to convince McGinley he deserved to be in his side for the first Ryder Cup to be staged in Scotland in more than 40 years, the Bathgate man holed putt after putt – for birdies on the front nine then crucial pars coming in – under the most intense pressure of his career. Stockton may not want to see his pupil have the same level of success on the greens against the Americans in Perthshire but, along with so many others, he was delighted to see Gallacher get his pick. “He was the first one to text me and said he was just over the moon,” said 39-year-old Gallacher, who revealed his time in Stockton’s company had made him realise that the US captain in 1991 hadn’t been the culprit he’d believed him to be from tales from that encounter.
“My uncle Bernard wrote a book about Kiawah Island and they maybe didn’t see eye-to-eye, but Dave has spoken to me about the camouflaged hat that got that match portrayed as the ‘War On The Shore’,” said Gallacher.
“He explained the only reason he got that is because he goes hunting all the time and wanted to be able to wear his Ryder Cup hat when he went shooting and fishing. That was all it was to him. It was nothing to do with the Gulf War or whatever. It just shows you what can get kicked up in a storm.
“He is a nice man and he helped me out a bit and my uncle has helped me out, too. It’s not bad getting help from two Ryder Cup captains – one from either side.”
Having played in eight Ryder Cups, assisting Tony Jacklin as he changed the face of the event then captaining three European teams himself, including a victory at Oak Hill, New York, in 1995, Bernard Gallacher is certainly in a good position to be able to offer advice to one of the three rookies in McGinley’s line-up.
“He’s been in Paul McGinley’s shoes, so I’ll be leaning on him,” admitted Stephen, who used to spend part of his summer holidays at Wentworth when his uncle was the club professional at the plush Surrey club. “I’ll be speaking to him quite a lot over the next three weeks so that I know what to expect.”
In their first conversation after the wildcards were announced, Bernard took the wind out of Stephen’s sails a touch by saying he’d done the easy bit by making the team and the tough part – the match itself – was still to come.
“I said, ‘what?’” said Stephen of his initial reaction, having chiselled away at the coalface for a year then finding himself having to dig deeper than ever before in the final two weeks of the qualifying campaign to keep his lifelong dream alive. “But I know exactly what he means as it’s a pressure-cooker week. From Monday morning to the Monday morning, you are never off the stott.”