IT WAS the burst-couch effect. After all the intensity of putting in so much effort to make the Ryder Cup, Stephen Gallacher suddenly felt drained.
He’d half-expected such a reaction, though, so there was no sense of alarm whatsoever as he reflected on a seven-over-par 78 – his worst score this season in a regular European Tour event – in the first round of the ISPS Handa Wales Open at Celtic Manor.
“There was a bit of rust in there,” admitted the 39-year-old of his first outing in nearly three weeks. In the Italian Open, he had seven birdies in the last round and 22 in total. This circuit was completely barren of red figures.
As a result, Gallacher heads out today 13 shots behind the leader, Dutchman Joost Luiten, and needing a marked improvement to avoid heading back to Scotland sooner than he’d anticipated before meeting up with the rest of the European team at Gleneagles on Monday.
“I’m not feeling down as I did half expect it,” he added. “I went all out to get in it (the team) and was knackered after that. Generally, if I’ve got something to play for, I’ll play pretty well. When I go through the motions I’m useless. All eyes are on next week and it’s hard to put it out of my mind.”
Gallacher smiled when it was put to him that he’d perhaps over-indulged at a dinner on Wednesday night with Paul McGinley, the European captain, and the three other team members playing here. “I was in my bed early,” he insisted.
That made the journey down worthwhile for the Scot, even if he does miss the cut. “We had a private room with the caddies and had a good craic,” he said. “It was exciting. You’re listening to Lee Westwood who’s played in eight of them, [Jose Maria] Olazabal’s there, McGinley’s holed the winning putt.”
A bad day at the office, therefore, was kept firmly in perspective. “One swallow doesn’t make a summer, so I’m not really bothered to be honest,” he declared. “Next week it’ll be different, you’re in a heightened mood and I’ll be better.”
Of the Ryder Cup quartet, Welshman Jamie Donaldson fared best with a one-under 70. Dane Thomas Bjorn signed for a 71 while Lee Westwood, who was also shaking off some rust in only his second event in five weeks, carded a 72.
“I wouldn’t be worried by what he did today,” said Bjorn, one of Gallacher’s playing partners. “He’s had a couple of weeks off and was fractionally rusty today. But he’s so much looking forward to it (the Ryder Cup) and his mind is probably already on it. He’ll get back on his feet.”
Luiten, who finished just behind Gallacher in the qualifying campaign, stormed home in 30, covering his last ten holes in six-under, as he took a one-shot lead over Glaswegian Andrew McArthur and Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts.
“My wife is due to give birth next Friday, which means there have been some alarm bells,” revealed McArthur after coming in with his five-under-par 66 late in the day. “I’ve had a few phone calls saying, ‘Oh, I think it’s started’.
“I don’t know how long I’ll be about, so maybe that’s why I’m so relaxed.”
He should really have been in Kazakhstan this week trying to cement a card for next season off the Challenge Tour, but didn’t want to be halfway around the world when his wife, Laura, goes into labour. ‘We came to an agreement – I just keep hitting good shots until the phone goes,” added the former Scottish Amateur champion after plopping his approach at the last into the water but then saving par by holing a 35-foot downhill putt.
Colsaerts’ opening salvo included a colossal 447-yard drive at the same hole – his ninth. It set a new record on the European Tour, beating by five yards an effort from India’s Shiv Kapur in the Madeira Islands Open two years ago.
“I caught a good bounce,” said Colsaerts, a renowned big-hitter. “I thought it was too far right. But there’s a bit of a speed trap down the right and it must have just lugged down the fairway.”
Even by his standards, it was a monster. Playing at 613 yards on this occasion, Colsaerts was left with just a “full gap wedge” for his second to set up an eagle, which he followed with back-to-back birdies in a significant thrust.
“My playing partners (Tommy Fleetwood and Julien Quesne) gave the usual reaction, a big smile on their face and a look that said ‘really’,” added the Belgian. “That is the longest shot I’ve hit. I hit over a 400-yarder playing with Ernie (Els) in the Champions in South Africa a couple of years back.”
Having played in the last Ryder Cup, Colsaerts admitted he couldn’t help feeling jealous when he saw Paul McGinley, the European captain, having dinner with Gallacher, Bjorn, Donaldson and Westwood in the hotel at Celtic Manor on Wednesday night. “I thought, ‘I wish I was in that room’,” he admitted. Having fallen well short in the qualifying race this time around, though, Colsaerts wasn’t even in the mix for a captain’s pick. “I left them in peace because it’s their adventure and I am not part of that,” he said.
No longer part of this tournament is Chris Doak. Out in the first group of the day, the 36-year-old had put a plan in place that would see him rush to the airport to catch a flight back to Scotland to be at the birth of his first child yesterday, then head back to Wales again in time for his second round.
After hitting two balls into the water from through the back of the green at the last, though, he didn’t finish the hole, dashed up the hill to jump in a courtesy car and scrapped the second part of that plan.
“Very weird day,” he tweeted en route to joining his wife, Laura. “Excited to become a dad. Golf certainly ain’t everything.”