Golf: Tartan army can make gains at Castle Stuart

Stephen Gallacher hosted a Links masterclass during a Scottish Open media launch at Castle Stuart yesterday. Picture: PA
Stephen Gallacher hosted a Links masterclass during a Scottish Open media launch at Castle Stuart yesterday. Picture: PA
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HE HAS won over the hallowed fairways of the Old Course at St Andrews and racked up a list of titles as long as your arm in Scotland as an amateur.

For Stephen Gallacher, though, there’s one title on home turf that sticks out above the rest and would take pride of place on his CV.

“This is probably the fifth major for the Scots,” said the 38-year-old of the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open during a visit to Castle Stuart yesterday ahead of the event’s third staging at the picturesque Inverness course next month. “Along with the PGA Championship, this is the one we all want to win in front of your own fans in your home country.”

It is 14 years since the event fell to a Scot – Colin Montgomerie won at Loch Lomond when it was called the Standard Life Invitational – although Marc Warren had one hand on the title with four holes to play last July only to suffer a meltdown over the closing stretch.

Gallacher believes Warren, who has since seen two other winning positions agonisingly slip from his grasp on the European Tour, most recently losing in a play-off to Matteo Manassero in the BMW PGA Championship, could be “the one to beat” in the Highlands and feels golf’s Tartan Army has real strength in depth heading into the event.

“Marc will be looking forward to coming here,” said this year’s Dubai Desert Classic champion of his compatriot. “I know you maybe think he let one slip, but he’s not the only guy to do that – and he won’t be the last guy to do that. “On the whole, he’s probably got some good memories here. To get that clear on a field of that magnitude was some achievement. He’s a great player. He’s had a couple of close things – but he’s won three times [including a World Cup triumph with Montgomerie].

“Scottish golf in general definitely has real strength in depth at the moment. On the other side of the pond, we’ve seen Martin Laird [in the Valero Texas Open] winning already this year while, on the European Tour, Scott Jamieson and myself have also won this season.

“On top of that, we had Paul Lawrie having a year like last year, Peter Whiteford is knocking on the door, Chris Doak, having found his way after coming from the Tartan Tour, is in the US Open next week and Greig Hutcheon played well down at the PGA. There are a lot of guys who are knocking on the door.

“It’s been brilliant for everyone and it’s rubbing off on the country. We’re all friendly and that’s maybe got something to do with it. It might also be down to everybody getting more used to being out here, going back to courses year on year, getting to know their game better and maturing. I think the youngest Scot on Tour is 26 [Scott Henry]. We’re all pretty much maturing and that has got a lot to do with it as well.

“The more guys you can get on the Tour the more chance we have of knocking a win off. It’s evident now when you look at the entry list and there’s ten or 15 Scots. That’s phenomenal when you look back to seven years or so ago.”

Through his own foundation, which has gone from strength to strength in the Lothians since its launch 18 months ago, Gallacher is playing a part in trying to bring through the next wave of Scottish talent. His 12-year-old son Jack made his debut for the Lothians in a boys’ match recently and Gallacher is determined to offer him, as well as anyone else who wants it, the “right support” in a bid to see a Scot winning titles at the same age as either Manassero or Rory McIlroy.

“When we’re looking back at young superstars, there has only been Tiger [Woods], Phil [Mickelson], Sergio (Garcia), Manassero and Rory. It’s the same as [Lionel] Messi, [Christiano] Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney in football – they don’t come around very often,” he said.

“There’s plenty young kids I see playing in my foundation on a Sunday who can play at eight years old. It’s a process you’ve got to start young and manage them all the way through and, who knows, with the right support, we might produce the next superstar.

“You’ve just got to hope there will be and, if there isn’t, then if we can just get guys coming through who have learned the game and enjoy golf then it’s just as good, I think.”

Like every other course in the country, Castle Stuart is reckoned to be about “four weeks behind” in terms of growth and the gorse reaching bloom. However, one thing evident already is that the fairways have much more definition than in the past, although that is believed to be down to the natural development of the course than it consciously being tightened up.

“This is a definite modern links,” observed Gallacher. “To be a proper links you’ve got to have earned your stripes. You’ve got to be really old, proper old-fashioned.

“The difference between this and somewhere like St Andrews is that the fairways are much more fiery over the old-fashioned links course. Here, the fairways are fiery but they’ve still got a bit of give in them. The greens are better here, newer grass, truer, where the old ones can be harder to read because of little bumps and stuff.

“I was lucky enough to play here just before it opened and the difference is unbelievable in the shape and definition. It is only going to get better and better.”