STEPPING on to the stage as the guest of honour at yesterday’s PGA in Scotland luncheon in Glasgow, Bernard Gallacher admitted to feeling nervous.
“The last time I spoke at a function I woke up a week later surrounded by my wife and a chaplain,” he told the hushed audience in the Hilton Hotel.
It’s unlikely there was a single person in the room who was unaware of the circumstances, the former Ryder Cup captain having suffered a cardiac arrest at an event in the Marcliffe Hotel in Aberdeen, where he was brought back to life then and two subsequent times en route to hospital in the Granite City.
No-one will ever have to tell Gallacher he is lucky to still be here, hence his wife, Lesley, deciding to drive a campaign, Play Golf – Help Save Lives, to have defibrillators available at every golf club and driving range in the country.
The 64-year-old wasn’t originally due to be the man in the spotlight at yesterday’s event, having only agreed to step in when his nephew, Stephen, earned a call-up for this week’s Royal Trophy in China, where he is lining up in the European side against Asia along with Paul Lawrie and Marc Warren.
But, with all due respect to Stephen, it was a pre-Christmas treat for the assembled guests that the more experienced of the two golfing Gallachers was the man being interviewed on this occasion by MC for the day, broadcaster Dougie Donnelly.
Earlier, Gallacher, who played in eight Ryder Cup matches before leading Europe on three occasions in the match, including a 1995 win at Oak Hill, revealed he had suffered a “couple of setbacks” since the day he cheated death.
Ahead of an appointment with his consultant today, though, the Bathgate man was looking as healthy as ever and used his first public appearance in Scotland since that visit to Aberdeen to thank those who saved his life. Chief among them was Colin Leyden, a member at Aberdour in Fife but, more importantly in Gallacher’s eyes, a man who sells defibrillators and visits oil rigs to instruct workers how to use them.
“I was lucky – I couldn’t have had a better guy there that night,” admitted Gallacher, who met Leyden for the first time at the launch of his defibrillator campaign at Wentworth on Monday and admitted it didn’t take a rocket scientist to work out what he’d said to the person who’d saved his life.
“Thanks very much, for a start,” he replied to that question. “Colin was there and recognised right away what was going on because he actually sells defibrillators.
“He goes out to the rigs, where you obviously can’t get access to ambulances, and instructs people how to use them.”
According to Gallacher, Leyden has been matter-of-fact about his role in saving the life of one of Scottish golf’s legendary figures. “He was at the Marcliffe Hotel that night after playing in the golf day earlier [at Banchory] and he was actually more concerned about the shot I hit against him in the ‘beat the pro’ competition. ‘You beat me by two inches’, he told me – but I couldn’t remember a thing about it.
“He said, ‘Well, you stood on the tee, it was an 8-iron. I was hoping to beat you, but I was hoping you would beat my pal’. He wanted to talk about the golf and I just wanted to thank him for saving my life.”
Stuart Spence, owner of the Marcliffe Hotel, has long seen the importance of defibrillators being on hand and now Gallacher, having cheated death along with former Bolton football player Fabrice Muamba, who recovered after dying on the pitch during an FA Cup match against Tottenham Hotspur, is hoping his campaign can further raise awareness.
“What happened to me hasn’t changed my perspective really,” insisted the man who won more than 20 European Tour titles. “What I had was not a heart attack, which is to do with arteries and blockages and damages the heart.
“There’s symptoms before you have a heart attack – chest pains, pains in your arm. Strong symptoms that say, ‘I’m in trouble’. But with cardiac arrest it’s actually sudden-death syndrome and is no respecter of age.”
Referring to the former Wales football manager, he added: “Terry Yorath’s son had it. He dropped dead in the garden playing football with his father.
“As for Fabrice Muamba, you couldn’t have got a fitter man than a footballer and they’d been monitoring his heart in training. His heart went into a rhythm and stopped: it’s called arrhythmia.
“I don’t feel any different now to before I suffered my cardiac arrest. I feel fine but it’s something that has its own dangers, so I’ve got to be careful from now on and not overdo things.
“My wife and I think I’m very lucky to be around so if we can help people to be around after something like this happens to them, then we’ve got a duty to do that. That’s our thank-you. This isn’t going to be a lifetime campaign. It runs to the Ryder Cup and we’ve got Ryder Cup tickets to give away as part of it.”