It wasn’t just Nick Faldo who was eclipsed by Matthew Fitzpatrick when he chalked up a third title triumph at the age of 22 years and 80 days in Dubai on Sunday. By just 54 days – 166 less than Faldo – the new DP World Tour champion also achieved that impressive feat quicker than Bernard Gallacher.
The Lothians legend notched a brace of victories when he was 20 in 1969, landing the Schweppes Open, the precursor to the PGA Championship, at Ashburnham in south Wales before coming out on top in the W.D. & H.O. Wills Tournament at Moor Park. He then claimed a third notable success two years later in the Martini International at Royal Norwich.
All those triumphs came in the days before the European Tour was set up, but they were both hard-earned and significant, nonetheless. For instance, he held off South African Kel Nagle, the 1960 Open champion, by a shot to prevail in Norfolk, having also had to dig deep to pip Christy O’Connor jnr for top spot in the middle victory in Hertfordshire.
Gallacher, in fact, had chalked up seven professional titles in total at that age. Though not at the same level as those other wins, he triumphed three times in Zambia in 1969 and 1970 while the first of five Scottish PGA Championships fell to him at Lundin Links in 1971.
“I’d never really thought much about it, to be honest, until everyone started writing about what an achievement it was by both Nick Faldo and Matt Fitzpatrick (pictured) to record three wins at the age of 22 and I thought, ‘I did that’,” Gallacher told The Scotsman. “Yes, it was achieved before the European Tour came into being, but you were still playing against the same players. Even then, though, I just took it in my stride. In 1969, I’d not only won a couple of tournaments but also finished runner-up five times.”
His success in the Martini event was actually overshadowed due to Englishman John Hudson achieving the rare feat of making consecutive holes-in-one during the second round. “John was playing right in front of me when he aced the 11th and 12th, one a par 3 and the other a driveable par 4,” recalled Gallacher. “That’s what really was the highlight of that tournament.”
Including another Martini International success, the Scot finished his career with ten official European Tour title triumphs and eight playing appearances in the Ryder Cup. Fitzpatrick already has one match against the Americans under his belt, having qualified automatically for the team that lost at Hazeltine earlier this year, and Gallacher said he has been particularly impressed by the Yorkshireman not being afraid to make tough decisions.
“Matt is obviously a good player,” said the 67-year-old, who still keeps a close eye on golfing matters around the globe. “Before he turned pro he was a good prospect, having won the US Amateur and also the Silver Medal in The Open at Muirfield.
“He also did the right thing pulling out of his golf scholarship at Northwestern – the same place Luke Donald attended – because it wasn’t for him. The only person who knows if it is the right thing or not is the player.”
Given the chance now, Gallacher is adamant that he’d have done things differently. “If I could turn back the clock, it would be my ambition to try and get a scholarship in the US,” he said. Things were a lot different when the Bathgate player joined the paid ranks, though, in 1967, the same year he won the Scottish Stroke Play Championship.
“I had no alternative than to turn pro,” he recalled. “Otherwise I’d have had to wait three years for a Walker Cup chance. In my case, it was all about turning pro and the quicker the better. It was unusual back then for somebody to do that at 18. But I knew that I wasn’t going to do anything academically, so it made sense to turn professional.”