Martin Dempster: Stephen Gallacher can scale golf’s heights

Stephen Gallacher tips his cap. Picture: Getty
Stephen Gallacher tips his cap. Picture: Getty
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AS IN every other sport, golfers wear different guises. Sergio Garcia, for example, is a heart-on-the-sleeve type and sometimes lets his emotions spill over.

Just ask the bunker face at the Emirates Golf Club he attacked with disturbing venom on Saturday, having done exactly the same thing during the 2010 USPGA Championship at Whistling Straits. Much as I’m a Sergio fan, if there’s a third strike, so to speak, then he should be kicked out of that particular event on the spot.

Others prefer to go about their business quietly, rarely showing that raw emotion yet, deep down, have the same confidence as the Spaniard as far as their own talent is concerned and believe they have the same ability as him to become part of the furniture on the biggest stages in the game. Few, in truth, fit that bill better than Stephen Gallacher.

Fortunate to have known him and covered his golfing exploits for more than 20 years now, I reckon only a handful of other sporting types have come close to oozing Gallacher’s undoubted class. Judging by the flood of congratulations following his victory in the Dubai Desert Classic on Sunday, I’m not alone in thinking that.

He’s an enormous credit to his parents, Jim and Wilma, and also his late grandfather, Barney. The latter was the proudest man on earth the day Gallacher recorded his breakthrough win on the European Tour, beating Graeme McDowell in a play-off to claim the 2004 Dunhill Links Championship, and, along with the rest of us, wouldn’t have believed then that it would be more than eight years before a second title triumph followed.

Why so long then? It’s difficult to put a finger on the reason and, in those intervening years, he finished runner-up three times, including twice last season. If there was a catalyst, it was probably the spell, in 2009, when Gallacher was laid low by a rare inflammatory disease which attacked his joints and immune system and left him sitting on the sidelines.

During that four-and-a-half month lay-off, he had time to reflect on where he’d come up short to that point in his career and, over the last three years, Gallacher has surrounded himself with people he believed could help him become a more rounded player.

He still works with Bob Torrance on his long game and loves that man like his own father. However, the short-game input of both Alan McCloskey, the Bothwell Castle club professional who also works with Scott Jamieson, and Stephen Feeney has also started to pay dividends, as Gallacher demonstrated by holing out from bunkers and sinking putt after putt most of the time in Dubai.

Off the course, too, there have been positive influences that definitely played their part in Sunday’s success, one that has opened all sorts of doors for Gallacher – starting, almost certainly, with an appearance in the Accenture WGC Match-Play Championship in Arizona in a fortnight’s time after climbing more than 50 places to 60th in the latest world rankings.

Just as Paul Lawrie admits wife Marian is the rock in his hectic life, so, too, is Helen Gallacher. Again like Lawrie, Gallacher has been spurred on by his children, Jack and Ellie, the former already knowing more about the game at the age of 11 than some people learn in a lifetime and shaping up to be the next generation in the Gallacher golfing dynasty.

Before getting round to the man who started that and the influence he’s had on his nephew, a couple of other individuals have also helped Gallacher in his off-time – Robert Arkley being one and Iain Stoddart the other. Both are business acquaintances, so to speak, but have become valuable friends to Gallacher, too.

Arkley is the driving force behind Kingsfield Golf Centre on the outskirts of Linlithgow. It is close to Gallacher’s home and is now his main practice base (along with The Renaissance Club in East Lothian), as well as one of the hubs for the junior foundation he launched in the Lothians last year. Arkley would move heaven and earth to help Gallacher. In fact, he’s trying to do just that at the moment by seeking funding for a nine-hole par-3 course designed by Gallacher.

As for Stoddart, he’s the Guy Kinnings/Chubby Chandler of Scottish golf and was cock-a-hoop when the opportunity arose last year to add Gallacher to his burgeoning stable at Edinburgh-based Bounce Sports. The gregarious character is more than just a manager, though, and Gallacher likes spending time in his company.

When it comes to golfing knowledge, however, one man stands above everyone else in terms of what he’s provided to Gallacher’s golfing education and he, of course, is his uncle Bernard. Psychologists may well help players these days but money can’t buy the know-how of an 11-time European Tour winner, eight-time Ryder Cup player and three-time captain.

“He was a massive help when I started and still gives me advice on lots of stuff,” said Gallacher. “I’d be stupid not to use a winning Ryder Cup captain and, if there’s anything to think about or do in my game, I run it by him first.”

It’s Gallacher’s dream to follow in his uncle’s footsteps by playing in the Ryder Cup and, having secured his place in some of the events carrying the chunky world ranking points later in the season, he has at least given himself a chance of that happening on home turf at Gleneagles next September. A more immediate priority, though, is securing a spot in this summer’s Open Championship on his own doorstep, as predicted by Bernard ahead of a possible Masters debut in April.

“The Masters is the only major I’ve not played in, so it would be a dream to play at Augusta,” said Gallacher, who will secure one of the coveted invitations if he can climb into the top 50 by the end of next month. “What I want most of all, though, is to qualify for The Open at Muirfield as it’s the best tournament in the world.”

If he makes it, equilibrium is likely to be one of the strongest clubs in his bag.