Masters practice a Gallacher family affair
OF all the kids to pick at random for an interview out on the Augusta National course, an American television reporter certainly hit the jackpot with Stephen Gallacher’s son.
Thirteen-year-old Jack, who shared caddying duties with younger sister Ellie in yesterday’s Par-3 competition, almost gave her a heart attack as he revealed his golfing pedigree.
She was stunned when he told her that his dad was actually playing this week and even more gobsmacked when he then mentioned the Ryder Cup captain in his family, Stephen’s uncle, Bernard.
“I wasn’t there at the time, but I heard the interviewer – for CBS, I think – thought he was just a random kid until he said my dad’s playing this week and my uncle’s a former Ryder Cup captain,” revealed Stephen. “I think she had a heart attack when he said that, I don’t know if she believed him or not.”
Golf-daft Jack, who could have added that he’s on first-name terms with both Open champion Phil Mickelson and his caddie, Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay, is having a ball this week.
“He walked round with me inside the ropes on Saturday so he got to stand on the course and snuck in a wee putt on one of the holes as well,” reported Stephen.
In addition to playing with two former winners, Sandy Lyle and Jose Maria Olazabal, his preparation for a Masters debut at the age of 39 has involved spending some time on the practice putting green with short-game guru Dave Stockton.
On the recommendation of Mickelson, Gallacher made a flying visit to California last year to work with Stockton for the first time and, as well as trying to help him hole putts this week, the former US Ryder Cup captain has also been offering psychological advice.
“I was with him yesterday and he said, ‘remember, it’s just the North Georgia Open’. Aye right, thanks Dave,” revealed Gallacher.
“But he’s right, you do have to try to treat it the same as any other tournament and try not to over-prepare because you know it’s going to be a tough week, both mentally and physically.”
He completed his on-course preparations by playing the front nine on his own yesterday and is raring to go. “My preparation has gone to plan, it’s just a case of executing it tomorrow,” he said in looking forward to achieving a lifelong dream when he steps on to the first tee at 4.47pm UK time in the company of Darren Clarke and Nick Watney.
“I’ve played four sets of nine holes with a couple of past champions so I can’t do much more really to prepare. I played with Ollie and Miguel [Angel Jimenez] on Tuesday. Miguel has played 14 Masters and Ollie has obviously won it twice and played with Seve all his days, so it was great to get a couple of good insights.
“The biggest advice I got was that the flag is irrelevant here, it’s a part of the green that you’re trying to hit to and not getting yourself out of position.”
He’s also learned from Lyle that hitting shots from just off the putting surface with the leading edge of his wedge rather than a putter can be a good way of saving shots.
“Sandy showed me that trick when we played on Saturday,” he added. “He says he plays it a lot because you’re hitting into the grain of the grass and it’s quite thick, which makes it difficult to run the club through it.
“I would normally play a bump-and-run in that case but here it comes on the green with too much pace, whereas if you just top-spin it with the wedge it’s dying by the time it gets to the green.
“Using the wedge instead of the putter gets more top spin on it because the putter can sometimes jump a wee bit and roll it quicker. That’s just another subtlety about the place that you learn. That’s why there’s so much value in playing practice rounds with past champions. Jose said the more you play it the more you learn, same as St Andrews [scene of his first European Tour win in the 2004 Dunhill Links Championship] was for me.
“The first time I played the Old Course I was thinking what’s happening here because you’re going at flags and ending up 100 feet away. Then you learn you’ve got to hit it into certain places.”