“This is a wonderful game of golf,” said Alex Salmond while sipping a soft drink called Dude as we headed up the 12th fairway together. “If I wasn’t here supporting Europe I’d be cheering for Phil who’s a fantastic golfer. But Stephen is a lovely guy, a credit to his family and he’s playing superbly. And then the First Minister shared his pastrami sandwich with me. “Don’t say I’m not good to The Scotsman,” he chortled.
“Stephen reckons he always plays better when I’m watching,” said Kirsty Gallacher, the TV presenter, who’d joined us as the momentum was swinging. “He always wants his cousin with him. Well here I am – I’m working today but have managed to nip out for a bit – and he’s just got two birdies. Come on Stephen!”
Unfortunately that was as good as it got for Gallacher. Mickelson recovered his cool – and the man is cool – to take the last three holes for a 3&1 win. “It was a good match,” the Scot said afterwards. “It was nip and tuck, I played hard and he played hard. He hit a lovely putt on 12 for par, a 25-footer. We both birdied the 14th but then he hit birdies on the next two holes and it was an uphill struggle for me from there.”
Gallacher was right: it was a good match, enjoyed by big crowds with Lions Rampant fluttering and plenty of whoopin’ and a hollerin’ for “Leftie” as well, and the 39-year-old played a good game until he found bother with his final three off the tee. But with the Ryder Cup won and him not able to get on the scoreboard, were there mixed emotions? “No, not at all,” he said. “I’m proud of myself and the way I played today and just happy to be part of this great team.”
The match had a lot going for it. The most glamorous name in the US team, with Mickelson’s wife Amy running up the side of the fairways in the hope of matching her man’s cartoon lollop – and the quiet, almost dour laddie from Bathgate, Ryder Cup royalty although you’d never know it, who doesn’t smile much but no matter: the Mickelsons have more than enough smiles to go round.
Both players had something to prove after being omitted from the second day. Mickelson said he had been “disappointed to sit”. He’d been “ready to go” on Saturday but didn’t get the chance. “Hopefully we put today to some good use.”
Gallacher had looked nervous on Friday – little wonder given the monster this competition has become – and you wondered how he’d have coped on US soil, if an American crowd had wound him up like Gleneagles did Mickelson. “Fore!” they shouted after every one of the five-times Major winner’s practice swings in the bearpit arena at the 1st tee. Mickelson simply flashed that Ultra Brite smile and gave his baiters the thumbs up.
But Gallacher talked only in positive terms about yesterday’s experience, about being encouraged by Salmond and Sir Alex Ferguson at the start, about looking down the length of the opening hole, fans 30-deep all the way. “The other crowds [I’ve played in front of] this year were a one; the Ryder Cup has been a ten. At Valhalla [for the US PGA] no one was singing my song, ‘Glory, glory Stevie G’!”
Gallacher had a chance on the first, only to produce a tentative putt that seemed to have been left over from Friday. No matter: he birdied the next to take the lead. “‘Mon Stevie G!” was the cry, before the perma-tanned superstar and the palefaced local snuggled their drives next to each other for a bit, halving holes. Then Mickelson drew level at the 5th and a kiss from Amy on the walk en route to the next hole did the trick, her hubby taking the lead.
Gallacher’s retort, after Mickelson had increased his advantage at the 8th, was a lovely long putt on the par 3 10th for a birdie and he levelled the match with another birdie on the next, the First Minister’s favourite hole. Mickelson described this one-two as “extraordinary” with the American adding: “I had a hard time kind of stabilising after that and was fortunate to keep it even.” He paid warm tribute to his opponent. “Stephen’s a class act, a quality guy.” The only hole either of them bogeyed had been Gallacher on 17. “We both played some quality golf,” Mickelson continued. “I was just fortunate to get a great break on 15. I got the perfect bounce.”
They continued to trade compliments like they’d earlier traded birdies. “I gave it my best shot against one of the world’s great golfers,” said Gallacher. Mickelson praised the Gleneagles hordes: “Courteous, respectful, terrific.” The Scot was asked if, after everything, he’d enjoyed his first Ryder. “Of course, and there’s one in two years’ time, isn’t there? Hopefully I’ll be there.”