Ryder Cup: Bernard Gallacher on being last European captain to lose at home

Bernard Gallacher doesn’t need to be reminded about it being 30 years since the United States last won a Ryder Cup match on European soil. “Well, I’m glad you brought that up,” he said, laughing, to this correspondent during a chat at Wentworth Club, “because the last time they won I was the captain.”

Since Tom Watson led the Americans to a 15-13 victory in that encounter at The Belfry, Tom Kite (1997), Curtis Strange (2002), Tom Lehman (2006), Corey Pavin (2010), Watson (2014) and Jim Furyk (2018) have all headed back across the Atlantic after leading sides into battle in the transatlantic tussle with their tails between their legs.

It’s now former Open champion Zach Johnson’s turn to see if he can come up with a winning formula in the 44th edition as he goes head-to-head with Luke Donald at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club on the outskirts Rome and Gallacher will be looking on with interest to see how the three-day clash unfolds.

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“Well, you could run through every tournament since then,” he said in reply to be asked why he thought the Americans had such a poor record in away encounters in the biennial event. “When they went to The K Club (in 2006), for instance, they got stage fright by the huge overwhelming support by the Irish for the European side and, of course, we had a great side with a great captain in Ian Woosnam and that was fantastic.

US captain Tom Watson and his players celebrate winning the 1993 Ryder Cup at The Belfry - the last time the Americans won on this side of the Atlantic. Picture: Chris Cole/Getty Images.US captain Tom Watson and his players celebrate winning the 1993 Ryder Cup at The Belfry - the last time the Americans won on this side of the Atlantic. Picture: Chris Cole/Getty Images.
US captain Tom Watson and his players celebrate winning the 1993 Ryder Cup at The Belfry - the last time the Americans won on this side of the Atlantic. Picture: Chris Cole/Getty Images.

“You could go further back and say it was the same at Valderrama (in 1997). The European teams have always been very strong and at Gleneagles (in 2014), for instance, they were on a golf course (the PGA Centenary at the Perthshire venue) the players knew intimately.

“Also, in some respects, Tiger Woods may have been one of the greatest players who ever lived, but he never really brought his game to the Ryder Cup and I don’t know why that was. He was never an inspirational figure like Seve [Ballesteros]. The teams he played in were nothing special and what would have turned it in the Americans’ favour in the past would have been inspirational play from Tiger but that never happened. That was one of the reasons why Europe has had this run.”

As Woods watches from home on this occasion, world No 1 Scottie Scheffler will be the man hoping to inspire the visitors along with five-time major winner Brooks Koepka and a rejuvenated Rickie Fowler. “Whether that happens or not this time, we’ll have to wait and see,” added Gallacher, “but I have a feeling that Europe will play well and what you hope will get Europe over the line is a) they know the course and b) the partisan home support.”

After making nine playing appearances in the event, Gallacher served as Tony Jacklin’s vice captain as the Englishman managed started to turn the tide. In his first stint as captain, Gallacher’s side agonisingly lost by a point at Kiawah Island in 1991 before tasting defeat again at The Belfry but then signed off with a memorable victory at Oak Hill in 1995.

“It’s more from an interest point of view now that I still follow the Ryder Cup as I don’t feel any involvement,” he said. “It’s really a keen interest about how the team develops and how the captain approaches things and sometimes you think ‘would you do this or that differently? I don’t know the players any more, but the principles are the same.

“The event is an exciting tournament and it adds something different to the professional tours. From a Great Britain and Ireland then a European point of view, it was always something we looked forward to. It was like a break from the normal 72 holes, though it was always a tough week.

“You wanted to be in the team because you knew you were one of the best 12 players and you wanted to pit yourself against the best players in America, to challenge yourself. Nothing has changed in that respect and that’s basically why the Rory McIlroys, Justin Roses are all looking forward to the Ryder Cup. It’s different from the normal pressure.

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“Yeah, being a winning captain in 1995 still means a lot. I also look at the two other Ryder Cups and, to be honest, I feel disappointed that we didn’t win them as well. It was nip and tuck. In 1993, Seve was starting to go off the boil and he didn’t want to play on the Saturday afternoon and Sam was injured and he couldn’t play after the opening day. Then Barry Lane was beating Chip Beck until he finished eagle-birdie-eagle-par to beat him on the last green after Barry had been two up with five to play. I was only reminded about that as I gave a speech about that the other day and how unlucky was Barry Lane, who, sadly, passed away last year, as that one match turned the Ryder Cup.

“Then at Oak Hill, Mark James and Howard Clark both played so well at the start to project us into a position where we could win then we had Nick Faldo with a putt to beat Curtis Strange and I’m thinking to myself ‘my god, if there was ever a player you wanted to have a four-foot putt on the last hole in a Ryder Cup’ it would have been him and he did. Everything fell into place at Oak Hill the opposite way it unfolded for me in the other two. When the Ryder Cup comes around, I still have flashbacks.”

Flashbacks from a European perspective to the last encounter at Whistling Straits stir painful memories after that ended in a record 19-9 defeat at the hands of an American side being captained by Steve Stricker in his home state of Wisconsin.

“I have a theory about this as I was one of the few Europeans at Whistling Straits (Covid restrictions were still in place after the match had already been pushed back by 12 months due to the pandemic) as I was the PGA captain at the time,” said Gallacher.

“It was a surreal experience as there was no noise when the Europeans played and I think it affected the players badly. There was no inspirational claps or cheers when they were playing. I don’t think for one minute that we’d have beaten the Americans as they were up for it, but I don’t think we’d have lost by ten points if we’d had just a reasonable support there.

“Take Rory McIlroy’s drive in the singles, for instance. He drove it on the green and yet there wasn’t a sound up at the green or a sound on the tee when he unleashed. He was playing Xander Schauffele and when he hit his drive there were huge cheers up at the green yet when I got up there he was 20 yards short of the green and Rory is on the green. It was like that all the way round. We then heard this noise when Bryson DeChambeau then pitched it on the green. I was walking with Rory’s match and it felt as though the world had caved in.

“Eighteen matches over the course of the week went down the 17th and Europe only got five points out of those and that’s the stage of a match where you need to crowd to help you on and get you over the line. It wasn’t so important in my day to have the crowd behind you in some form in America, but it is now. I noticed that at Medinah when Ian Poulter triggered the comeback there (in 2012). He triggered it but there was a huge European support and there was noise all around the course the following day.”



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