Ryder Cup: Stephen Gallacher feeling right at home

Stephen Gallacher feels comfortable in his surroundings. Picture: SNS
Stephen Gallacher feels comfortable in his surroundings. Picture: SNS
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SERGIO Garcia can see it in his eyes. You can also hear it in his voice. Stephen Gallacher is ready for his first Ryder Cup. Ready to embrace the role of local hero.

“I don’t think so,” he replied to being asked if there was a downside, caused by any extra pressure on his shoulders, of being the sole Scot in Europe’s team for the first Ryder Cup to be held in the home of golf since 1973. “I think every Scot would want to be here. What better than to play at Gleneagles for your first one? If I could have picked, I would have picked here.”

Understandably so when you take into account the fact he’s recorded seven top-10 finishes on the PGA Centenary Course since 2001. If anyone knows how to play the Perthshire layout, it’s Gallacher. No wonder Ian Poulter and Justin Rose, his two playing partners in practice on Tuesday, were picking his brain at every opportunity.

“I gave them info on where the pins are, reads on the greens, where the wind normally comes from. If I can help in any way, I’ll be delighted to do that,” said the Scot. On this occasion, passing on information had a downside. “It cost me 150 quid,” he revealed, the trio having installed a competitive element to the round by having a skins match. “Rosie had a ten skinner on one of the holes, which was a sore one,” added Gallacher, smiling.

On the back of a glittering amateur career – the highlight of it was helping Great Britain & Ireland win the Walker Cup in Wales at the expense of an American side that included Tiger Woods – the Bathgate man turned professional in 1995.

It took nine years for him to make the breakthrough on the European Tour, beating Graeme McDowell in a play-off to win the Dunhill Links at St Andrews. Notable though that win may have been, Gallacher wasn’t ready at that point in his career for a Ryder Cup. As a ball-striker, yes. But not when it came to the complete package that is required for this unique event.

On the course, the 39-year-old has provided conclusive proof this year that he has all the attributes to step on to the greatest stage in golf. His successful defence of the Dubai Desert Classic in February was impressive. Even more so the effort he produced in Italy last month to almost snatch the last automatic spot from McDowell.

In the media centre at Gleneagles yesterday, he also showed that he can handle all the extra stuff that comes with the transatlantic tussle. Even when he was tossed a curveball by a foreign journalist about last week’s referendum, Gallacher handled it like an old hand. “Yeah,” he replied to being asked if he’d voted. “No” was the response to the inevitable follow up inquiring if he’d reveal where his cross had gone on the ballot paper.

A decade ago, he’d have been spooked by such a question and probably been unsure how to handle it. Not now, though. “I’m not a politician; I’m a golfer,” he continued. “It just so happened that we had a referendum the same time as a Ryder Cup. It is done and dusted and I’m just trying to get on the tee, on Friday hopefully, and give it my best shot.”

Both Garcia and Rory McIlroy, the world No 1, reckon he can make a valuable contribution in Europe’s trophy defence. “You can see it in his eyes that he’s willing and he’s ready,” said the Spaniard. McIlroy, who was tweeting as Gallacher tore up the course in Turin to effectively secure his wildcard, admitted: “I love that he’s on the team. My advice to him as a rookie would be to embrace it and enjoy it. You almost have to be carefree and go out and freewheel.”

Compared to the five other rookies in the event’s 40th staging – Jamie Donaldson and Victor Dubuisson are the others in the home ranks while Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth and Jimmy Walker are the newbies on the American team – Gallacher has an edge. The Ryder Cup is in his blood. His uncle Bernard played in this event three times, then captained Europe on three 

“I’m maybe a rookie to the Ryder Cup, but I’m not a rookie to golf,” he pointed out. “Having this event in my home country is making it a bit easier to adapt as a rookie. I also know the guys really well and the guys have made me feel really part of the team and welcome.”

Along with his team-mates, Gallacher enjoyed the pep talk delivered by Sir Alex Ferguson on Tuesday night. “I kind of knew how confident a person he was, but to hear him talking you can see why the players respected him so much and how he won 13 titles in 21 goes,” he said.

Another well-known football figure, Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill, has also played a part in Gallacher’s all-round feelgood factor. “I’ve had a lot of good luck messages and had one from Martin, which was nice,” he revealed. “He’s Paul McGinley’s friend and he spoke to me at the Masters and then he sent me a voicemail.” Even before a ball has been struck in anger, O’Neill’s words have been proved correct.

“He said, well done for getting in and you’ll love the team environment in what will probably be one of the best weeks of your life.

“And he’s right, it will be!”

The question that remains is when Gallacher will be blooded by his captain.

Yesterday, as the Europeans played only nine holes, the Scot was in the same group as Donaldson, Thomas Bjorn and Lee Westwood. He could probably gel with any of them.

Under strict orders from McGinley, though, Gallacher wasn’t giving anything away. “Maybe,” he said, smiling again, in response to being asked if the Irishman had told him when that eagerly-anticipated first appearance may be.

Make no mistake, our man is ready for it.