Stephen Gallacher hoping to add to his Dubai success story in big year for UAE

Think about the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and one of the most spectacular settings in golf with soaring skyscrapers as a backdrop is probably the first thing that comes to mind. Think again and there’s a good chance that Stephen Gallacher could be next in the memory back.

Stephen Gallacher tees off on the eighth hole on the Majlis Course at Emirates Golf Club during the 2015 Omega Dubai Desert Classic. Picture: Warren Little/Getty Images.

The Scot has become synonymous with the ‘Major of the Middle East’, having secured a place in the record books as the only player in the event’s history to win it back-to-back in 2013 and 2014.

The second of those successes came in the tournament’s 25th anniversary, with Gallacher coming out on top in a field that included Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Ernie Els, Fred Couples and Colin Montgomerie.

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Eight years on, the Lothians man is back at Emirates Golf Club to make his 21st appearance in the event, which helped put Dubai on the golfing map and is being held on this occasion as the United Arab Emirates stages celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Stephen Gallacher poses wih the iconic coffee pot trophy after winning the Omega Dubai Desert Classic for the second year running in 2014. Picture: Francois Nel/Getty Images.

“It’s unrecognisable from when I came here for the first time, which was in the late 90s,” Gallacher told The Scotsman in an exclusive interview. “It was basically three or four hotels, a Hard Rock Cafe and that was it.

“Now, every year you come back there is something new and, on this occasion, it’s a new TopGolf facility next to the Emirates Golf Club, which is a brilliant addition as it opens up golf to a different group of people entirely.

“I love coming here, as do my family. I’m quite lucky as I’ve got membership at the Emirates, so I am up there a lot and what a place to be able to go and play whenever you want.”

Els holds the record with three Desert Classic wins, with Woods and McIlroy both landing the title on two occasions, but Gallacher is the only player to have made a successful defence of the event’s iconic coffee pot trophy.

Stephen Gallacher, second right, joins a host of stars in waering pink scarfs supporting breast cancer awareness before teeing off in the Challenge Match ahead of the 2015 Omega Dubai Desert Classic. Picture: Warren Little/Getty Images.

“I was just reminiscing the other day about when they had the 25th anniversary of this event,” said the 46-year-old, who used his victory in that event as a springboard to play in a Ryder Cup on home soil at Gleneagles later that year. “We had every single winner there apart from Seve Ballesteros, God rest his soul.

“To get that and think of the fact the group included Tiger Woods, Fred Couples, Ernie Els etc, that shows you what a special event and place this is. I played with Tiger and Fred in that tournament and that was a great memory along, of course, with my two wins as well as a couple of holes-in-one. I’ve had the full range of joy here.

“When I first came out here, this event alternated between Dubai Creek and the Emirates. I think when you get an event that has a fixed abode and you go back there year after year, you get some familiarity.

“I think there is only Wentworth and a couple other places that don’t change year after year. I think it is special when you get places like that and this event is certainly special.”

For this edition, Gallacher is among eight Scots in the field, with Bob MacIntyre, David Law, Scott Jamieson, Richie Ramsay, David Drysdale, Grant Forrest and Connor Syme the others setting out on Thursday on the Majlis Course.

“It’s a brilliant golf course, one I’ve seen mature over the years and also get tougher,” said Gallacher, who has shot a 62 and a couple of 63s on it. “They are digging the greens up in May, so they are always looking to improve it.

“They are going to put the new USGA spec underneath, so when we come back next year it will be different again, with three new tees in also play this year. It is evolving and it’s just a great golf course.

“It’s just one of those places you always look forward to coming back to. When you stand on that eighth tee, it is one of the best views in golf as you hit towards the skyscrapers.”

Normally, Gallacher would be cheered every step of the way in this event by a small army of supporters, led by wife Helen and Robert Arkley, his close friend and owner of Kingsfield Golf Centre outside Linlithgow.

Due to the Covid-19 situation, they haven’t been able to head out on this occasion, but Gallacher is still hoping to see some familiar faces among a small group of spectators being admitted on each day, as was the case for last week’s event in Abu Dhabi.

“I’ve got quite a lot of friends out here and a couple of them are members at the course,” said the Hero Indian Open champion, who was pleased to start his 25th season on on the European Tour with a top-20 finish behind Tyrrell Hatton in the first event on a three-tourbanebt Middle East Swing that moves on to Saudi Arabia next week.

“One of my mates, John Stewart, is a pilot. He’s from Troon and when I came out here a week before Abu Dhabi to prepare, we went to his house for dinner, which was good.

“Another of my pals, Campbell Steedman, who is a member at Luffness and the Burgess, also had myself and (son and caddie) Jack round for dinner before we went into the bubble for the events out here.

“I think there is a limited crowd this week. I think it’s similar to last week, with two or three hundred being allowed on the course at the one time.

“It was good to see people again last week because you were getting to the stage where you forgot what that was like, strange as though that may sound.

“You just go to autopilot and think playing in front of fans is the norm, so it was quite good last week to hear people clapping and cheering.”

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