Stephen Gallacher: I could easily walk away and nobody would say anything - but I'm not ready for that yet

Stephen Gallacher should have been in Mallorca but not lapping up some autumn sunshine. Not when he’s in a position where every single shot counts right now.

Stephen Gallacher has struggled this season and is battling to hang on to his DP World Tour card. Picture: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images.
Stephen Gallacher has struggled this season and is battling to hang on to his DP World Tour card. Picture: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images.

Not when he’s fighting furiously to hang on to a DP World Tour (better known to most as the European Tour) card, which he secured in 1996 and has held for all but one season since then. In 26 campaigns, he’s clocked up 624 appearances, which leaves him sandwiched between Colin Montgomerie and Paul Lawrie in ninth spot on the circuit’s all-time list. Oh, and let’s not forget his four title triumphs, including a breakthrough St Andrews success, and, also on home soil, a Ryder Cup appearance. “I could easily walk away right now and nobody would say anything and you’d go ‘by the way, not a bad career’,” said Gallacher, who turns 48 at the beginning of next month, and he’s right.

One of the most likeable individuals to grace a game that’s in his blood - his uncle, Bernard, enjoyed a stellar playing career himself before captaining Europe in three Ryder Cups, including a memorable win on US soil at Oak Hill in 1995 - Gallacher freely admits that he has one eye on a new chapter in his career on the over-50s’ circuit, where close friend Lawrie has just racked up a third title triumph, but that’s for the future. He’s only interested in the here and now and, though needing to pull a rabbit out of the hat in order to hang on to that card without having to find himself trying to do that back at the Qualifying School, Gallacher is anything but downbeat, despondent or depressed.

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Overall, his form in 2022 has been disappointing, hence why he was close to being outside the top 200 in this season’s DP World Tour Rankings heading into the recent Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and is currently sitting 752nd in the Official World Golf Ranking. But, in recent weeks, there have been signs of a significant improvement. He shared the lead at the halfway stage in the acciona Open de España in Madrid before being left in home hero Jon Rahm’s slipstream along with everyone else. He’s shot under par in five of his last 12 rounds, four of which were at Valderrama - one of the toughest tests in golf. In short, it’s been more like the Gallacher of old. “I’ve played well the last three weeks,” he admitted. But, prior to that, I had actually missed a lot of cuts by either one or two shots, which shows it wasn’t that far away. I had a good chat with my coach, Alan McCloskey, and I also did a bit of work with John Pates, my psychologist. We just changed a couple of things, just the way I was thinking over the ball more than anything and also altered a couple of technical things.”

Stephen Gallacher's breakthrough success on what is now called the DP World Tour came on home soil in the 2004 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.
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During a brilliant amateur career - one of the highlights was helping Great Britain & Ireland win the Walker Cup at Royal Porthcawl in 1995 against an American side that included Tiger Woods - Gallacher always seemed to make the game look easy. For most of his professional career, his ball-striking ability has always drawn admiration. But, over the past few years, it’s seemed as though he’s been looking for something different or new to help prolong his playing days, having even made trips across the Atlantic to seek advice from both Dave Stockton and Sean Foley.

“I think what happened is that I’ve had two or three hand operations and the way I played the game, say up until 2018, I couldn’t do that any more, so I had to change and it’s not been brilliant, to be honest,” he conceded. “My technique has not been as good as I want it to be. I still hit the ball far enough. Even though I’m getting older, I’m not losing any length. It obviously gets tougher, both physically and mentally, after 26 years of grinding it out. But I’ve still got the passion. I want to improve my technique as much as I can. I am working on the psychological side of it as well, which I’ve always done as I think it’s a massive part of the game.

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“I’ve really enjoyed the last three weeks. To be leading in Madrid after two rounds bearing in mind how my game has been, it just shows you how quick this game can turn. You just need to tweak your technique a little bit, get a wee bit of luck and a bit of confidence. It can turn around so quickly in this game - I’ve seen it happen. So you’ve always got to have that belief.”

On the back of his better run of results, the former Scottish Amateur champion had climbed to 167th the DP World Tour Rankings, which will see the top 117 retain full playing privileges for next season. Having been forced to pull out of this week’s Mallorca Open due to his back feeling the strain of teeing up nine weeks on the trot, it means that the Portugal Masters, which starts on Thursday in Vilamoura, is his ‘Last Chance Saloon’. “I might go out to Portugal and finish first or second and I’ve kept my card,” he said. “But, if not, I’ve got some contingencies in place and it’s another challenge for me in my career. I’ve been to the Tour School three times and got my card three times, so that’s encouraging if I do find myself back there next month.”

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Six of Stepen Gallacher's team-mates in the winning 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles are now LIV Golf players. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.

During the Covid pandemic, Gallacher was hit by a series of massive personal blows. His dad Jim, a larger than life character and immensely proud of every single achievement by Stephen, died at the age of 67. Alan Steel, his long-time sponsor and a close friend, also passed away and others, too. “Covid was tough for everyone, including me,” he said. “I lost my dad and also a lot of friends. I didn’t enjoy the game at that time. I thought it was really tough, so I don’t know if that maybe set me back a little bit. But certainly the last three weeks has enthused me enough to know that I can still play at a high level and it’s given me the impetus to work harder and want to still be competing out on tour.”

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While he’s travelled the world as a golfer and enjoyed doing so, Gallacher is always happiest at home in his beloved West Lothian, where, after tasting Linlithgow life for a spell and taking part in the town’s historic Marches whenever the opportunity arose, he’s back living in Bathgate, close to his mum Wilma and sister Jennifer, along with wife Helen and their two children, Jack and Ellie. “Aye, it’s quite good, to be honest. Back near my family and all my friends. It happened at the right time for us with Ellie going to Strathclyde Uni and loving life, as you would do at her age, and it was what both Helen and myself wanted,” he said. “This is my third house in Bathgate and I’ve had two houses in Linlithgow. I’ve been nine miles away over the hill from Bathgate - that’s as far as we’ve got (laughing) - and I think we’re now here to stay!”

It was a special moment for Gallacher when he won the 2019 Hero Indian Open with young Jack at his side in a caddying role. Three years on, the partnership is still intact, but Gallacher admits it’s been tough for Jack to see him struggling for most of this season. “Ultimately, he’s still my son, even though he’s my caddie. He’s got a vested interest rather than just being someone else. He doesn’t like to see me struggle,” he said. “It’s been a tough one for him. If you are hitting poor shots, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got Steve Williams on the bag. I’ve been struggling with two misses. Hank Haney and Tiger Woods have always talked about the ‘big miss’. But, if you’ve got a miss right and left, then you are struggling in this game. If you’ve got a tendency to miss on a certain side, you can combat that. Especially with golf clubs these days, you can counter your bias. There’s nothing worse than standing up on a tough hole when you are hitting it right and left as there is nowhere to aim. It’s a tough game when that’s the case. All I’ve been trying to do is whittle my bad shot down to one side. Over the last three weeks my bad shots have been playable and that’s what this game is all about. It’s fine margins.”

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Though on the shy side at the outset of his career, Gallacher has grown into feeling comfortable with a microphone in front of him. As one of the tour’s most-respected figures, he now sits on the tournament committee, which is currently chaired by David Howell, one of his team-mates in that 1995 Walker Cup in Wales. “It was certainly an interesting time for me to join the committee,” admitted Gallaher, laughing, of the DP World Tour having entered into a Strategic Alliance with the PGA Tour and, of course, the arrival of LIV Golf on the scene. Six of Gallacher’s team-mates from the 2014 Ryder Cup victory at Gleneagles - Lee Westwood, Sergia Garcia, Ian Poulter, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and Henrik Stenson - have all joined the breakaway circuit, leading to bans from the PGA Tour and court case pending over similar punishment on the DP World Tour.

The new Stephen Gallacher Centre of Excellence has been created at Kingsfield Golf Centre on the outskirts of Linlithgow and is making the person bearing its name feel extremely proud. Picture: Kingsfield Golf Centre
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“We’ve had a lot of decisions to make, but it’s something I enjoy. When David Howell asked me to do it, I thought ‘yeah, it’s the right time for me to come on and give back’. It’s been exciting, but it’s also been tough, especially with what is going on at the moment. All you can do is not think about yourself but the membership as a whole and about the legacy we can leave. It’s about trying to do what we think is right at that particular time and trying to implement it.

“You get insights into how the tour runs and the background of it with the TV stuff, sponsorship and even scheduling. The board and Keith Pelley have done an unbelievable job through Covid. Next year is going to be a bit bitty, but 2024 is going to be an unbelievable season for players going forward through the new Strategic Alliance. The tour is definitely on an upward curve and I’m immensely proud of everybody involved.”

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In the latest in a series of social media spats around the Saudi-backed LIV Golf concept, non-LIV player Eddie Pepperell got himself involved in a slanging match with Westwood and Poulter last weekend. “I’m one of those guys who’d rather say it face-to-face,” declared Gallacher, who rarely posts on Twitter or other social media platforms. “I don’t like washing my laundry in public. I’d rather do it a different way and I don’t know if that’s because you're old school. But I saw what happened with Eddie and Lee and Ian and that doesn’t interest me. If it was that much of a bugbear to me, I’d pick up the phone and speak to them. I can see both sides of it, but I don’t think there is a need for it. I think the only loser in all of this is golf, which I don’t like.”

Last weekend, Spaniard Adrian Otageui became the first LIV player to win on the DP World Tour as he landed a sweet success on home soil in the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters at Valderrama by six shots,“I think it would definitely have been mixed,” observed Gallacher of what he thought the reaction to that would have been from the majority of DP World Tour players given that Otaegui was one of those suspended from this year’s Genesis Scottish Open but managed to play at The Renaissance Club through a temporary injunction and is now part of a pending lawsuit. “There’s definitely - and it’s hard to put it into words - an atmosphere when guys who have played on the LIV come and play. But one thing I can say is that it was an unbelievable performance. That is a proper demanding golf course and I take my hat off to him shooting 19-under as that is unbelievable golf.

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Stephen Gallacher celebrates with his family - wife Helen, nephew Chris, mum Wilma and dad Jim in back row and son Jack and daughter Ellie at the front - after creating history by becoming the first player to successfully defend the Omega Dubai Desert Classic title in 2014 at Emirates Golf Club. Picture: Marwan Naamani/AFP via Getty Images.

“There’s a lot of people with strong opinions about LIV Golf and a lot of people with no opinions. I’ve got my personal opinions on it and they’ve not changed. Good luck to them for going and until something happens in the court in February, they can play. It is one of those things where you just have to get on with it. No-one has any doubts about how good these guys are as golfers. But, you know, some of the things they do and say are just not right, in my opinion. And the sooner there is a black and white definitive outcome the better.”

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On the back of turning ten earlier this year, the Stephen Gallacher Foundation, which is run by a brilliant team led by Scott Knowles and Stuart Johnston, goes from strength to strength. “A lot of the kids who were there at the start are now in ambassador roles and helping the younger kids. Even they are giving back, which is a great thing. For me personally, that makes me happier than anything,” he said of that hugely-successful initiative, which is based mainly in around Edinburgh but also reaches wider, as evidenced by rising Troon star Freya Russell being one of those ambassadors.

And what about the new Stephen Gallacher Foundation Centre of Excellence, which is based at Kingsfield Golf Centre on the outskirts of Linlithgow? “I’m really, really, really proud of it,” he smiled. “I’ve got a Huxley putting green, a PuttView, two Trackman bays and enough room to do physical stuff with warm ups. Yeah, it brings another dimension. I have been fortunate enough, in fairness, because it’s been private money that has helped me build it. I’ve had a couple of people who’ve given me money towards it. One that remains anonymous and the other a guy called Kirk Beaton from Gourock. I met him at my nephew Jamie Gallacher’s wedding and we became friends and he gives a lot to grass-roots golf. He works out in Hong Kong and is a good friend of Nici Colsaerts and Lucas Bjerregaard. He’s given me some money to kit it out inside, having done the exact same thing at Gourock, where he put a bay in and the kids use it for nothing. And, without guys like that, these things can’t happen. Hopefully I have created something these guys can also be proud of and is a legacy that can be there for years to come.

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“It’s fitting that it’s at Kingsfield as well as the Arkley family - and Robert is one of my close mates - have got a top-notch facility that is right in the middle of the country. The foundation kids are going to benefit from it. The putting green has wheelchair access, same with the Trackman bays, and I know down the line it’s going to help. Bringing technology as well helps you make it fun for all levels. You can have beginners in playing games on the putting green and games on the TrackMan. But then you can have the elite players working on their clubhead speed etc. That’s what I wanted to do. It’s not all about the elite players. It’s about having fun at the start and I’m immensely proud of what we’ve created at Kingsfield.”

From the minute it was clear he was destined for a career in golf, Scotland has had good reason to be proud of Stephen Gallacher. He may have his back against the wall in a playing sense at the moment, but there’s still fire in his belly. “I’m not ready for that (walking away) yet,” he declared. “I’ve had a renewed enthusiasm. I know I can still compete. I know I still enjoy it. And I’ve still got the drive to go and hit balls and work hard. Until that leaves me, I’ll be trying as hard as I can to keep playing. It’s almost like you want to draw a line in the sand this year and all I now need to do is try to hang on to my card.”

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Stephen Gallacher is extremely proud of how his junior foundation has grown since it was launched just over a decade ago. Picture: SGF
Stephen Gallacher and his son and caddie Jack talk over a shot during the recent acciona Open de Espana presented by Madrid at Club de Campo Villa de Madrid. Picture: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images.
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Stephen Gallacher receives his trophy from Dr Pawan Munjal of Hero MotorCorp after winning the Hero Indian Open at the DLF Golf & Country Club in New Delhi in 2019. Picture: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images.

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