HE didn’t envy Andy Murray as he carried the whole of Britain’s weight on his shoulders to become a Wimbledon winner, the first male tennis player from within these shores to claim the title in 77 years.
But, backed up by 18 fellow Scots and no longer finding himself entering the ‘Last Chance Saloon’ for next week’s Open Championship, Stephen Gallacher is ready to handle the home pressure in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open starting tomorrow.
A fortnight ago, in the Irish equivalent at Carton House, an expectant home crowd suffered a crushing blow as world No 2 Rory McIlroy and three of his fellow major winners – Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke – all missed the halfway cut. If that was caused by pressure, then Gallacher reckons Murray’s weekend win in SW19 was all the more praiseworthy.
“We obviously feel pressure playing at home; it’s how you use it,” said the winner of the Dubai Desert Classic earlier this year but, more pertinently, using his 2004 Dunhill Links Championship success to offer his views on the subject. “You can’t let it get to you and try too hard. You have to try and embrace it and enjoy it. But there’s certainly not the pressure Andy Murray was under last week with the expectancy of the whole of Britain on his shoulders. For two months, he’s had people asking if he was going to win at Wimbledon this time.”
Delighted that he did, Gallacher said he’d had a face-to-face chat with Murray earlier in the year and has been using a subsequent meeting with his fellow Scot’s strength and conditioning coach, Matt Little, to get the best out of his own body on the golf course.
“I met Andy at the start of the year in Abu Dhabi, where he was playing in an exhibition,” said the 38-year-old. “I watched him warm up and practice and getting that opportunity, as well as seeing the people around him, makes you realise that, if you want something badly enough, you have to work hard for it.
“Apparently, Andy hits balls non-stop and you can also see how much Andy’s physique has changed. We had a chat, then, the week after, I randomly bumped into his strength and conditioning coach.”
Asked what he’d been able to glean from that, Gallacher added: “It’s hard to take anything on because they [tennis players] are very physical, very stop-start and play for five hours. We just need to be fit enough to walk around a course and hit balls.
“It was more about the way they sequence their training and how they do it. The good thing for them is that they can have quite a big amount of time off to work on it.
“Andy will go away to Miami and do his strength and conditioning work for a month and a half at the start of the year. Unfortunately, we can’t do that as our Tour doesn’t stop, so it’s harder to find the time off.
“What I got out of it most was how much physio he gets. He’ll get physio before he plays and afterwards as well.
“I was struggling with my back, but now I’m getting physio before and after a round, too. It’s about not seeing that as a negative, but a positive.
“When Andy finishes, his back is stiff and it’s the same in golf – nearly everyone on tour has a stiffness or an ailment but it’s about how you manage that and use physio to your benefit.
“I was speaking to my uncle Bernard about this and he says he wishes he could have his time again and follow Bernhard Langer’s example by getting physio before and after he played. That’s been great for the longevity of his career, so that’s a key part of my routine now.
“I get to the course early and just focus on looking after myself more. That means you are able to work your body as hard as you can. I also watch what I eat and focus on staying hydrated, too.”
Not normally a problem in this event, players have had to make sure they’ve been drinking water rather than wiping it off clubs and bags in practice over the past two days. “It’s like playing somewhere in the Middle East,” admitted Gallacher of the conditions.
He’s arrived in the Highlands with a sunny outlook, too, having seen his despair at narrowly losing out to fellow Scot Marc Warren for one of the ‘form’ exemptions for next week’s Open Championship soon replaced by joy as he got in as first reserve after the withdrawal of former winner John Daly.
“When I found out I’d just missed out after the French Open on Sunday, I had a few beers to take my mind off it,” admitted the Bathgate man who now lives on the outskirts of Linlithgow. “I woke up with a hangover, but to find then I was first reserve was great because I knew I had a right good chance at that.
“I found out I was in The Open on the way up here and for that to happen so early in the week was brilliant because it means I can put The Open to one side for the week and concentrate on this event. Otherwise, I would have had one eye on it, but now I can just focus on my game plan to do as well as I can this week.”
Bidding to become the first Scot to win this event since Colin Montgomerie achieved the feat at Loch Lomond in 1999 – “having such a big amount of Scottish guys in, it’s going to help the chances of a home winner” – Gallacher acknowledged that brings pressure.
“Everyone is different and some handle that better than others,” he said. “You have to have belief to put yourself in a position to win the tournament. My belief has obviously been helped by me winning a tournament again this year, but nothing has changed in my mental process.
“The only change is adding the physio sessions to my routine and, as a result, my back is 100 times better. I’m pushing it to the limit and it’s only getting better, which allows me to work harder and harder.”