Stephen Gallacher sets sights high under new coach

Stephen Gallacher hopes to make a strong start to the Ryder Cup qualifying campaign. Picture: Jane Barlow
Stephen Gallacher hopes to make a strong start to the Ryder Cup qualifying campaign. Picture: Jane Barlow
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STEPHEN Gallacher ended the last Ryder Cup qualifying campaign in hot form, making it impossible for European captain Paul McGinley to overlook him. He’s starting the new one with a cold engine but believes he can soon start moving up the gears again as he bids to fuel a burning desire to be back facing the Americans in just over a year’s time.

The race to make Darren Clarke’s team for the match at Hazeltine starts in the Russian Open tomorrow and runs until the end of the Made in Denmark event next August. Having decided it made no sense to change a winning formula, the Irishman has stuck with nine players getting in automatically and three earning picks.

It was a year ago yesterday that Gallacher was named by McGinley as one of his selections for the first Ryder Cup to be held in Scotland since 1973. Riding on the crest of a wave then, having come within a whisker of making the team for Gleneagles under his own steam, the Lothians man has since suffered one of the most frustrating spells of his 20-year professional career.

A model of consistency last season, when he recorded eight top-10 finishes and rarely missed a cut, the 40-year-old has really struggled this year. Having survived the halfway axe just twice in eight stroke-play events since The Masters, he has slipped from 35th in the world at the start of 2015 to 79th. Almost in the blink of an eye, he has seen three of his compatriots, Marc Warren, Russell Knox and Richie Ramsay, all leapfrog him.

While certainly not a kneejerk reaction, Gallacher is no longer working with Alan McCloskey, the Bothwell Castle-based PGA professional whose efforts in helping his compatriot make the Ryder Cup earned him the Scottish Coach of the Year Award. In a development since his last outing in the US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, the three-times European Tour winner has teamed up with Mike Walker, Pete Cowen’s protégé who has both Lee Westwood and Danny Willett on his growing client list.

Having also paid a visit to short-game guru Dave Stockton during his trip to America last month, Gallacher is ready to start afresh when he heads to the Netherlands next week for the KLM Open, an event he hopes can spark both a strong finish to the season and a blistering start to that Ryder Cup qualifying campaign.

“I have to admit that I wasn’t enjoying my golf there for a bit, but I’ve got the love back, which is important,” he said. “I’ve not had a great season and it was particularly disappointing that I didn’t perform on courses that I normally play well on – Gullane (in the Scottish Open) and St Andrews (for The Open), for example. If you are struggling with your game, though, it doesn’t matter where you are playing you will find it difficult to score.

“When you are involved in a sport at the top level for 20 years, you are going to have ups and downs. It was always going to be tough for me to follow the highs of last year. Even at 40, I’m still learning. I can learn from what’s happened over the last 12 months – crikey has the past year flown by – and kick on now.

“Having mutually parted ways with Alan McCloskey, I’m working with a new coach in Mike Walker. That means a fresh pair of eyes and hopefully that gives me the impetus to get going again. It’s a new challenge that I’m looking forward to. I lost my way a bit and all Mike was trying to do, really, when I was down seeing him last week was to get the club in a consistently good position at the top of the backswing as that makes it easier to hit the shot. My bad shot has been too penal. It’s been causing me double and triple bogeys. It’s a case of trying to make my bad shots better.

“I’m hitting a lot of balls again and back working every day on my game, either at Kingsfield or down at The Renaissance. The only way to get back on track is through hard work. I also saw Dave Stockton recently and my short game feels as though it is starting to get good again.”

Lying 56th in the Race to Dubai, he is hoping to use a forthcoming schedule that also includes a return to the Italian Open – the event he finished third in last year to cement his pick from McGinley – to secure a full campaign in the end-of-season “Final Series” on the European Tour. Comprising of four big-money events, it can be a route into the Ryder Cup on its own, as both Jamie Donaldson and Victor Dubuisson both proved last time around.

“It’s as though the year is starting for me now, which is great,” added Gallacher, who is looking forward to hosting end-of-season events run by his Foundation at both Kingsfield and Dunbar this weekend. “I’ve got a short-term goal, which is to be back in the world’s top 50 by the end of December. That would get me in The Masters and also give me a chance to get in the WGCs which is important if you want to play in the Ryder Cup.

“I’m trying to prepare as well as I can at the moment to give myself a chance of getting back into the winner’s enclosure in the next eight events as there are some big ones coming up. The “Final Series”, for instance, is pretty much like the FedEx Cup. If you have one good week, you can’t get out of them. And if you win one of them, you are almost halfway to the Ryder Cup.

“Having experienced one over here, I definitely want to play in a Ryder Cup in America. It is very high on my agenda. I’m looking forward to the points starting again and, a year from now, I hope you are on the phone to me again to talk about being in the team for a second time.”