Why Stephen Gallacher memories on journey to 600 events are special - Martin Dempster

One of the many reasons my job is so enjoyable is because this newspaper gives me the opportunity, some freedom as well, to cover the royal and ancient game from top to bottom.

Stephen Gallacher during the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at Kingsbarns in late September. Picture: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images.
Stephen Gallacher during the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at Kingsbarns in late September. Picture: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images.

Yes, of course, there is nothing that beats the buzz of attending and writing about the game’s showpiece events, but, even though I’m on Twitter and some of the other modern media platforms, I’m still a bit old school when it comes to this business.

Amateur golf no longer gets the column inches it once did in national newspapers, but that’s a side of the game I will never allow to be overlooked in this publication.

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Why? Well, it’s simple, really, because it’s through watching players come through the amateur ranks and getting to know them - their families, too - that makes it all the more satisfying when you see them do well in the professional game.

Stephen Gallacher celebartes with son/caddie Jack after winning the 2019 Hero Indian Open at the DLF Golf & Country Club in New Delhi. Picture: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images.

Take Scotland’s two new European Tour card holders, for example. I first came across both Ewen Ferguson and Craig Howie when they played in the Scottish Boys’ Championship, and it was a real thrill to be out in Mallorca last week to see them graduate from the Challenge Tour.

I feel fortunate to have covered the entire careers of both Catriona Matthew and Paul Lawrie, both, of course, becoming major winners, but, with all due respect to them and many others, my closest bond over the years has been with Stephen Gallacher.

My beat for the Edinburgh Evening News when we first met was the Lothians, with young Gallacher wasting no time showing that he was destined to follow in the footsteps of his uncle, Bernard, by carving out a career in the paid ranks.

I remember being at Crieff in 1991 - scary to think it was 30 years ago - when he won the Scottish Boys’ Stroke-Play Championship, sparking a run of success over the next few years that also saw him land the Scottish Amateur, Scottish Stroke-Play and Scottish Youths’ titles.

Add in a Lytham Trophy triumph and it was no surprise there was excitement in the air at a dinner held in West Lothian to mark the start of his professional career, the guests that night at a celebratory occasion that went on long after midnight including Clive Brown, his captain in a winning Walker Cup appearance at Royal Porthcawl in 1995.

It’s about building friendships and gaining trust in golf, no matter what your role is, and I have always felt lucky to believe I quickly seemed to tick both boxes with Gallacher.

I remember in the build up to one Christmas being asked by my sports editor at the time if I could fix someone up to do a cheesy photograph wearing a Santa hat for the back page to try and get people in the festive spirit.

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It spoke volumes for Gallacher that he not only agreed but was happy to make the journey in from Bathgate with Helen, his girlfriend at the time and now his wife of 22 years, to do the trick for us out on the street close to our old North Bridge office.

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His first professional victory, of course, came in the 2004 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and seeing what it meant to his grandad, Barney, in particular remains one of my fondest memories covering this great game.

I remember sitting at home and leaping off my seat when he holed out for an eagle-2 at the 16th en route to winning the Dubai Desert Classic in 2013.

Twelve months later, having been invited on a press trip to Dubai at the time of that event, it was another memorable moment in my working life to see him become the only player to record back-to-back victories in the ‘Major of the Middle East’.

The dearly departed Jock MacVicar always liked reminding me of how I’d written off Gallacher on that occasion after he’d stumbled just before the turn, prompting my retreat to the media centre.

At that time, though, he had a knack of producing something special on the Majlis Course at Emirates Golf Club and he duly did so on that occasion.

Both myself and ‘The Doyen’ ended up with lots to write about that night, as was the case throughout the 2014 season as Gallacher secured a Ryder Cup appearance on home soil at Gleneagles.

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Gallacher’s son Jack, of course, has become a familiar face himself in the game as a caddie, enjoying an experience of a lifetime when he was at Stephen’s side for his fourth tour triumph in the 2019 Hero Indian Open.

Equally proud of daughter Ellie as she excels at school, Gallacher will clock up his 600th European Tour appearance this week in Dubai, hence why my memories of his career have been swirling about in my head.

Though making me feel old, it’s a terrific achievement and the 47-year-old really has been a fantastic ambassador for not only Scottish golf but the game in general throughout his time on the circuit.

Through spending a lot of time together over dinner around the world, Gallacher, who makes no secret of this, picked Lawrie’s brains about the 1999 Open champion’s successful junior foundation in the north-east.

Gallacher’s own foundation has now been running since 2012 and, with Scott Knowles and Stuart Johnston, two of his former Lothians team-mates, putting their heart and soul into it on his behalf, that continues to go from strength to strength.

Though he has been blowing a bit hot and cold a bit over the past couple of seasons, it’s still a joy to watch Gallacher, one of the best ball-strikers on the European Tour and still capable of getting his drives out there, in the flesh.

His biggest fan, dad Jim, is no longer around to see him, having died last year, one of a number of losses Gallacher suffered in a short period of time. It was another devastating blow when his long-time sponsor, Alan Steel, also died.

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They will both be looking down on him this week with immense pride and rightly so. Take a bow one of the really good guys because you deserve the plaudits and thanks for the memories.

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