It refers to itself as the land of the free and the home of the brave. However, one man for whom the United States of America will never be home is Stephen Gallacher. That’s not to say the Scot is lacking in bravery. Quite the opposite, as it happens.
It takes guts aplenty to face up to the challenges he has had to overcome these past few years to not just get his game back to where he knows it should be but also reenter the winner’s circle on the European Tour, victory in the Dubai Desert Classic affording him that privilege. No, the reason Gallacher won’t follow many of his fellow British tour pros and chase the riches available on Uncle Sam’s PGA Tour is quite straightforward: home is where the heart is and his heart is in Scotland.
"A happy home life is just as important as a good swing or a solid putting stroke."
Speaking to bunkered, the 38-year-old said: “I like my family life too much to uproot everyone and move over to the States. I’ve got Kingsfield driving range no more than a mile from my house, the airport is ten minutes away, the kids have got a great school and my family is close at hand, so, ‘comfort-wise’, I’m happy with my home life and that has a massive impact on your game. “A happy home life is just as important as a good swing or a solid putting stroke. You need the whole package, everything needs to be on-song if you’re going to stand a chance of doing well on tour. Besides, the European Tour is a great tour.”
That will be music to the ears of the circuit’s chief executive George O’Grady who must have felt some frustration at the talent drain the tour has suffered in recent years, with many of its top players defecting to the more lucrative PGA Tour. The likes of Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell and Justin Rose have all built schedules primarily comprising PGA Tour events in the past few years, whilst Lee Westwood - for so long a mainstay of the European Tour - moved his family to Florida over the winter with a view to playing more tournaments in America. Gallacher? He wishes them luck but has no intention of joining them.
“Everybody’s different,” he says. “Paul doesn’t do it. I’ve never done it. Monty never went over there either and he had not a bad career! I think a lot of the guys that have gone over there have had some experience of it at college level or university level, or they’ve not got any ties with their family. In Lee’s case, if he thinks that’s going to be beneficial for his career then fair enough, who’s to question him? But, no, I can’t see myself playing more over there, other than for the majors and World Golf Championships.”
"It’s so tough to win these days. I just hope I don’t leave it eight or nine years this time before the next one."
The luxury of picking and choosing a schedule that suits him is just one of the perks that Gallacher is enjoying right now after his win in Dubai. It was a victory that was some time in the making. Eight years and 111 days, to be precise. That’s how long it had been since the Bathgate-born man’s maiden victory on the European Tour at the 2004 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and he admits it was nice to get back in the limelight.
“It’s where you want to be,” he says, “It’s what you practice for. It was great to win again but now it’s about letting that sink in, consolidating it and giving myself chances to do it again. It’s so tough to win these days. I just hope I don’t leave it eight or nine years this time before the next one! Knowing that I can do it again is great and I’ve seen what confidence can do to other people so hopefully I can just carry it on. “My wife, wee man and daughter watched me on TV in the final round of Dubai and that was great. You want to have your face on the telly and things like that because it shows that you’re doing the right stuff.”
If he keeps on doing the ‘right stuff’, then he’ll give himself a fighting chance of making Paul McGinley’s team for the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. Gallacher will be just a few weeks shy of his 40th birthday by the time that match comes comes around and would, therefore, be one of the older debutants on either team if he made the 12-man side. That, he says, is just fine by him.
“I wouldn’t mind to have that tag,” he laughs. “There are so many reasons I want to make that team. For one thing, I’m never going to have another opportunity to play in the Ryder Cup in Scotland. It’s a ‘once in a generation’ thing. Plus, it’s at Gleneagles, which is only 20 minutes up the road from me. The PGA Centenary is a course I really like and tend to play well on, too. “You know, I sat and watched the guys in Medinah last year and if that doesn’t get the juices flowing and make you want to do everything you can to make the team then nothing will.”
He has also already signaled his intent to be apart of the team to the man who will lead the European defence of the trophy. “Paul is a good friend of mine and I know he’ll be a good captain,” he says. “We’ve spoken a bit about the Ryder Cup already and I’ve told him how much I want to be part of his team. He was quite upfront with me. He said getting one of the top ten automatic spots is so important because it is really hard to give a rookie one of his wildcards over someone with previous match experience. So, yeah, getting in the automatic places would be the ultimate and, of course, doing that is really tough but I know what needs to be done. Play well, be at the top of my game and let everything else take care of itself.”
"To have three guys from one club in this tiny wee mining village have an involvement in one of the world’s biggest sporting events would be pretty special.”
Another Paul that Gallacher has had Ryder Cup conversations with is fellow Scot Lawrie. The Aberdonian bridged a 13-year gap between appearances in the biennial competition last year after making good on a pledge to himself to do everything he could to make the side. For Gallacher, that is a real inspiration. He explains: “Paul’s a good friend of mine and we talk a lot about how he made the team last year. You know, things like how much he wanted to get in the side, how he set about that and son on. You just need to sit and listen to guys like ‘Chippy’ talk about it and it makes you realise just how badly you want a bit of it for yourself.” Of course, Gallacher has deeply personal reasons for wanting to play in at least one match with the USA before he calls time on his career.
“The Ryder Cup is in my family. I grew up watching my uncle Bernard play in it, vice-captain in it and then captain in it. So, to try and emulate him even just a wee bit would be incredible and would mean so much. Plus, growing up at Bathgate Golf Club, you couldn’t avoid the Ryde Cup, because of my uncle and also Eric Brown both coming from there and going on to play and be captains in the match. So, to have three guys from one club in this tiny wee mining village have an involvement in one of the world’s biggest sporting events would be pretty special.”
Making the team will require a combination of good fortune, good golf and good health. The middle of these has never been an issue for Gallacher, who has long been considered one of the best ball-strikers on tour. Luck? That’s gone against him a couple of times. Health? Perhaps a combination of injuries and illnesses have plague him since that breakthrough win in the Alfred Dunhill Links. All being well, he hopes that those problems are behind him. He is also still working with his long-time coach, the irrepressible Bob Torrance. “The first time I saw him was when I was about 14-years-old, so that’s 24 years on and off,” says Gallacher. “He’s more like a member of the family now than a coach. He’s got one of the quickest wits you’ll ever find and, for an 80-something, he’s as sharp as a tack.”
"We’re also planning to put in a nine-hole, purpose-built par-3 course at Kingsfield."
Away from his own game, things are going swimmingly for Gallacher, with his junior golf foundation launching to much acclaim and widespread success last year. “All of my expectations for the foundation were blown out of the water,” he says. “It was a great first year but I want to just continue trying to build it up slowly, do it right, and make it as good as it can be. We’ve got our schedule for this season organised and we’re also going to continue to sponsor the Scottish Boys’ Strokeplay Championship. We’re also planning to put in a nine-hole, purpose-built par-3 course at Kingsfield that all schools and kids can use, so, yeah, there’s a lot in the pipeline.”
Stephen Gallacher in bunkered
This interview first appeared in issue 122 of bunkered (published: March 2013)