Thursday, November 26, 2009

'New man' Stephen Gallacher goes to

Tour School after four-month lay-off

Stephen Gallacher will return to competitive golf this weekend feeling like a new man after using a four-month lay-off due to illness to refocus and figure out what has been holding him back since he landed one of the top titles in European golf.
The 35-year-old, who now lives in Linlithgow after being brought up in Bathgate, has suffered a horrible year, having tried to soldier on after being hit by a debilitating viral infection before admitting defeat following the Barclays Scottish Open in the middle of July.
He didn't pick up a golf club for six weeks after that, taking the chance during his enforced break to get an operation on his hand to clear up a problem that had plagued him for the past two years, but is now set to resume his career.
Despite being given a medical exemption by the European Tour that will guarantee him ten starts on the 2010 circuit, Gallacher, pictured above, has decided to join the other hopefuls at the final stage of the Qualifying School, which gets underway at PGA Golf de Cataluyna near Girona and Barcelona on Saturday.
The six-round test is a tough way to start back, especially for someone who was so lacking in energy earlier in the year that he couldn't even play a practice round before events, but Gallacher is excited about his return and is confident he can get his game back to the level it was when he won the Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews in 2004.
"It's been a nightmare year, really, but, at the same time, good things have come out of it," he reflected. "I've been able to have a summer holiday for the first time in 20 years and do the sort of things I've maybe taken for granted in the past – watching my wee boy play football and taking the kids swimming, for example.
"Four months is the longest I've ever one without touching a golf club in anger, so to speak, and, having been able to reflect on things, it's given me back my hunger and passion for the game. Over the last couple of years, I've not been doing as well as I want to do. I've had time to reflect on that, work out where I was going wrong and what I need to do.
"I actually think it is going to be the making of me. I've been practising harder than I ever have, putting in double sessions on the range at Kingsfield (just outside Linlithgow), and I am swinging the club as well as I have ever done."
After beating Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell to make the big breakthrough in the professional ranks, Gallacher, one of Scotland's most decorated amateurs, was expected to kick on and be pushing for a Ryder Cup place.
Why that hasn't happened is one of the things he's thought long and hard about over the past few months and, having made changes to his swing as well as doing some bio-mechanics and a bit of gym work, too, Gallacher is hoping his career can start to head in an upward direction again before too long.
"I've been doing a lot of reminiscing and trying to see what boxes I ticked at certain times in my career and figure of what I need to do for that to happen again," he said. "I've been very inconsistent over the past couple of years, playing well one day but badly the next.
"I stripped it back down to the mechanics of my golf swing. I looked at how to try and get a swing that can repeat itself more. It seems to be working as I was fighting with a pull hook for a while but am now hitting shots a lot straighter."
During his lay-off, the former Walker Cup player has been in regular contact with Jamie Spence, the former player who is now the European Tour's player relations' director, and David Garland, the circuit's director of operations.
"Both of them have been fantastic," he said. "I first spoke to them at Loch Lomond and I now know that I played that week for the wrong reasons. I was struggling even to practise then but I didn't want to let my friends and family down by not playing in one of the biggest events of the year in Scotland.
"I spoke to them again during the Dunhill Links Championship and, as well as confirming that I will get ten starts in 2010 – I need to make £200,000 in those to secure my card – they said that, if I was fit enough, the best option would be to go to the Tour School.
"If I can get a Tour card in Spain, I'll have an advantage on all the other guys who graduate from there as I'll also have the 10 guaranteed starts. I'll definitely get into the Dunhill Links and will have a good chance of getting Loch Lomond (Barclays Scottish Open] and Gleneagles (Johnnie Walker Championship] as well, so there's 13 starts straight away. I just want to get back playing."
Gallacher was last at the Tour School in 1996 – the year after he turned pro – and, like then, he'll have his good friend Aiden O'Reilly caddying for him.



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