Tuesday, May 25, 2010

'Brave' move has helped Stephen
Gallacher to get back on track

Stephen Gallacher, who produced his best performance in nearly five years to finish fourth in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth on Sunday, has earned glowing praise from his uncle Bernard, the former Ryder Cup captain, for showing a positive attitude to bounce back from the lowest point in his career.
The 35-year-old, pictured right, virtually secured his playing rights for next season after winning just over £190,000 in the European Tour's flagship event in Surrey, meaning he'll head into the second half of the campaign feeling a lot better with life than he did 12 months ago.

Despite contracting a viral illness early in 2009, Gallacher struggled on but, after missing the cut in the Barclays Scottish Open at Loch Lomond in July, realised that he wasn't doing himself any favours and so didn't pick up a club again until October.

The former Walker Cup player was given a medical exemption to play in 11 events this season but, as a back up, also decided to head for the Tour School at the end of last year in Girona, where, in the circumstances, he produced an incredible performance to finish third.

Simon Khan, curiously, finished first in that event and, like Gallacher, the Englishman only received an invite last Monday for the BMW PGA Championship, which, of course, he duly won.

In his strongest showing since he came third in the 2005 Deutsche Bank Players' Championship in Germany, Gallacher finished just two shots behind, delighting his uncle, the long-time Wentworth professional and still living nearby at Ascot, in the process.

"The problem for Stephen last year was that he was playing with the illness before it was diagnosed and that was affecting his performances," said Bernard, who led Europe to victory in the Ryder Cup at the third time of asking at Oak Hill in 1995.

"He basically lost a year in terms of being competitive and it was a shame that it came at the peak of his career.

"However, I'm glad that he showed he's got a good head on his shoulders by doing two things. Firstly, he took advice from David Garland (the European Tour's Director of Tour Operations] and decided to stop playing in July, knowing he'd get a medical exemption in 2010. I think he got 11 spots through that, though I think he should have had a few more.

"Even more important, though, was the decision he took to go back to the Tour School, where he finished third behind Simon Khan. That was a brave decision and I'm not sure many others would have done that. I think they'd have taken pot luck with the medical exemption coupled with some invitations.

"What Stephen did showed a positive attitude and I hope he can kick on from here so that he can fulfil his potential."

Bernard, who, along with his wife, Lesley, used to have young Gallacher as a frequent house guest earlier in his career, is particularly keen to see his nephew play in this year's Open Championship at St Andrews, where Stephen won the Dunhill Links Championship – his sole European Tour success to date – in 2004, beating Graeme McDowell in a play-off over the Old Course.

"I spoke to Stephen on Sunday night and said his main aim now should be to play in The Open," he added. "He's too good not to be playing in an event like that (Gallacher has only teed it up three times in the world's oldest major in 18 years and one of those was an amateur]."

While it hit him badly at first, Gallacher, who has leapt 178 places up the world rankings to 213th thanks to his week's work at Wentworth, admits his enforced break last year was perhaps a blessing in disguise as he used the spare time to re-evaluate his career.

Using the excellent Kingsfield Golf Centre just outside Linlithgow, where he now lives with wife Helen and their two young kids, Jack and Ellie, as his base, he went back to basics, changed back to Titleist irons and augmented work with Bob Torrance (long game) and David Burns (short game) with some golf specific programmes from the Titleist Performance Institute.

Having also attracted some backing from local companies through GMI, his new management company who, coincidentally, also have Khan on their books, the former Scottish amateur champion returned to the European Tour at the start of this year with a fresh outlook and had been playing consistently enough, making eight cuts in a row, before turning his performance level up a notch or two in the biggest event of the season so far on the circuit.

"I'll be setting my goals a bit higher again and one of my aims is definitely to do well in the Race to Dubai," said Gallacher, who is in Madrid this week, Wales next week and then heads for Sunningdale to try and qualify for a third St Andrews appearance in the Open Championship. "Wentworth has whetted my appetite to play against the best players in Europe, if not the world."



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