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Inside Stephen Gallacher’s 5-year wait between wins on the European Tour

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Editor’s note: Stephen Gallacher claimed the Indian Open at the end of March. Jordan Fuller takes a look back at the accomplishment. 

Panic

Stephen Gallacher stood on the seventh tee of the DLF Golf and Country Club in New Delhi, India, in the thick of contention for the Hero Indian Open Championship on a blustery Sunday in late March. He started the day three strokes off the pace set by American Julian Suri, but after surviving the first six holes at even par, Gallacher was within one stroke of the lead.

And then: disaster. Two lost balls on the difficult par 4 seemed to end Gallacher’s chances at his first European Tour title in five years. Through an unfortunate quirk of the rules, Gallacher was forced to hit four tee shots on the seventh hole. His first drive was pull-hooked into no-man’s land, deep in the fescue that lines the fairway. He hit a beautiful provisional right down the middle of the fairway, but in a twist of poor luck, he found his first ball in an unplayable lie.

Because he’d found the ball, his lovely provisional tee shot was not able to be used. So Stephen had to make his way back to the tee and hit another shot, taking a stroke penalty for an unplayable lie. And he pull-hooked it into the same miserable fescue.

So he re-teed once again, hitting his fifth shot from the tee. Three strokes later, he found himself carding a catastrophic quadruple-bogey eight.

Golfers don’t usually write down an eight on the scorecard and go on to win the tournament. But Gallacher drew on his years of experience and perseverance, and he found a way to stave off the panic that could’ve easily ensued.

There Is a Light That Never Goes Out

Stephen Gallacher is a tall, lanky Scottish journeyman professional golfer. His long career has showed a lot of promise, but from earning his tour card on his first attempt in 1995 until 2018, he’d only managed to visit the winner’s circle three times.

Despite being in the top 50 of career earnings on the European Tour, Gallacher is still far from a household name. He’s able to enjoy a life that takes him to golf tournaments in all corners of the globe while still being able to visit a local pub with minimal fanfare. One glance at Gallacher’s twitter paints a picture of a good-hearted family man, a lifelong soccer fan and an avid fan of Manchester rock band the Smiths.

After being part of a successful European Walker Cup team in ‘95, Gallacher turned pro and promptly earned his tour card. A back injury in 1996 threatened to derail his career before it really even started, but he was able to recover and finally break through with a win in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in 2003.

Gallacher overcame a debilitating viral infection in 2009 that threatened both his career and his life. Upon returning to the tour with his competitive fire reignited, Gallacher was able to capture the Dubai Desert Classic in 2013 and again in 2014. These victories were enough to earn a Captain’s Pick on Team Europe for the 2014 Ryder Cup.

But Gallacher’s Ryder Cup appearance proved frustrating despite Team Europe’s commanding victory. Gallacher was 0-2-0 in his matches, losing a four-ball match 5&4 and his singles match 3&1 to Phil Mickelson. He was the only European Player who failed to earn any points at all in the tournament.

And yet, he soldiered on. From 2015-2018, Gallacher played a full schedule on the European Tour but was unable to capture his fourth title. He managed only seven top-ten finishes but still eked out a good living by making cut after cut.

And in 2019, he’d find himself grinding it out in New Delhi, desperately vying for one more glorious run into the winner’s circle.

Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want

It was a tough weekend to be halfway around the world from home, competing in the Hero Indian Open. Stephen’s daughter Ellie turned 15 back in Scotland on Tuesday as he made his way around the odd DLF golf course in a practice round. And Sunday was Mother’s Day back in his homeland. At least Stephen’s son Jack, having just turned 18, made the trip to India with him and caddied for him in the tournament. Jack turned out to be a good luck charm.

DLF is an odd Gary Player design, with numerous dramatic and sometimes bizarre features that have earned it the nickname “Jurassic Park.” With lots of water, an island green, and bold rock faces jutting out into fairways, the course is beautiful and difficult. Many think it’s too penal, as sometimes decent shots wind up taking a bad bounce and costing you multiple strokes.

But the layout was great for a player like Gallacher. Much like his career, his game is based on perseverance and grinding. Never one to give up on a hole or a tournament, Stephen walked off the seventh hole with a quadruple-bogey 8 and a steely determination to get back into contention despite the snowman.

He rebounded with a steady par on the par-5 eighth hole, and then reeled off three birdies in the next four holes to quickly make his way back up the leaderboard. The leader, Julian Suri, had stumbled out of the gates but righted the ship with birdies on eight and nine. All he needed to do was cruise home with pars and no one would be likely to catch him.

How Soon Is Now

As Gallacher approached the island green on the par-4 14th hole, he’d worked his way back to a respectable 7 under, but found himself still three strokes back of the pace-setting Suri. As the wind whipped harder and harder, he stood over an eight-foot par putt and watched as it drifted off to the right, missing on the low side.

All that work carding three birdies after the disastrous eight, and it seemed to be for naught as a bogey on 14 looked like it would end his chances. But again, showing the resilience he’d displayed in coming back from back injury and debilitating viral lung and joint infection, he sallied forth, resolute in his desire to post a good score and let the chips fall as they may.

He hit a beautiful approach shot on the par-5 15th hole, landing it at the back of the green and spinning it some 15 feet back towards the hole. Allowing himself a peek at the leaderboard, he saw that the unbelievable had happened: Suri had made a quadruple-bogey 8 of his own on the 14th hole. All of a sudden, Gallacher was putting for birdie and a share of the lead.

Gallacher gripped his putter with his strong, cross-handed grip and started the putt firmly at the left edge, watching as it rattled off the back of the cup and dropped for birdie. Tied for the lead, with only three holes remaining, it seemed that now was the time to make some magic happen. The next best thing to celebrating Mother’s Day at home with his family would be to pull out a miraculous victory with his son on his bag.

This Charming Man

A sensible tee shot to the middle of the green on 16 was the prudent play, as the sucker pin was tucked over rocky outcroppings. Two putts later, Gallacher moved on with par and came to the home stretch.

A perfect drive on 17 left him with a blind short iron shot up a steep hill against a strong cross-wind. But they say the wind doesn’t affect a purely-struck shot, and Gallacher’s approach floated up the hill and landed perfectly short and left of the pin, rolling out to just a few feet for birdie. His putt, again starting firmly at the left edge, was dead center.

With just one hole left, Stephen Gallacher took the lead for the first time all tournament. All that was left was the 624-yard monstrous par-5 18th. His huge drive took every advantage of the downwind, downhill shot and rolled out a stunning 385 yards, leaving him a long iron from 239 to reach the green in two. He struck his second shot and walked confidently after it, watching as it sailed to the green and came to a stop just fifteen feet from the pin.

A sensible lag putt left him with a tap-in birdie. The whirlwind of the past hour behind him, he choked up on the 18th green as he shook his son’s hand and went to the scoring tent to see if anyone could catch him.

After the round, he was asked how he bounced back from a quadruple bogey that would’ve ruined most players’ rounds.

“I stood on the 8th tee and I just thought, I’m only five back! And on this golf course, with the winds swelling, just stay in.”

The 44-year-old Gallacher was able to teach the youngsters of the tour a thing or two about grinding out a score, and he was rewarded with the fourth championship trophy of his long European Tour career. Congratulations rang in from all over the world as his peers cheered on his patience and dogged tenacity. It was a much-deserved win for a well-liked player, and with his son caddying for him it became the most special weekend of his long career.

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Jordan Fuller is a golf enthusiast with over 25 years of experience on the golf course. He’s fallen in love with the game and now teaches golf to amateur players in Omaha, Nebraska. He also loves to write and share his learnings about the game in articles on his website, Golf Influence.

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