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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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Opinion & Analysis

A day at the CP Women’s Open

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It’s another beautiful summer day in August. Just like any other pro-am at a professional tour event, amateurs are nervously warming up on the driving range and on the putting green next to their pros. As they make their way to the opening tees, they pose for their pictures, hear their names called, and watch their marque player stripe one down the fairway. But instead of walking up 50 yards to the “am tees,” they get to tee it up from where the pros play—because this is different: this is the LPGA Tour!

I’m just going to get right to it, if you haven’t been to an LPGA Tour event you NEED to GO! I’ve been to a lot of golf events as both a spectator and as media member, and I can say an LPGA Tour event is probably the most fun you can have watching professional golf.

The CP Women’s Open is one of the biggest non-majors in women’s golf. 96 of the top 100 players in the world are in the field, and attendance numbers for this stop on the schedule are some of the highest on tour. The 2019 edition it is being held at exclusive Magna Golf Club in Aurora, Ontario, which is about an hour north of downtown Toronto and designed by noted Canadian architect Doug Carrick. The defending Champion is none other than 21-year-old Canadian phenom Brooke Henderson, who won in emotional fashion last year.

From a fan’s perspective, there are some notable differences at an LPGA Tour event, and as a true “golf fan,” not just men’s golf fan, there are some big parts of the experience that I believe everyone can enjoy:

  • Access: It is certainly a refreshing and laidback vibe around the golf course. It’s easy to find great vantage points around the range and practice facility to watch the players go through their routines—a popular watching spot. Smaller infrastructure doesn’t mean a smaller footprint, and there is still a lot to see, plus with few large multi-story grandstands around some of the finishing holes, getting up close to watch shots is easier for everyone.
  • Relatability: This is a big one, and something I think most golfers don’t consider when they choose to watch professional golf. Just like with the men’s game there are obviously outliers when it comes to distance on the LPGA Tour but average distances are more in line with better club players than club players are to PGA Tour Pros. The game is less about power and more about placement. Watching players hit hybrids as accurately as wedges is amazing to watch. Every player from a scratch to a higher handicap can learn a great deal from watching the throwback style of actually hitting fairways and greens vs. modern bomb and gouge.
  • Crowds: (I don’t believe this is just a “Canadian Thing”) It was refreshing to spend an entire day on the course and never hear a “mashed potatoes” or “get in the hole” yelled on the tee of a par 5. The LPGA Tour offers an extremely family-friendly atmosphere, with a lot more young kids, especially young girls out to watch their idols play. This for me is a huge takeaway. So much of professional sports is focused on the men, and with that you often see crowds reflect that. As a father to a young daughter, if she decides to play golf, I love the fact that she can watch people like her play the game at a high level.

There is a lot of talk about the difference between men’s and women’s professional sports, but as far as “the product” goes, I believe that LPGA Tour offers one of the best in professional sports, including value. With a great forecast, a great course, and essentially every top player in the field, this week’s CP Women’s Open is destined to be another great event. If you get the chance to attend this or any LPGA Tour event, I can’t encourage you enough to go!

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Podcasts

TG2: New podcaster Larry D on his show “Bogey Golf”

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GolfWRX Radio welcomes a new podcast, Bogey Golf with Larry D and we talk to Larry. He lets us in on his show, who he is, why he loves the game, and even what’s in his bag! Rob missed his member-guest and Knudson got a new driver.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

Getting to know Payne Stewart

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Ever since that final putt fell in Pinehurst in 1999, Payne Stewart’s memory has enjoyed mythical qualities. A man of complex charm, but many of us who grew up without him recognize only his Knickerbocker pants, his flat cap, and his W.W.J.D. covered wrist wrapped around that United States Open trophy.

I had a wonderful opportunity to play a round of golf with two men that know a lot about Payne. One through friendship and the other through journalistic research.

Lamar Haynes was Payne Stewart’s close friend and teammate on the SMU golf team. He’s full of stories about Payne from the good old days. Kevin Robbins is an author who just finished a new book on Stewart’s final year of life, set to release to the public for purchase this October. He works as a professor of journalism at the University of Texas but has also enjoyed an impressive career as a reporter and golf writer for over 20 years.

We met at Mira Vista Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, to talk about Payne. Robbins is a solid golfer who spends time working on his game, which tells me a lot about his personality. He is one of us.  As for Haynes, the guy hasn’t lost much since those SMU golf team days. He can still swing it. Fantastic iron player. And both men are wonderful conversationalists. They offered a unique perspective on Stewart—the golfer I grew up idolizing but never really knew. There’s a good chance you don’t really know him, either. At least not the whole story.

“Most golf fans now know the story of his ’99 U.S. Open win,” Robbins said.  “What they don’t know is where he came from.”

Robbins’ book, The Last Stand of Payne Stewart: The Year Golf Changed Foreverchronicles Payne’s last year on earth with dramatic detail, covering his triumph at Pinehurst and the Ryder Cup at Brookline. And, of course, it tells the story of that tragic plane crash that took our champion from us. What the book doesn’t do is hide any of the blemishes about Payne’s life that have either been forgotten or pushed aside by brighter moments and memories.

“I thought that the other Payne Stewart books, while they have a place, they didn’t tell the whole story,” Robbins said.

The whole story, from what I read, was Payne being brash. A poor winner and sometimes a poor sport when he lost. He often said things he shouldn’t have said and then made those mistakes again and again.

“He had no filter,” remembered Haynes.  “Several close friends on tour had a hard time with him when he won his first Open. He didn’t take into account any of the consequences his words could create. He had a huge heart. Huge heart. But at times there was just no filter. But he grew a great deal over the last 2 or three years.”

It’s most certainly is a book about a change. A change in a man that was better late than never. But also a change in golf that began at the turn of the century and hasn’t really slowed down since.

“The 20 years since his death, to see the way golf has moved, what the tour looks like now,” Robins said.  “There was an evolution that was taking place in 1999 and we didn’t know how it would manifest itself. But now we do. So when you see Brooks Koepka hit a 3-wood in the US Open 370 yards, well that all really had its beginnings in 1998 and 1999. The Pro-V1 ball was being tested in 1999 and being rolled out in 2000. Fitness and equipment, sports psychology, nutrition. All of those things that a guy like Payne Stewart really didn’t have to pay attention to.”

But that change that occurred in Payne, culminating in his final year of life, is something worth learning. It’s a lesson for all of us. A guy on top of the world with still so much to fix. And he was fixing it, little by little.

“He was authentic,” Haynes said. “And he learned a lot later in life from his children. With their Bible studies. You saw a change in him. Very much. He had a peace with himself but he still would revert to his DNA. The fun-loving Payne. Raising children and being a father helped him tremendously.”

Payne was passionate about so many things in life but his children became a primary focus. According to Haynes, he would be so loud at his daughter’s volleyball games…yelling intensely at the referees…that they gave him an option: Either he wouldn’t be allowed to watch the games anymore or he needed to become a line judge and help out with the games. So, Payne Stewart became a volleyball line judge.

Lamar brought the head of an old Ram 7-iron along with him to show me. Damaged and bent from the crash, the club was with Payne on his final flight. He had it with him to show his guys at Mizuno as a model for a new set of irons. That Ram 7-iron belonged to Haynes and Payne had always adored the way it looked at address.

“Payne also used my old Mizunos the last year of his life,” Haynes said.  I had received the MS-4s 10 years earlier from Payne in 1989. They were like playing with a shaft on a knife. The sweet spot was so tiny on the MS-4. They made the MP29 and 14s look like game improvement irons. Payne used those. Then Harry Taylor at Mizuno designed him an iron, which later became the MP33. The 29 and 14s were very sharp and flat-soled. Well, Payne loved this old Ram iron set that I had.. He asked for my Ram 7-iron for Harry Taylor to model his new set. He liked the way it went through the turf. He had it with him on the plane. This is the club that started the MP33.”

It was Lamar Haynes, the man who seems to know just about everyone in the golf community, that set Robbins on this writing journey. Robbins had written one book previously: The story of the life of legendary golf coach Harvey Penick. But this book came a bit easier for Robbins, partly due to his experience, partly due to the subject matter, and partly because of Lamar.

“There’s a story here,” Robbins said. “With any book, you hope to encounter surprises along the way, big and little. And I did. I got great cooperation a long the way. Anybody I wanted to talk to, talked to me thanks to this guy Lamar Haynes.”

“Lamar said the first guy you need to talk to is Peter Jacobsen,” Robins said. “And I said ‘great can you put me in touch with him’ which became a common question to Lamar throughout the process.” Robbins chuckled.  “Literally 2 minutes later my phone rings. ‘Kevin, this is Peter Jacobsen here.'”

“Peter told me the story about the ’89 PGA championship in our first conversation. So literally in the first 10 minutes of my reporting effort, I had the first set piece of the book. I had something. Lamar made a lot happen.”

Lamar Haynes and Kevin Robbins

The book is not a biography, though it certainly has biographical elements to it. It is simply the story of Payne’s final year, with a look back at Payne’s not so simple career mixed in. The author’s real talent lives in the research and honesty. The story reads like you’re back in 1999 again, with quotes pulled from media articles or press conferences. Anecdotes are sprinkled here and there from all of Payne’s contemporaries. The storytelling is seamless and captivating.

“I was pleasantly surprised how much Colin Montgomerie remembered about the concession at the 1999 Ryder Cup,” Robbins said. “Colin can be a tough interview. He is generally mistrustful of the media. His agent gave me 15 minutes during the Pro-Am in Houston. This was in the spring of 2018. I met Colin on the 17th hole and he had started his round on 10. Just organically the conversation carried us to the fifth green. Just because he kept remembering things. He kept talking, you know. It was incredible. Tom Lehman was the same way. He said “I’ll give you 20 minutes” and it ended up being an hour and a half at Starbucks.”

The research took Robbins to Massachusetts, Florida, and Missouri—and of course, to Pinehurst. He met with Mike Hicks, Payne’s former caddie, there to discuss that final round. The two ended up out on Pinehurst No. 2, walking the last three holes and reliving the victory. It gives life to the story and fills it with detail.

“Part of what I hoped for this book is that it would be more than just a sports story,” Robbins said.  “More than just a golf story. The more I started thinking about where Payne began and where he ended, it seemed to me…and I’m not going to call it a redemption story although I bet some people do. People when they are younger, they have regrets and they make mistakes. They do things they wish they could take back but they can’t. So, what can they do? Well, they can improve. They can get better. That’s what Payne was doing with his life. He was improving himself. It was too late to change what he had done already. So what could he do with the future? He could be different.”

“It was accurate,” Haynes said.  “I had a tear when I finished it. I texted Kevin right afterward. I told him I couldn’t call him because I’m choked up so I texted him.”

So here’s two men who knew Payne Stewart, albeit in very different ways. They knew he was flawed in life but he got better. Was Payne Stewart that hero at Pinehurst, grabbing Phil Mickelson’s face and telling him the important thing is he’s going to be a father? Yes. But he was so much more than that. He was so much more than I knew before I read this book. Most importantly, Payne Stewart was always improving. A lesson for all of us, indeed.

If you want to hear more about my experience, tweet at me here @FWTXGolfer or message me on Instagram here! I look forward to hearing from you!

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