Editor’s note: Stephen Gallacher claimed the Indian Open at the end of March. Jordan Fuller takes a look back at the accomplishment.
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.
Fix your golfing back pain, Step 2: Early stage rehab
This article is co-written with Marnus Marais. Since 2011, Marnus has worked with some of the world’s best players on both the PGA Tour and European Tour, helping them to maintain optimal health and peak physical performance. His current stable of players includes Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, and Louis Oosthuizen, amongst others.
You can find more information on Marnus and his work at marnusmarais.com
This article is No. 2 in a 4 part series.
Step 2 – Early Stage Rehab
Step 3 – Essential Strength and Golf Movement Patterns
Step 4 – Building global strength for prevention of future injury
Now that we have identified the source of the back issue through assessment, it’s time to start working on the underlying causes, in order to reduce pain and decrease the likelihood of re-injury further down the track.
In our experience, mechanical back pain in golfers caused by physical issues is most often caused by one or more of the the following 4 issues, with many amateur players displaying the entire collection!
– Lack of Mobility at the Hips and Mid / Upper Back
– Poor Posture
– Misalignment and Muscle Imbalances
– Weak Core Muscles
Because pain is likely still a factor at this stage, we need to proceed with caution and focus on rehab work that is low intensity and has a low risk of causing a pain flare up.
With that in mind, in ‘Step 2: Early Stage Rehab’ we are going to address Mobility, Posture and Misalignment / Muscle Imbalances. These 3 areas can be improved upon, and should have a positive impact on pain reduction, even if back discomfort is still restricting larger, more global movements.
Step 2.1 – Improving Mobility in Hips and Mid / Upper back
Certain areas in the body need to be more stable, and others need to be more mobile. The lumbar spine (lower back) falls into the stable category, partly due to its limited capacity for rotation and lateral flexion (side bending). We know the unnatural golf swing movement imparts both rotational and side bending forces on the spine, so it’s an area we need to keep stable and protected.
In order to avoid excessive low back rotation forces in life and especially in the golf swing, it’s very important that we try to maximize the range of movement in other areas, most notably the joints above and below the low back, where the majority of rotation in the golf swing should take place:
We need sufficient range of movement to turn into, and out of, both hips. For example, if we can’t turn and load into our lead hip due to a lack of internal rotation mobility, we tend to compensate with excessive rotation and side-bending in the lower back.
Suggested Exercise Circuit – Hip Mobility
1) Self Massage Glutes – 45 secs each side
2) Cross Leg Glute Stretch – 30 secs each side
3) Prone Glute Stretch – 30 secs each side
4) 90 90 Hip Mobility – 5 reps each side
Thoracic Spine (mid to upper back)
Having sufficient rotation in our thoracic spine to both left and the right is extremely important. The thoracic spine has significantly greater rotational capabilities compared to the lumbar spine (low back). If we maximise our mobility here, we can help protect the lower back, along with the cervical spine (neck).
Suggested Exercises – Thoracic Mobility
1) Self Massage Mid / Upper back – 60 seconds
2) Upper Back Extension – 30 seconds
3) All Fours Rotation – 5 reps each side
Step 2.2 – Improving Posture
Posture can be described as the proper alignment of the spine, with the aim of establishing three natural curves (low back, mid/upper back and neck).
The 3 major spinal curves: 1 – Cervical, 2 – Thoracic, 3 – Lumbar
Modern lifestyles and the associated muscle imbalances have pushed and pulled our spines away from those three natural curves, and this has had a damaging effect on our spinal health. Our backs are designed to function optimally from the neutral illustrated above, and the further we get away from it, the more stress we put on our protective spinal structures.
Aside from promotion of pain, poor posture also does terrible things for our golf swings; reducing range of motion in key areas (hips, mid back and shoulders) and creating inefficiencies in our swing action, to give us a double whammy of back pain causes.
The muscles responsible for holding your posture are located deep in the body and close to the spine. Strengthening them can be tricky, as we don’t really have a lot of conscious control over their activation. Hence posture being such a difficult thing to remember! The combination of the 4 exercises featured below help provide the stimulus to those deep muscles that, if trained often enough, will automatically hold your posture in a good position.
Suggested Exercises – Strengthening posture muscles
1) Wall Posture Check – 30 secs
2) Posture Cue – 60 secs
3) Posture Cue Knee Lifts – 10 reps each side
4) Arm Press – 15 reps
Step 2.3 – Fixing Alignment Issues and Muscle Imbalances
Imagine a car with wheel alignment issues; front wheels facing to the right, back wheels facing to the left. Not only will the tires wear out unevenly and quickly, but other areas of the car will experience more torque, load or strain and would have to work harder. The same thing happens to the lower back when we have body alignment issues above and / or below.
For example, if we have short / tight / overactive hip flexors (muscles at the front of the hips that bend our knees to our chest) on one side of the body; very common amongst golfers with low back pain, then this would rotate the pelvis forward on one side, which can create a knock-on effect of imbalance throughout the body.
If the pelvis rotates in one direction, the shoulders naturally have to rotate in the opposite direction in order to maintain balance. Our low back is subsequently caught in the middle, and placed under more load, stress and strain. This imbalance can cause the low back to bend and rotate further, and more unevenly, especially in the already complex rotation and side bending context of the golf swing!
Below is a pelvic alignment technique that can help those with the afore mentioned imbalance.
In the next article; Step 3: Essential Strength and Golf Movement Patterns, we will show you the progression of exercises and key technique principles to build up the strength and movement patterns to return to regular exercise and golf.
If you would like to see how Marnus can help with your golfing back pain, then check out the resources below:
If you would like to access training programs designed for elite and recreational players, then check out the following resources and services from Nick at Golf Fit Pro:
A golfing memoir in monthly tokens: March (belatedly)
Editor’s note: All latency on the publishing here is the fault of the Editor-in-Chief.
As some might say, if you don’t take the plunge, you can’t taste the brine. Others might not say such a thing. I’m taking the plunge, because I want to taste the brine.
Absolutely. Meet me up north (and, to himself, what have I got to lose?)
No sense in putting the cart before the horse, as the old pro used to say, as cirE “Flip” Hedgebow used to ignore. As March came to a close, as cirE locked the pro shop for the last time until November, he took a leap of faith. How big of a leap? Let’s get through March, and find out.
Speaking of carts and horses, March for Flip always came in like a lamb, and went out like a lion. That ran contrary to the folklore but, all things considered, there was always a 50% chance of things running contrary.
No, the best reason for topsy and turvy in March, for Flip, was explained by his birthday. Being born in the middle of the month might suggest balance to some; for him, it was a constant reminder of the chaos that led up to his earthly arrival, tempered only by the madness that ensued. If that’s balance, you can have it.
In Flip’s world, March was about the arrival of the most seasoned of snowbirds, the ones with more than five years of retirement under their growing-shrinking belts. Some were expanding, as they had given up on fitness; the rest were shrinking, as the truest effects of age caught them up. In each case, this pod arrived with military precision, knowing where and when nearly every penny would be spent. No frivolity remained in their schedules, no ambiguity survived from younger, budgeting days. No longer minnows, they recognized that uncertainty stalked them, and that all of their remaining wits needed to center on a small and precise target. The smaller, the more precise, the better…for the women.
Like all men, the old guys appreciated the consistency and precision their wives brought to their worlds.
Like all men, the old guys detested the ever-encroaching, loss of control over their own destinies.
They would enter the pro shop, grab the latest hat like a modern-day Judge Smails, and set it at a rakish angle, atop their sleek domes. Flip learned quite early on that the only way to ensure the sale was cash. When the wives invariably came to complain and demand a refund, Flip could “only” offer a pro shop credit, guaranteeing that something would be purchased. If they bought it on account or on a card, the sale was irretrievably lost.
Flip expected these purchases from his March gam: the cheapest golf balls, when their supply of northern culls ran out; the attire from last fall, or even the previous summer, ready to be shipped back to the manufacturer when March 20th arrived; and some odd or end that the pro had overlooked, lost to some sort of missionary of time. The only thing stronger than the will of the spouse, was the desire of the old guy to make some sort of purchase, to re-establish some semblance of power and control, for at least a moment.
How did you get your name, and why is the last letter, and not the first, capitalized?
(silence. he rarely heard the first question, as everyone knew him as “Flip;” he never heard the second one, as no one paid attention anymore.)
Two stories are a lot to tell. Let’s save both answers, even if it’s just a little while.
(silence. she wasn’t satisfied)
If the red hair caused his eyes to move from the mundane nature of packing and sealing boxes, everything else physical compelled him to put down the tape gun, sense that his throat was dry, know that he would not clear it without a squeak, turn away for a bottle of water, take a swig for lubrication, and, finally, turn back with his finest Axel Foley smile, and greet her with: How long have you been retired?
It was an incalculable risk. There was a 90% chance that she would react with an I’m not that old sort of affront, turn on her heels, and march out the door. There was a 5% chance that she would get the joke, and would stick around for another exchange, before smiling awkwardly and departing. There remained a 5% chance of something else. On this 21st day of March, that final 5% wafted in.
Wafted in, in the guise of a lesson he thought that he had planned. Planned for one of the wives, a late-sixties model whose swing was frozen in time: the unlikely combination of a forward lurch of the torso, a reverse pivot of the feet, and right in the middle, an impossible heave of the hips in one of four unpredictable directions. If anyone were to discover a fifth cardinal point, it would be Agnes Porter. Until this moment, Flip Hedgebow gave thanks that the world was blessed with just one of her; more than one might have tilted the globe off its axis. Now, he offered up a different type of gratitude, thanks to the visage of her granddaughter, who bore no resemblance to the matriarch, beyond the title of Agnes Porter.
They write that a story may be deemed worthy for its inerrant language, or for its compelling events. The story of Agnes Porter the way-younger and Flip Hedgebow benefitted from both, along with an overdose of peripeteia.
Artwork by JaeB
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