Quiet man Stephen Gallacher ready for 'life-changing' Ryder Cup

Stephen Gallacher
Stephen Gallacher finished third at the Italian Open
2014 Ryder Cup, Gleneagles
Dates: 26-28 September. Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio 5 live, highlights on BBC Two and live text commentaries on the BBC Sport website each day via desktop, mobile, tablet and app.

He talks about his grandmother, Milly, and life's capacity to mess with your emotions in the most bittersweet way.

Sitting in the Gleneagles hotel, a place of calm before the greatest golfing storm, Stephen Gallacher recounts his week of weeks.

On the Sunday, brilliance on the golf course in Italy, but still one shot outside of automatic qualification for Paul McGinley's European team. On the Tuesday, that Gallacher's case for inclusion was too compelling to ignore.

All day Tuesday and Wednesday, the phone calls, the texts, the congratulations on the street as he went about his business.

On the Thursday he did some media. He switched off his phone and spoke about dreams coming true. When he turned it on again he heard the news that his grandmother - his uncle Bernard's mother - had taken seriously ill. That voicemail served as a crash landing back to earth.

Stephen Gallacher in action at the Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen
Gallacher finished fourth at the Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen, six shots behind Justin Rose

"She'd gone into hospital for a procedure on a tumour on her throat, but she was fine," says Gallacher. "She was in good spirits. Then the tumour split and she was in a lot of pain and I've gone from Mount Everest to under the ground in the space of 10 minutes.

"My granddad had passed away four years earlier and that was a hard four years for her. They'd been married for 60-odd years. I used to go to their house for lunch when I was going to school. My mum and dad worked so I was with them a lot. I was very, very close to them.

"The end could have come any minute from the Thursday but she fought on until Sunday. What a fighter she was. What a strong woman. It was tough to take, but she got to know about my good news and said she was proud of me. She knew how much I put into it."

This past fortnight has put him straight on one thing. However big he thought the Ryder Cup is, it's a whole lot bigger. He calls it a "life changer", not that he wants his life to change. He's pretty happy with his life, but change is happening in any event. He can't stop it.

He continues: "When you see your face on trolleys at Edinburgh Airport and billboards on the side of the road it dawns on you that this thing is even more huge than you ever imagined it to be. I suppose being the only Scot at a Ryder Cup in Scotland was always going to put me in the limelight, but it's a new experience for me.

"I'm a quiet guy, a family man, and I'm in at the deep end now. It's brilliant but it's weird. It's not normal for me, but being part of the Ryder Cup is a place I've been trying to get to in my golfing career."

The well-wishes have come in floods, from the golf world to the world outside the bubble. "I got messages from places I didn't expect. I got one from Bones (Jim Mackay, Phil Mickelson's caddie) and that was lovely. He said everybody over there was rooting for me on the Sunday in Italy (the last qualifying event for the European team). He said I was the talk of the range at the Deutsche Bank (the corresponding event on the PGA tour)."

The Italian Open was the finishing point on his challenge for the Ryder Cup, but there were so many other landmarks along the way, some obvious, some less so. In cataloguing the journey he doesn't even mention winning in Dubai in February, but that was surely a turning point - or one of them.

Europe's Ryder Cup team
Qualified automatically via European points list: Rory McIlroy (NI), Henrik Stenson (Swe), Victor Dubuisson (Fra), Jamie Donaldson (Wal)
Qualified automatically via World points list: Sergio Garcia (Spa), Justin Rose (Eng), Martin Kaymer (Ger), Thomas Bjorn (Den), Graeme McDowell (NI)
Wildcard picks: Stephen Gallacher (Sco), Ian Poulter (Eng), Lee Westwood (Eng)

"Making the cut at the Masters was a biggie," he says. "Shooting three rounds par or better in my first year there was encouraging. Finishing sixth at the WGC event at Doral was another one. At that point I was thinking 'wait a minute here, you keep going with this level of performance and you're going to be good enough'.

"The Ryder Cup is one of these things where you can say you want to get in, but are you really ready to play in it? This year is the time I'm actually ready. My game and my psychology under pressure is bang-on. There are times when you're ready or you're not ready - and I think I'm ready now."

The journey, though. The ups and downs. He recalls: "I tried to peak for the Scottish Open and the Open and I finished fourth and 15th but then I was absolutely knackered at the Bridgestone at Firestone in late July, early August, and again at the PGA at Valhalla. And I went to the Wyndham the week after and I just didn't want to be there. That was the time when I thought 'Oh no, maybe I've taken on too much'. But I had to do it in order to try to qualify."

The most pivotal moment? Not Italy, but the He went there on the back of two missed cuts in a row, at Valhalla and Greensboro, and knew he couldn't afford a third. It was his penultimate tournament before the curtain came down on qualification. He had to deliver.

Stephen Gallacher
Gallacher says it's "brilliant but weird" to be in the limelight in the Ryder Cup build-up

"To dig deep at the Czech, to chuck in a seventh when I needed to was brilliant," he explains.

"I was in a daze because I'd played so much golf. The Czech was the big one. Coming off two missed cuts, it was bigger than Italy, to be honest. If I go to the Czech Masters and miss the cut then that's me, I can't make it. So it was massive. I was more nervous there than I was in Italy."

Gallacher is a rookie on this European team but in terms of knowledge of the PGA course at Gleneagles, he's a veteran, a man who knows its every bump and hollow. On Friday, he whizzed around there in a buggy, checking out the rough - "big and lush" - and planning his strategy. Again.

He stood on the first tee and took a look about. It's not so much a golf hole any more, it's a sporting theatre.

"It's going to be brilliant," he says. "I'm going to be nervous, very nervous, but we've got an experienced team who'll pass on their best judgement to me. This is why I've spent all my years playing golf - just to be standing on that first tee in my home country and in front of the home fans."

There are hundreds of stories - many of them hilarious - about how nerves can almost paralyse a golfer on the first tee at a Ryder Cup. Jose Maria Olazabal once said that any player who doesn't feel his legs trembling in that situation is already a dead man. Padraig Harrington said he couldn't see the ball, when standing there for the first time. Lee Westwood has recalled how, on his debut, he couldn't get his ball to stay on its tee, his hands were shaking so much.

One of the classics comes from the English player, Peter Baker. "I was a nervous wreck," he said of his one appearance at the Ryder Cup, at the Belfry in 1993. "I live only 30 minutes away from the Belfry, so I know the course inside out. But when I stood on the first tee and looked up I remember seeing a tree I'd never seen before. I thought 'who planted that tree overnight?'"

Gallacher says he has a fair idea how he's going to feel when his own time comes.

"I kinda know what's going to happen," he says. "But, you know what, it's how you channel it. I mean, how fortunate am I? This is my lifetime achievement. Every player gets nervous. When you're not nervous you have to quit. You need that nervous energy to perform. If you're just going through the motions then it's not really worth it.

"I'll be looking about, I'll be excited. If you're standing up thinking 'oh no, I hope I don't duff it' then you're going to hit a bad shot. I'll be 100% zoned-in on my target. I'll be remembering what I've done. I've played well around this course and hopefully on Sunday night we'll be spraying champagne over people.

"That's a big if, though. The Americans have 12 really, really good players. Tiger Woods's omission is not going to weaken them at all. Dustin Johnson not being there maybe will, but, you know what, they've got 12 phenomenal players. You go by how close it's been the last two times, a flip of a coin. Who knows what's going to happen. It's going to be really tough."

And exhilarating.

A life's dream.

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