Packing in football put Stephen Gallacher on road to glory

Jim Gallacher watches at Gleneagles with his grandson Jack. Picture: Jane Barlow
Jim Gallacher watches at Gleneagles with his grandson Jack. Picture: Jane Barlow
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Stephen Gallacher wasn’t pushed into golf by his dad on the back of family tradition. But a decision to give a potential football career the boot delighted his father Jim Gallacher nonetheless.

It gave Stephen more time to practise his golf and go on to become Bathgate’s third Ryder Cup player.

“Stephen loved his football,” Jim told the Evening News in the build-up to the event’s 40th staging at Gleneagles.

“He played for Livingston when we stayed there. He was the goalie but only because he could kick the ball far.

“He wasn’t brought up like Rory (McIlroy), it was more of a natural progression for him.

“He worked hard at it and has made the right decisions at the right times, including when he turned professional.”

If it had been down to Bob Torrance, Gallacher’s lifelong coach until his death in the summer, it would have been in the early 1990s.

It was around that time that he won the Scottish Boys’ Stroke-Play Championship back-to-back and, in one of those years, the Scottish Amateur Championship as well.

“Bob was always of the opinion that if you were good enough you should turn professional straight away,” recalled Jim.

“But, around the time Stephen won the first of his Scottish Boys’ Stroke-Play titles at Crieff, he also played against an Ireland Boys’ team that had Paul McGinley’s dad as their manager.

“I spoke to him and he’d said he felt Stephen would be better to wait and try to get a Walker Cup appearance under his belt, which, of course, he did at Porthcawl in 1995 then turned professional.”

It will be a proud moment for both Jim and wife Wilma when Stephen makes his Ryder Cup debut later this week, as was the case when they were there to see him become the first player to win back-to-back Dubai Desert Classics earlier this year.

But the journey since he made that leap into the paid ranks hasn’t been without worry for them, notably when Stephen was struck by a debilitating viral illness five years ago.

“That was a tough time,” admitted Jim. “We didn’t know what was wrong with him until it was diagnosed and that took six to nine months out of his career.

“He eventually bounced back and he showed a lot of resolve. He’s a fighter. He’s never beat. He’s as good as the rest of them, he just doesn’t get his share of putts.

“That’s not to say he’s a poor putter. Far from it. He just doesn’t get his share.”

Jokingly, Jim likes pointing out that he’s the only Gallacher on the club champions’ roll of honour in the Bathgate clubhouse. Sitting across from that, though, are two portraits that mark the West Lothian club’s remarkable Ryder Cup heritage.

One, of course, is of Jim’s brother Bernard, who faced the Americans eight times as a player – including the 1973 match at Muirfield – then captained Europe three times. And the other is of Eric Brown, who made four appearances in the event before leading Great Britain & Ireland on two occasions.

As Stephen cut his golfing teeth in that environment, Jim had a feeling he could be destined to write his own Ryder Cup chapter one day.

“Bathgate played a big part in his career and the game, of course, has always been in the family,” he said.

“The fact he is making his Ryder Cup debut in Scotland, less than 40 miles from where he lives, is fantastic for the whole family.

“My father (Barney) would have been very proud and Bernard is very proud of him. We all are.

“I’m pleased for him more than anyone. He’s a nice guy as well as being a top golfer.”

As he spoke, Jim struggled to keep his emotions in check. He’ll have no chance winning that fight when Stephen steps on to the first tee later this week.

“I’ll probably be greetin’,” he admitted.