Stephen Gallacher will make his European Tour return in East Lothian next week with a new swing and is excited about the prospect of testing it out in the Aberdeen Asset Management Paul Lawrie Match Play at Archerfield Links.
The 41-year-old hasn’t played competitively since the Nordea Masters in Sweden at the beginning of June after the hand injury that forced him to undergo an operation in March flared up again.
The tendon problem left Gallacher, a three-time European Tour winner and 2014 Ryder Cup player, being told by his surgeon that it was his swing action that was causing the recurring issue and it could be career threatening.
That’s not something any professional sportsperson ever wants to hear, so Gallacher, in tandem with his coach, Alan McCloskey, has spent the last seven weeks first working out a plan how to change his technique then trying to implement it, both on the range and out on the course.
“I’ve had to change my swing quite a bit and I’ve been building things up by practising hard and playing a lot of golf,” Gallacher told the Evening News after an evening session with McCloskey at Kingsfield Golf Centre on the outskirts of Linlithgow. “To be honest, it’s not happening as quick as I’d like it, but it’s something I need to do and that is my motivation.
“What I’ve had to change is the way I used to load my left wrist on the downswing. I’ve had to retrain how my right arm works. It used to stay bent and came into my body. I’ve had to straighten it a bit more, which is tough when you’ve done something different for 30 years.
“One of the ways I’ve been trying to get used to how I need to do it now is by hitting shots with one hand. It is just a case of trying to break a habit and once it happens, I know it is going to be good.
“It is definitely the biggest challenge I have faced in my career in terms of a swing change. You are normally managing what you’ve got a lot of the time in this game. You work on the fundamentals and you know what you are going to do.
“Now I’m having to completely change something and that’s been tough. It’s not just how you hit the ball. I’ve also had to change how I see the game played when it comes to shaping shots. That’s the bit that’s taking the longest. But it’s good and it’s exciting.”
As is the prospect of making his return so close to home next week, when two Ryder Cup contenders, Matt Fitzpatrick and Chris Wood, as well as six players, including the host and Gallacher, who have represented Europe in the past, will head the 64-man field for the second Paul Lawrie Match Play.
“It’s good that I’m making my comeback in Paul’s event at Archerfield Links as it means I can stay at home,” admitted Gallacher. “I played the course last week. It’s in great nick and the Fidra Course is a good track for match-play with some scope to play about with a few tees.
“It can be testing, especially if the wind gets up on the back nine, which can play long. The rough is a bit thicker than normal and the course will look lovely on the TV.
“It’s a great venue. With a great clubhouse and great range, it’s a ready-made tournament venue. They’ve had both the Scottish Ladies and Scottish Seniors there, so they know what they are doing. It is going to be faultless and it’s good that Aberdeen Asset Management have come on board as well to put a bit weight behind it.”
With the backing of East Lothian Council, Archerfield Links stepped in to host the event after a scheduled return to Murcar Links, where Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat beat Swede Robert Karlsson in the final a year ago, was scrapped.
The price for an adult day ticket has been set at just £15 in a bid to attract good crowds on the four tournament days (August 4-7), with an added bonus being that the same ticket will secure free admission to the Scottish Seniors Open back at the same venue a fortnight later.
“That is a great incentive,” admitted Gallacher, who, like Lawrie, is putting a lot back into golf through a junior foundation, “so I really do hope people come out next week to watch Paul’s event.
“It is a really good field. There’s a lot of different agendas going on next week. There’s going to be guys who are pushing for Ryder Cup spots; others looking to improve their place in the Race to Dubai.
“You are always going to struggle a bit being straight after a major in the US (the US PGA Championship starts tomorrow at Baltusrol in New Jersey) and, unfortunately, it also clashes with the Olympics on this occasion. But it’s a great format and one that we hope to keep on the Tour.”
Two years after being in the form of his life as he secured one of Paul McGinley’s wild cards for the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, Gallacher will make his return sitting 148th in the Race to Dubai and outside the top 300 in the world rankings.
“This year has almost been a write off,” he admitted, having played just 10 events in the first six months of the season. “The eight tournaments I have left are about trying to bed in the new swing in and hopefully be on autopilot at the end of this year so I can go out next season and really give it a go again.
“If I can get to the end of the year injury-free with my swing where I want it to be and playing with a bit consistency, then I will be happy.”
One thing that put a smile on Gallacher’s face during what has been a frustrating lay-off that coincided with some of the biggest events of the year was a recent triumph recorded by 15-year-old son Jack.
In winning the Walker Cup, the prize for the Linlithgowshire Under-16 Championship, he not only followed in the footsteps of his old man but also his grandad Jim and his Stephen’s uncle, Bernard, the three-time Ryder Cup captain.
“There was no pressure on him there, was there?” joked Stephen of Jack’s success in an event played at Bathgate. “The Walker Cup goes back to 1920s, I think, and there’s some great names on it, so it was a great win for the wee man.”