LOTHIANS star Stephen Gallacher would love to be crowned as Scottish Open champion this weekend – but he won’t mind just missing out on the top spot at Castle Stuart.
His main priority over the next four days is to ensure he’s not sitting at home on the outskirts of Linlithgow next week while The Open Championship is raging on at Royal Lytham.
Gallacher heads into the £2.5 million event near Inverness still trying to secure a spot in the world’s oldest major, having come up just short in last month’s International Final Qualifier at Sunningdale.
He’s played in the last two Opens, finishing 23rd at St Andrews in 2010 then 57th a year ago at Royal St George’s.
And his bid to back in the field again in Lancashire next week is being fuelled by the fact he won the Lytham Trophy in his amateur days.
“I want to try and get into that top five to get to The Open – that’s the major goal this week,” Gallacher told the Evening News. “That’s what I want more than anything but I can’t try too hard. I’ve just got to try and let it happen. I feel the game is there to achieve that. I led the stats for driving accuracy and length in two recent events, which is pretty hard to do, and finished mid-30s one week and mid-40s the other.
“All I need is a break and get the ball in the hole at the right time. It’s not as though I’m struggling with my putter. In fact, I’ve been using the same putter all year.
“I’ve just been hitting the hole a lot. It’s fractions, to be honest, and that’s why I’ve been working a lot on speed and pace.”
Gallacher has also been working on that aspect of his game with Alan McCloskey, the PGA pro at Bothwell Castle in Lancashire. He’s still got Bob Torrance looking after his long game but Gallacher points to tennis ace Andy Murray as an example of the level of input that can be required when it comes to backroom teams in professional sport.
“I’m doing a bit work on my putting with Alan McCloskey and feel that is helping,” he admitted. “I’m seeing Bob Torrance as well, which is also good.
“Andy Murray has about ten people in his backroom team and you do what you need to do to succeed. If there’s an area where you feel you are lacking you look to people to work on it.”
Gallacher was up at Skibo Castle on Monday to play in the Paul Lawrie Foundation Pro-Am and loved his first taste of the course there.
Yesterday he played a practice round at Castle Stuart and discovered some changes from last year, when world No.1 Luke Donald won a weather-shortened event with a 19-under-par total. “It is very green out there but every course is green at the moment after all the rain we’ve had. We’ve also had a north-east wind for three months now,” said the former Dunhill Links champion.
“The course is playing long as the wind isn’t prevailing. In fact, I’d say it was two or three shots harder than last year.
“The new tee at 12 has made it a proper three-shot hole and the new tee at 15th has changed that as well. It is nice having the option to make it harder if that needs to be the case.
“If you’ve not got the options it can be limited. But every great course has the options to move the tee boxes back or forward.
“The hard thing with links courses is that if there’s no wind the scoring can be low. If you get no wind at St Andrews the winning total will be 18-under.
“Just about everywhere at the moment is target golf. The greens are taking a pitchmark and last year they weren’t taking any at all.”
Gallacher, who has all his family up in the Highlands, is looking forward to playing in front of his home fans again.
But he reckons they will be hard pressed to match the atmosphere created by the sell-out crowds for the Irish Open at Royal Portrush a fortnight ago.
“The weather was awful and they still got 130,000 – It was like playing in a British Open,” he said.