The spring is back in Stephen Gallacher’s step, a return to the course where he’s played the best golf of his career proving the perfect tonic after starting his 2019 campaign with a missed cut.
The Lothians star has recorded two Omega Dubai Desert Classic wins over the Majlis Course at Emirates Golf Club, chalked up seven top tens in 18 appearances in the event and shot 25 scores in the 60s.
They include a 62 and two 63s, giving him lots of good memories to draw on as he heads into the 30th staging of a tournament that has one of the most spectacular backdrops in golf.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been five years since the second of my wins here,” Gallacher, reflecting on record-breaking back-to-back successes, told the Edinburgh Evening News. “Anywhere you go that you’ve got great memories to look back on and keep thinking about is great.
“What it does is reinforce the belief that you have done well somehere and can play well on certain courses. Regardless of form, you feel that this is one of those tournaments that, on the mental side, helps bring you up a level as you relive good shots you’ve hit in the past.”
Gallacher certainly hit plenty of them over a four-year period in particular, those wins in 2013 and 2014 – the line-up for the latter included both Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy – being sandwiched by second and third-place finishes.
“Shooting 62 (in the third round in 2013) would probably be my highlight round here,” added the 44-year-old. “That shows that on your day you can play really well.
“I played with Rory and Tiger the first two rounds the second time and Rory in the last round. I just need to get my game back to that level. It has slipped a little bit, but I am working ever so hard to get it back.”
Gallacher was speaking before heading out for nine holes with Shane Lowry, winner of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship last Sunday, as well as Marc Warren and Oliver Fisher.
“I’m looking forward to hearing Shane’s craic,” admitted the Kingsfield Golf Centre-attached player. “He’s a good mate and I was delighted for him at the weekend.
“Listen, he’s a good player. He thought he’d lost it (after seeing a three-shot overnight lead turn into a four-shot deficit with seven holes to play) but got the job done through grit and determination. His mental strength kicked in and he made some great up and downs when he had to.”
Reflecting on his own early exit – the first time he’d missed the cut in ten events – in Abu Dhabi, Gallacher added: “Last week, I was a bit rusty. I didn’t drive it well and you have to do that there.
“However, I could have got away with that if I had putted well – and I didn’t.
“The second day I shot one under and it could have been five under. But I’m not going to dwell on it when it was the first week of the year.
“I’m looking forward to this week and can hopefully use this event to kick on for the season.
“This is a course that seems to have a better flow to the one last week.
“I’ve never really done well there apart from a couple of top tens whereas here is the opposite. I can’t really put my finger on it, to be honest.
“They have changed the course here a bit cosmetically. They’ve brought a bit of rough in and changed the layout a bit. They’ve changed a couple of tees, including one at the 18th and there’s a tree away at the eighth.
“But I’ll be playing it the same way. I will be sticking to the same gameplan from when I’ve done well here in the past.”
When Gallacher became the first player to successfully defend the iconic coffee pot, he celebrated on the 18th green with his son Jack and daughter Ellie. Five years on, Jack is on caddying duties this week, having taken up that role in the middle of last season and really grown into it.
“He knows the course like the back of his hand as well,” said Gallacher snr. “He’s watched me a lot and also played it a few times himself. It will be great for him this week.”
China’s Haotong Li defends the title in a field that is spearheaded by American Bryson De Chambeau and Spaniard Sergio Garcia, the winner two years ago before he became a Masters champion.
Gallacher is joined in flying the Saltire by 1996 winner Colin Montgomerie, as well as David Drysdale, Scott Jamieson, Richie Ramsay and Marc Warren, who earned his spot through a 36-hole shoot-out.