Stephen Gallacher reckons he could have an edge in this week’s Scottish Open, having played regularly at Dundonald Links long before it was lined up to host the Aberdeen Asset Management-sponsored event for the first time.
“I used to be the touring pro at Loch Lomond (which owns the Ayrshire course), so came down here a lot here in the winter,” revealed the Lothians star ahead of the £5.5 million Rolex Series event starting tomorrow.
“My in-laws also stayed in Troon, so I know this course pretty well and, having come down a month or so back to reacquaint myself with the place, I’ll be ready to go after a couple of days practice.”
Gallacher finished fourth and sixth when the event was held under one guise or another at Loch Lomond for more than a decade and is hoping the reconnection will help him get in the mix again this week.
The three-time European Tour winner was forced to miss last year’s tournament at Castle Stuart as he recovered from a hand operation and found that tough to swallow.
“My first Scottish Open was in 1993, so it was hard to miss it last year,” said the 42-year-old, who also finished fourth behind Justin Rose at Royal Aberdeen in 2014. “For Scottish players, it’s our fifth major, if you like, and you want to have as many chances as possible to win it.
“Links golf also suits my eye and it is great to be back playing courses like this and also the one last week at Portstewart for the Irish Open. We don’t get the chance to play this golf all that much, which is unfortunate as I really see shots on courses like this.
“Having got a bit of confidence back in recent weeks, hopefully I can produce a good performance in front of the home crowds in this event.”
World No.4 Rory McIlroy heads the strongest field on this season’s European Tour, with other star attractions including Open champion Henrik Stenson, former Masters winner Adam Scott and 2015 Scottish Open winner Rickie Fowler.
US Ryder Cup star Patrick Reed and Jason Dufner, a former US PGA champion, are also in the line-up as Dundonald joins Castle Stuart, Royal Aberdeen and Gullane on the list of links courses to have staged the event for the first time since 2011.
“I would say the course is going to be great this week,” added Gallacher, one of 12 Scots in the field. “Like every links course, it needs a bit of weather. Without that, the scoring could be quite low.
“It’s a modern links; it’s not an old links. To be an old links, you have to be 100 years old in my book. The greens are big and quite severe, as they are Castle Stuart and Kingsbarns. The slopes on them will be tough, especially in the wind.”
Gallacher, who was flushing a brand-new set or Titleist irons on the range before yesterday’s pro-am, has a happy memory from his amateur days in this part of the country.
“Yes, I won the Scottish Amateur over the road at Gailes Links in 1992,” he recalled of beating North Berwick man David Kirkpatrick at the 37th in an all-Lothians final. Another title triumph would do nicely on Sunday, but Gallacher would be equally pleased to come out of the event with a spot in next’s week’s Open at Royal Birkdale.
He’s chasing one of three berths up for grabs to the leading non-exempt players in the top 10 and admits watching David Drysdale and Richie Ramsay get in through last week’s Irish Open is providing added motivation.
“The plan is to try to get into The Open as it would be massive to give myself three weeks of playing links golf in a row,” admitted Gallacher. “The fact the boys got in last week definitely gives you extra motivation and hopefully I can get myself in contention on Sunday.”
Capital-based Ramsay will be aiming to do likewise as he bids to take up where leaving off in Ireland, where he closed with a 65 to finish joint-second behind Spanish star Jon Rahm.
Also in the field is West Linton pro Gareth Wright after his second success in three years in a 36-hole qualifier for the event at neighbouring Kilmarnock (Barassie) last weekend.
Another player to pass that test was amateur Sandy Scott, who first showed a glimpse of his potential when winning the Stephen Gallacher Foundation Trophy two years ago.
“It is fantastic to see Sandy in the field this week and I will be looking him out for him to wish him all the best,” said Gallacher. “He just has to play his own game and make sure he loves every minute of it this week. He’s obviously playing well, as he showed in the qualifier.”