Stephen Gallacher has played Gullane more times than anyone in the field for this week’s Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open but it was a long while ago when he last saw it looking like an old-fashioned links.
“It’s as fiery as I’ve seen it,” said the Bathgate man as he prepared to join a star-studded field in the event’s second staging at the East Lothian venue after American ace Rickie Fowler triumphed in 2015.
“I played here a few weeks ago, but there’s been no rain since then and it’s now golden brown out there. It’s back to how courses used to be when I was a junior. It’s a proper links and I love playing on courses like this.”
Fowler is back to try and repeat that triumph from three years ago and is being joined in flying the Stars and Stripes on Scotland’s Golf Coast by Masters champion Patrick Reed.
Five-time major winner Phil Mickelson is also in the field, as are a number of other big-name Americans, including Matt Kuchar and Charley Hoffman.
The event received a double blow at the start of the week when 2016 Open champion Henrik Stenson and Tommy Fleetwood, last year’s European No.1, both pulled out. But there’s still a strong European contingent, headed by world No.3 and 2014 winner Justin Rose and also including defending champion Rafa Cabrera Bello.
“It’s a brilliant field,” acknowledged Gallacher, who is one of 13 players flying the Saltire in the $7 million Rolex Series event. “It’s always a tough one for the big names when there are three Rolex Series events in a row. Players aren’t going to play them all as a result of that.
“But we’ve still got Phil Mickelson and also Patrick Reed plus a few other Americans and a lot of the top Europeans. It’s a great field.”
Gallacher finished fourth behind Rose at Royal Aberdeen four years ago, having ended up in the same spot at Loch Lomond in 2010. His form isn’t great heading into this week but he’s hoping an appearance on home soil can provide the spark he’s needing.
“Hopefully, I can find a bit of form as I’ve been struggling the last three weeks and sometimes playing in a home event can be just what you need and I’m looking forward to it,” said the three-time European Tour winner. “I played terrible – shocking, in fact – in the Irish Open last week. When you are coming out of the rough all the time, you can’t play those courses.
“They’ve all been too tough recently for the way I’ve been driving it. You are under pressure all the time when you are playing out of the rough as much as I have.
“I’ve been working hard so hopefully I can find something this week and this event gives me some confidence. I’ve changed a few things, including my driver, so hopefully that will help.
“The course is awesome nick and it’s great to be playing here while staying at home at the same time. I’ve played it 100 times over the years so I know what to expect from different winds, which you can get here.
“The ball is rolling a lot due to those fiery conditions and the scoring will be a bit better than the last time if there’s not much wind.”
This is the last chance saloon for Gallacher as far as next week’s Open at Carnoustie is concerned, with three spots up for grabs to players not already exempt for the season’s third major.
“You aren’t thinking about The Open, to be honest, as you could finish fourth here and not get in next week,” said the 43-year-old, who currently has his son, Jack, as caddy. “You’ve just got to finish as high as you can and if that gets you into The Open, then brilliant.”
Also flying the Lothians flag this week are Richie Ramsay, Duncan Stewart, Jamie McLeary, the latter two having come through a weekend qualifier at Longniddry, while Edinburgh-based Lee Westwood also plays.
FIVE TO WATCH AT GULLANE
The Scot is riding on the crest of a wave after backing up a second-place finish in the French Open by then winning the Irish Open at Ballyliffin on Sunday. A similar strong display here and he’ll be close to a Ryder Cup debut.
The 2014 winner has been in Scotland for more than a week preparing for both this event and next week’s Open at Carnoustie. He fell away at the weekend after being in contention at halfway in 2015 but expect him to be in the mix on Sunday.
The lanky Bristolian loves links golf, having tied for third as an amateur in The Open in 2008, finishing third two years later and recording a top-15 last year. His recent form has also been encouraging, finishing joint-second in France.
The American finished joint-second here behind compatriot Rickie Fowler in 2015 before coming close to winning The Open at Royal Birkdale last year. He loves a links test and this could be the event where he finally goes one better.
As a back-to-back Dunhill Links winner, the lively Englishman has to be regarded as a leading contender, though the conditions this week are a lot different to St Andrews, Kingsbarns and Carnoustie for that pro-am event in October.