Stephen Gallacher to hit European Tour milestone in Abu Dhabi
He was an 18-year-old amateur when he played on the European Tour for the first time, enjoying that thrill on home soil in the 1993 Bell's Scottish Open at Gleneagles.
Now, more than 23 years on, Stephen Gallacher is set to make his 500th appearance on the circuit, reaching the milestone as a seasoned pro in this week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
The Lothians star will become the 32nd player to hit that mark, joining just four other Scots – Sam Torrance, who tops the list with 706 appearances, Colin Montgomerie (605), Gordon Brand Jnr (597) and Paul Lawrie (590).
Two-time major winner Sandy Lyle, with 475 events under his belt, didn’t quite get there and Gallacher is set to achieve the feat before European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn and former world No.1 Lee Westwood, both of whom are sitting on 484.
“How times flies because it just seems like yesterday when I made my debut on the circuit as an amateur in the Bell’s Scottish Open at Gleneagles,” said Gallacher.
“I played with Andre Bossert and Alberto Binaghi and remember thinking that I had never putted on greens that were so fast in my life. I just couldn’t believe the set up of the golf course that week to those I had been used to as an amateur.
“I’d been going up to Gleneagles for years and to all the other big events in Scotland, often to watch my uncle Bernard, and I knew it was where I wanted to be playing golf for a living.
“If I hadn’t been injured last season, I’d have been making my 500th appearance in the Dunhill Links, which I won, of course, in 2004 for my breakthrough victory.
“Equally, it would also have been in the upcoming Omega Dubai Desert Classic, an event I’ve won twice, if I hadn’t added events in Australia and Hong Kong at the start of the new campaign.
“I’ve been reading into it and there’s not actually that many people who’ve reached this milestone. It’s a decent effort and hopefully there’s at least another 100 appearances to come on top of that.
“There have been a lot of highs and a lot of lows. Just a normal career, I suppose. I’ve been fortunate to travel around the globe doing something I love and there aren’t a lot of people who can say that.
“I’ve been to so many great countries to play in so many great events. It’s been a great career and it’s certainly not finished yet.”
Gallacher has been a credit to Bathgate Golf Club, Lothians golf and Scottish golf throughout his career and, though now 42, he is heading into the start of his 2017 campaign with renewed vigour.
A strong finish to last season and an equally encouraging to the new one in the two events he played in Australia and Hong Kong before Christmas, coupled with having new Titleist clubs in his bag, is making him excited about what lies ahead over the coming few months.
“I don’t think you ever get old in your head and I still feel a youngster, to be honest,” he added. “At this stage it’s more about injury prevention than hammering it in the gym. It’s about staying fit and fresh.
“It has become a young man’s game recently, there’s no doubt about that. Look at players like Thomas Pieters and Matt Fitzpatrick. Crikey, I’m old enough to be their dad!
“The good thing is that I can still hang out with guys like Paul Lawrie and Thomas Bjorn, both of whom are older than me. They are the older statesmen now.
“You see it every year, the young guys coming out after getting a card through either the Challenge Tour or the Qualifying School. But that’s the great thing about golf. You can still compete with the young boys as well as the older boys.
“That’s why it is one of the best sports in the world. On your day, you know that you can still beat the young boys and I think that’s what keeps pushing us.
“Last season, of course, was a tough year for me, but the changes I made to my swing with my coach, Alan McCloskey, finally came to fruition towards the end of the season.
“Having registered three top-15 finishes in my last four events, I am desperate to get going in 2017 and it will be great to get a full year in.
“I might need a few invitations along the way, but I am going to play a lot as I try and make up for lost time. I’m a bit like a youngster feeling excited about that first day of school, to be honest.”
STEVIE G’S TIME ON TOUR
• Recorded breakthrough win in the 2004 Dunhill Links Championship, beating Graeme McDowell in a play-off at St Andrews.
• Became the first player to win the Omega Dubai Desert Classic back to back with victories in 2013 and 2014.
• Has finished in the money in 320 starts, clocking up 47 top 10s.
• Enjoyed his best season in 2014, finishing 16th in the Race to Dubai and qualifying for a Ryder Cup on home soil at Gleneagles.
• Has earned total prize-money of ¤10,227,864.