Stephen Gallacher: "I couldn’t even get out of bed"October, 2011
In October 2009, Stephen Gallacher was preparing for Qualifying School. He tells NCG how he battled back from that ordeal to reignite his career
TURN the clock back two years and Stephen Gallacher hadn’t played for four months. On his most recent tour outing, on home soil at the Scottish Open, he had missed an eighth straight cut.
As a result, a player who had never struggled to retain his card in the previous decade was back at dreaded Qualifying School.
The reason behind the sudden dip in form was a debilitating viral infection. What started out as a cough the previous Christmas had progressively got worse and worse.
“All of a sudden my feet and hands swelled up, then in Qatar I couldn’t move one hand one day which was strange,” the Scot explained.
“I thought it was a cold and in Dubai I couldn’t get out of my bed, I was absolutely shattered and coughing every two seconds.
“I had three elimination tests at home to find out what was wrong – they run a dye through your body – and my lymph glands were three times the normal size.
“I was also tested for cancer with a biopsy. There was a 95 per cent chance it was sarcoidosis but five per cent it may be cancer so those weren’t a good few days.”
It was indeed sarcoidosis and after starting on steroids the cough had disappeared within a few days.
But, after the initial boost, the side-effects left him struggling.
“I never took too much as I could spread it out. I put on lots of weight but it did clear up,” he says.
Thanks to a medical exemption the 35-year-old was guaranteed 10 starts for this year but knew he needed more. His Q School preparations consisted of two nine-hole rounds and a trip to Portugal with mates from Bathgate.
had my best mate caddying for me and he was there the first two times I went to Q School years ago. It’s a long week but we get on so well. Four days there, carrying his own bag, told him he was ready for the six-round slog in Spain.
“In my first round I think I was three or four over after six but then just knuckled down.
“Having just 10 starts is like having a gun at your head so I had to go. I was a lot fresher than most of the other guys so I was actually enjoying playing.”
“Another big factor was that I had my best mate caddying for me and he was there the first two times I went to Q School years ago.
“It’s a long week but we get on so well – we had a good laugh on and off the course, playing a few card games and just chilling out. That made it less intense.”
After the poor start Gallacher never looked back. He had a putt on the last to tie the leader Simon Khan before settling for third.
“The break gave me a chance to refocus,” he reflects. “Then I vowed to make sure I never went back there. I felt determined to give it everything this year.”
He continues to be coached by Bob Torrance as well as short-game input from David Burns and fitness work with Craig Tumblety at Titleist’s Performance Institute.
“The steroids can wear away your muscles so I’ve been building them up as this thing can stay in your body for a couple of years so I need to look after myself.”
Another helping hand came from his uncle and three-time Ryder Cup captain Bernard.
“He wrote to George O’Grady to try and get me an invite to the PGA Championship. I also wrote and got in and finished fourth so that really got my year going.
“The three invitations were Matteo Manassero, who was top 20, and my friend Simon Khan, who won, so hopefully they were pleased with their picks. It was great to get their support. Bernard has always been there for advice – I’ll always ring if I need anything.”
Wentworth began a run of four top 10s in six starts, including the course record, for a day at least, at the Twenty Ten at Celtic Manor.
Playing behind Graeme McDowell he had a great view of the 62 which beat his effort by a shot. Now into the heart of the season, he was a real outsider for a Celtic Manor return in October. “I never really thought the Ryder Cup was a possibility as I missed the end of 2009. Edoardo Molinari showed you could do it – but he got a big win. Fourths are OK but you need to win.”
From the perils of Q School less than a year earlier, Gallacher qualified for both the Open, where he played with Phil Mickelson and the PGA at Whistling Straits, where he finished in 18th spot, playing alongside champion Martin Kaymer on Saturday.
“I said to my caddy Kaymer would be a good shout as he was playing so well and he hits the ball so low, which was perfect there with the winds. He has got a great personality for golf – you can’t tell whether he’s just had a triple bogey or an albatross.
“It was an incredible experience as I played with the local favourite Steve Stricker on Sunday so we had some huge galleries following us. He’s a lovely guy to play with.”
A year ago, the riches of the inaugural Race to Dubai will have seemed a long way off. Now, ranked in the world’s top 75, things look very different.