Stephen Gallacher – Dunhill Links Champion 2004
It will be his first experience of an American major, but Stephen Gallacher does not expect to undergo a culture shock this week. The venue for the 105th US Open, with its wispy rough and bare run-off areas around the greens, is one of eight courses that spill out from the historic town of Pinehurst. A masterpiece of the acclaimed Scottish designer, Donald Ross, it is easy to see why they call it their St Andrews.
Gallacher, who flies out to North Carolina today, likes the sound of that, for it was in Fife last October that he effectively earned his place in the event. Victory in the lucrative Dunhill Links Championship, his long-awaited breakthrough on the European Tour, enabled him to finish 15th on the order of merit, and thereby secure an exemption for the season’s second major. It also entitles him to play in next month’s Open Championship, and in the NEC Invitational at Firestone in August.
The pity is that Gallacher’s adventure comes after a period in which his game has been at a low ebb. He even suggests that his win at the Old Course, in which he saw off rivals such as Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, “maybe came at the wrong time”, an allusion to the ensuing winter break that denied him an opportunity to capitalise. In 11 events this season, the Loch Lomond touring professional has missed four cuts, and only once finished inside the top 40. With just 47,946 euros earned so far, he languishes 139th on the order of merit.
His failure to find any momentum has not been helped by a series of withdrawals. As well as a problem with his back, his son was ill, and his father underwent an operation, all of which meant that he missed four weeks of the season. Gallacher, though, refuses to blame that for his struggle, pointing instead to his continued putting problems, and to the psychological burden that comes with victory in such a big event.
Putting, though, is the primary reason for his frustration, and always has been. The former Walker Cup player has long been known for his ball-striking talents, particularly off the tee, but they are too often negated by his shortcomings on the green. Even last year, despite flying high on the money list, his average of more than 30 putts per round was bettered by 126 other players. “If I could save even half a putt a round, that’s two putts a tournament, a hell of a difference,” he says.
In the back garden of his Linlithgow home, Gallacher has installed an artificial green, which reaches 11.5 on the stimpmeter, and can be used in all weathers. Lately, he has been spending two hours of every day on it, making himself comfortable with a new putting stroke, the product of several sessions in a Birmingham laboratory.
Gallacher, and fellow Scot Steven O’Hara, have been working with Dr Paul Hurrion, a doctor in sports biomechanics at Quintic Consultancy Ltd, whose scientific approach to the art of putting has been adopted by a number of top players, including Padraig Harrington, Paul McGinley, Phillip Archer and David Howell… “They only changed my putter, my grip, my stance, my ball position and my weight,” says the Scot. “Not bad eh? The only thing is that it takes time to get used to, but I know that when it comes, it will be beneficial.”
Stephen Gallacher is not the first golfer to turn to science for help in a quest to become a better putter. Dr Hurrion has already worked with many top golfers, including Paul McGinley, David Howell and perhaps most successfully Padraig Harrington.
Quintic lures demoralised professionals to a converted barn near Birmingham to pick through their shaky strokes with the aid of cameras, computers and analytical software. Dr Paul Hurrion, a doctor in sports science and biomechanics, has been working not only with Gallacher, but with his fellow Scot, Steven O’Hara.
‘The basic premise is to build a technique that allows players to repeatedly hit the ball on line’ Hurrion says. ‘Many think they can, but our tests show they can’t. Players know why they have drawn a ball off the tee, but when they have hit a putt left or right, they have no explanation. They need to know their putting stroke and know it in great detail’.
If the ‘longitudinal stability index’ is a bit much for the average golfer, Quintic’s other principles are more accessible. Feel putts with the left hand, they say, because ‘it is easier to pull a shopping trolley than push one’. And one the basis that consistency is achieved only with a solid lower body, their advice is to widen the stance. Which perhaps explains why Harrington looks as though he is about to do the splits – and why he has become one of the world’s leading putters.PGA European Tour Golfers, Philip Archer, Putting Biomechanics
|Phillip Archer came agonisingly close to carding the first 59 in European Tour history as he took the lead after the opening round of the Wales Open.
The Englishman’s birdie putt on the 18th lipped out to leave him nine under par at Celtic Manor in Newport.
However, Archer broke the Roman Road course record, his 60 two better than the mark set by 2005 winner, Miguel Angel Jimenez, and Alessandro Tadini. Sweden’s Robert Karlsson is Archer’s closest challenger a shot behind on 61.
Colin Montgomerie and Frenchman Francois Delamontagne are two shots further back after going six under on the par-69, 6,743-yard Roman Road course. English pair Paul Broadhurst and Lee Slattery, plus Northern Ireland’s Michael Hoey and Kiwi Stephen Scahill, are tied in fourth after rounds of 64.
Archer, enjoying the calm conditions and hazy sunshine, started quietly enough by making par with four shots on the first. It’s the best score for a long, long time
But the Warrington man then moved into overdrive, hitting seven birdies, spolit only by a bogey on the fourth, to go out in 29. Further birdies on the 11th, 15th and 16th left him needing one birdie over the last two holes for the European Tour record.
But Archer had to save par on the 17th after finding rough off the tee and then on the last watched his birdie putt agonisingly miss.
“It’s a bitter-sweet moment,” he admitted. “I played lovely all day and just wanted to give myself a chance on the last. “I thought I had it. It was left-edge, nice and firm, but it was just a bit too firm.”
Montgomerie’s six-under 63 ended the worst run of his career in emphatic fashion. The Scotsman, who had missed the cut in seven of his last 10 tournaments, said: “It’s the best score for a long, long time and gives me a lot of encouragement.
“It’s been a poor run of form by anyone’s standards. “I started to accelerate through the putter again, trying to get back to the way I putted at the Open last year, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the week now.”
Ireland’s Paul McGinley, back in action just two weeks after an operation to remove a piece of floating bone from his knee, had to settle for a 69 after a double bogey five on his penultimate hole.
“My knee feels very strong, today was fine,” said the Dubliner, currently seventh in the Ryder Cup standings. “I hit 15 greens in regulation but shot level par which is always frustrating. I hit one bad shot on the eighth (which ended behind a bush) and paid a big price.”
Stephen Dodd and David Park were the highest-placed home golfers, the Welshmen both carding 66 to stay in a 15-strong group tied for 13th.
US Open champion Michael Campbell had a terrible day with a six over 75, which included a solitary birdie on the 18th.