Scotland’s Bernard Gallacher played in eight Ryder Cups between 1969 and 1983. He then went on to captain three successive European sides between 1991 and 1995. With just days to go before the start of the 2014 Ryder Cup, the Golf Care ambassador talks here of his greatest experiences in the famous trans-Atlantic contest: As a player, captain and spectator.
A proud debut
Bernard played his first Ryder Cup at Royal Birkdale in 1969. He was just 20-years-old and he won his very first match. He and Maurice Bembridge teamed up to beat Lee Trevino and Ken Still by 2&1 in the first set of foursomes.
The Scot was up against Trevino again in the final session of singles. The Texan was on great form, having won four straight matches after the opening defeat by Gallacher and Bembridge, but Gallacher put on an excellent display to take a crucial point. He went to the turn in 33 and pulled further clear with a birdie at the 12th. He kept the pressure on Trevino to win by 4&3. The overall match was tied when Jack Nicklaus famously conceded a short putt to Tony Jacklin on the final green.
“It’s great to be a captain but, really, as a professional golfer, it’s all about playing in the Ryder Cup. My first Ryder Cup in 1969 was one of the greatest honours I’ve had in my career. It was a very proud moment when I first played in the event.”
An impressive scalp
In 1977, the Ryder Cup was contested over another classic English links – Royal Lytham & St Annes. GB&I struggled over the opening sessions and trailed the USA by 7.5-2.5 going into the final singles. Gallacher was drawn against Jack Nicklaus – a 14-time Major winner at that point. It looked a tough task for the Scot, particularly as he was using a new putter after his old one had been stolen from the practice area.
But, the new blade worked well and Gallacher won the first four holes. Inevitably “The Golden Bear” rallied and he squared the match after birdies on the 15th and 16th holes. Most onlookers felt sure Nicklaus would press on to claim the victory, but Gallacher had other ideas. He holed a monster birdie putt on the 17th to pull one clear again, then rolled home a testing par-putt on the final green to win by a hole.
“That was a big moment in my career. Nicklaus was easily the best player in the world at that time so to beat him, and to do so in that fashion, it was very exciting for me.”
Triumph at Oak Hill
In Gallacher’s first captaincy – at Kiawah Island in 1991 – Europe had come agonisingly close to retaining the Cup. It came down to the very last singles match and the final green where Bernard Langer had a six-foot putt to ensure the trophy stayed in European hands – it slid past the hole and the USA won.
When Europe returned to the USA in 1995 for the matches at Oak Hill, both team and Captain Gallacher were determined the Ryder Cup would, this time, be travelling home with them over the Atlantic.
With just the singles to play, it looked unlikely. Europe was 9-7 down and, in the history of the Ryder Cup to that point only four sides had ever gone on to win when trailing into the singles.
But Europe produced a superb fight-back on the Sunday to win the singles by 7.5 to 4.5 and to take the Cup by a single point.
There were some remarkable performances that day – Nick Faldo won the last two holes to beat Curtis Strange by one. Then, playing Jay Haas in the singles, the fate of the Cup fell to the inexperienced Irishman Philip Walton. Three up with three to play, he lost the 16th and 17th. On the last he was visibly nervous, but did enough to cross the line and win the Cup for Europe.
“It was only the second time a European side had won on American soil. We came from two points behind in the singles; it was quite an achievement. The whole team played well and I was very proud. Nick Faldo and then Philip Walton carried us through and I won’t forget the excitement of that finish.”
The Miracle of Medinah
Europe famously produced a sensational singles comeback at Medinah in 2012. They were 10-6 down going into the final day, but remarkably turned things round to win by 14.5 to 13.5.
But it was a moment at the very end of play on Saturday that stick’s in Bernard’s mind.
“With Europe teetering on the brink, Ian Poulter refused to quit. He birdied four straight holes from the 14th and he and Rory McIlroy had a chance to earn a crucial point against Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner in the Saturday fourballs.
In the fading light, Poulter holed another putt on the final green to make a fifth consecutive birdie and secure the win. It was one of the greatest putts I’ve ever seen and it changed the morale of the team, giving them hope. That was truly a great moment.”