Bernard Gallacher: ‘Duel at Troon’ will go down as one of the greatest matches of all time

Golf Care, 19th July 2016

Golf Care caught up with its ambassador and three-time Ryder Cup captain, Bernard Gallacher, to get his reaction to a stunning 145th Open Championship. Bernard discusses Sky’s Open coverage, Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston’s rise to fame and the unforgettable ‘duel at Troon’ between Stenson and Mickelson.

People are already comparing Stenson and Mickelson’s epic contest to Nicklaus and Watson’s famous ‘duel in the sun’. Do you think the 2016 Open’s ‘duel at Troon’ will be remembered for years to come?

In a way, it was like the ‘duel in the sun’ at Turnberry in 1977, because it looked like there were only two players in the field. They were so far ahead of everybody else! It was almost as if there were two different competitions.

But this match surpassed the ‘duel in the sun’ because the course was tougher, and obviously, the Watson and Nicklaus contest was played in warm sunshine. The weather at Troon made things very difficult. Although it was quite fair for the last seven or eight holes and we got some sunshine, during the whole week the conditions were really tough for the players.

Stenson and Mickelson’s ‘duel at Troon’ will go down as one of the greatest matches of all time.

Bernard Gallacher
Mickelson & Stenson embrace on the 18th green at Royal Troon, reminiscent of Nicklaus & Watson’s ‘duel in the sun’.

How unfortunate is Phil Mickelson? He would have won 140 of the previous 144 Opens with a score of -17?

In any other year he would have won The Open Championship with the score he had. He started brilliantly on the first day, breaking the course record and coming within a whisker of breaking a world record for the lowest round in a major.

How many people would go out and shoot a 65 in the final round and still lose by three strokes?

Bernard Gallacher
Mickelson wonders what might have been after watching his putt for an all-time world record 62 narrowly miss.

We’ve seen Stenson and Mickelson both equal the joint lowest rounds in major history this weekend, with amazing 63s on an extremely challenging golf course. Can you put your finger on how such low scores were set?

Both players inspired one another. They played the last two rounds together and you could see that they were both so focused, especially on the Sunday. Anyone who was lucky enough to be there and everybody that watched it on television was treated to the highest level of golf they’ll ever see!

Sometimes that can happen in any sport, but it doesn’t happen often in golf. You usually find that one is hot while the other is not. But this time, both players were right at the top of their game for the whole week.

I do feel a little bit sorry for Phil Mickelson, because the clock is ticking down on his career at 46 years old. But, ironically enough, in 2013 at Muirfield, it was Mickelson who turned it around on Stenson in the final round. He birdied four of the last six to win there, and subsequently, Stenson finished second.

I think Stenson would probably have been one of the best players never to have won a major if he’d retired without doing so. He’s got a fine record. He’s won the Players Championship in America, he’s won the Race to Dubai, he’s got a good record on the PGA Tour and he has now won a major. He’s been around for a long time now and he’s a fine player.

With four of the last six Open winners being over the age of 40, do you believe experience plays a pivotal role in winning the Championship?

I think we’re living in an era now where players are much more committed to their fitness. Stenson works out a lot and Mickelson has always been strong and fit.

The equipment is also helping them stay in the game a lot longer. Just look at that 3-wood Stenson hit on the final hole which flew over 300 yards before landing just short of the bunker!

Considering the improved fitness of the players, the improved equipment including the balls and the improved condition of the courses, it’s no wonder their careers are going on and on.

Bernard Gallacher
Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnstone salutes the crowd one of many times throughout the week.

It was great to see the emergence of Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston this weekend, who the crowd really seemed to warm to. Do you think golf benefits from having such characters?

Golf needs characters like ‘Beef’ – he was like a breath of fresh air on television this week. He came to the fore this year when he won the Spanish Open. When he won, he was asked how he was going to celebrate. His reply of “Going back to the club to get hammered with my mates” is probably something that most players think, but don’t actually say!

What you see is what you get with him. Every time he holes a putt or plays a good shot, he has a beaming smile across his face. You feel like you share his joy, don’t you? The spectators feel they can relate to him.

Bernard Gallacher
Justin Rose discusses his first round with Tim Barter at the Sky cart.

What did you think of the TV coverage of The Open this year, considering Sky took over from the BBC?

I thought Sky gave everyone more of an insight into what was going on. It was good to see and hear from players during practice rounds and the players collaborated very well, with most of them joining Tim Barter at some point to discuss their game.

We got a real feel for the difficulties and the pressures that the players are under because Sky put a lot of resources into the coverage. We saw one of golf’s great matches there and it was brilliant to have this comprehensive coverage. We were lucky that Sky was able to show this.

I think we saw one of the great Opens. It certainly surpassed the ‘duel in the sun’, which we still talk about today. They’ll talk about this Open at Royal Troon for years and years to come. I thought Sky’s coverage was brilliant, especially the commentary. Having Butch Harmon, Nick Faldo, Paul McGinley, Ian Poulter and even Colin Montgomerie who played in the tournament giving their insight is something that a normal golfing enthusiast really appreciates.

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