“There was a feeling that anybody could win it”: Bernard Gallacher’s Open Review

Neil Robertson, 26th July 2018

ryder cup review

INTERVIEWER

Francesco Molinari is the first Italian to win The Open, and his final round was flawless. How would you sum up his victory and how he coped with the pressure?

BERNARD GALLACHER

Francesco has always been a very good player, but the weakness in his game has usually been his putting and holing out. Since he’s gone to America to play full-time on the PGA Tour, he’s improved his putting beyond recognition. This newfound confidence in his short game combined with an impeccable long game is why he won The Open.

It really didn’t surprise me that he stood up to the pressure on the back nine because he’s got a super swing. No one could argue with the way he won at the final hole with that sensational birdie, which was in complete contrast to Jean van de Velde in 1999. If you look back at the most recent Opens at Carnoustie, Francesco’s victory was unprecedented, in that he didn’t put a foot wrong.

When Tiger got to the top of the leaderboard, you could see the crowd were getting excited and trying to urge him on, but Francesco coped with this pressure extremely well. To achieve a bogey-free final round puts into perspective just how amazing his victory was.

INTERVIEWER

In the build-up to The Open, he was touted by a few golfing experts as “one to watch”. Did you see him as a realistic contender and do you think maybe he went slightly under the radar?

BERNARD GALLACHER

Amidst all the talk around Tiger, Jordan, Rory and Justin, Francesco seemed to be slightly forgotten about. To many golfing spectators, he was just coasting along and making up the numbers, but he wasn’t.

He’s raised his game to another level this year and came into The Open on hot form. As well as the victory at Wentworth, he’d won the 2018 Quicken Loans National by eight strokes and finished T2 at the John Deere Classic.

I think it helped Francesco that he’s played with and against some of the world’s best golfers. He was up against Rory in the final round when he won the BMW PGA Championship and wasn’t overawed at all by the occasion. He’s also played with and against Tiger in the past, most notably in the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah.

It wouldn’t surprise me if he went on to win another couple of Majors, now. I don’t think for one minute this victory is a one-off for Francesco – I think it’s a sign of what’s to come. He’s a fantastic addition to Thomas Bjorn’s Ryder Cup team, and you wouldn’t like to face the Europeans with him on their side.

 INTERVIEWER

 Looking ahead to the Ryder Cup, a lot was made about the dominance of American golfers before the tournament, but what does this victory mean for Europe?

 BERNARD GALLACHER

It’s a big boost for Europe because they’re going to have 12 very strong players this year. These players have the advantage of being at home and playing on a French Open course that everybody knows, so that makes Europe favourites.

This isn’t to say they’re going to win – America have got a great strength in depth and their system breeds that. You can never write off the likes of Tiger, Dustin and Justin, but we have a strong nucleus of very strong players, many of whom are coming into form at just the right time.

INTERVIEWER

Speaking of Tiger, for a while it looked as though he might just do it. What did you make of his performance at Carnoustie?

 BERNARD GALLACHER

Everyone was rooting for Tiger because we want him to get closer to Jack’s record. Over the final seven or eight holes, he just couldn’t achieve the right execution. He wasn’t the Tiger of the past who could hole putts at the right time and started to hit a few loose shots, and so he’ll be very disappointed with that.

On the other hand, he should take a lot of heart from his performance. He’s swinging well and provided he keeps competing and doesn’t take long breaks from the game, you’d expect him to be there or thereabouts wherever he plays.

Tiger’s been showing a lot of form this year, having performed strongly at the Players Championship and Valspar Championship. He’s progressing well and can definitely be happy with how he’s playing at this moment in time.

We’ve got to understand that he’s not the 20-something superstar we remember, but he still has time on his side. Many great golfers have won Majors in their 40s, such as Ben Crenshaw, Tom Watson, Darren Clarke and Jack Nicklaus, so I wouldn’t rule Tiger out just yet.

INTERVIEWER

Jordan put up a good defence of the claret jug and Rory put on an impressive showing. How would you evaluate their individual performances?

BERNARD GALLACHER

Jordan raised his game for the first three rounds, because he didn’t come into The Open on great form. When the going got tough and the wind got up to 20mph, which is difficult for any golfer, he fell away.

Rory was hitting some imperious drives off the tee – he was driving par-4s out there. He’ll always be there or thereabouts because he’s such a good player and it’s only a matter of time before he wins another Major. If I was a spectator I would always follow Rory, because he’s so refreshing to watch.

INTERVIEWER

What about the performance of Xander Schaufelle? Not much was said about him before The Open.

BERNARD GALLACHER

He coped very well and put on an impressive performance, considering he won’t have played seaside conditions often – it’s probably the first time he’s played in Scotland!

Xander has only been a professional for three years and he’s a young golfer at 24 years old. He’s got a strong pedigree, having become the first rookie to win the TOUR Championship last year and finishing T6 at Shinnecock earlier this year.

He looks to be another shining example of the American college system. He’s clearly got a determination about him and his game is strong, so he’s one to look out for in the Ryder Cup.

INTERVIEWER

Xander said that in the final round he looked up at the leaderboard and saw “four, five, six guys in the lead, and five, six guys one back.” What does this comment say about the tournament as a whole?

BERNARD GALLACHER

I think it was one of the best championships we’ve had in recent years in terms of excitement and overall quality. Even though we say that every year was better than the last, I genuinely believe this year’s Open stood out. There was a feeling that anybody could win it.

Nobody runs away with it at Carnoustie – it’s such a tough course that you rarely if ever see a runaway leader and a distant chasing pack. The last three Opens there have ended in a play-off, which makes it all the more amazing that Francesco played bogey-free golf for two days and won by two strokes. He’s rewritten the record books in terms of good play.

The leaderboard was so bunched-up in the first three days because the weather was so good that a lot of players got high scores. If the weather during the first three days had been anything like it was on the final day, this wouldn’t have been the case.

INTERVIEWER

As in 2015 and 2017, the winner didn’t warm up by participating in a competitive links tournament. Does this show that it’s not necessarily a pre-requisite for success?

BERNARD GALLACHER

It’s a fine balancing act, in my opinion. For instance, I think Russell Knox was affected by playing too much golf. He played at the French Open and Irish Open and for me, he ran out of steam by the time he played at Carnoustie.

However, there’s no question that it’s a distinct advantage playing on a seaside course the week before you play The Open. Tiger did it in the past and that’s why I think he and Mark O’Meara would steal a march on other golfers.

I think the players were luckier this year because they didn’t face the quintessential seaside conditions in the first two days.

INTERVIEWER

There was crowd trouble during The Open – we saw crying babies startle Schauffele and someone shout during Tiger’s backswing – is enough being done to stop the crowd affecting players?

BERNARD GALLACHER

In the grand scheme of things, these are only a couple of minor incidents in such a big crowd. They didn’t threaten to undermine the good organisation of the R&A and its volunteers, who showed everyone how to run a Major.

Unlike the USGA, the R&A don’t set up to achieve scores of around par and they set the courses up as fairly as possible. They realised that the fairways were going to be very hard, so they made sure the greens were nice and soft. If they’d kept the greens hard like the USGA did at Shinnecock, they would’ve been almost unplayable.

INTERVIEWER

Looking ahead to next year’s Open at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, what are your expectations for the 2019 championship?

BERNARD GALLACHER

I’m looking forward to seeing the Open return to Royal Portrush for the first time since 1951. The course has changed a lot since then and the 17th and 18th holes of the current Dunluce Links are being replaced by two new holes (the 7th and 8th).

What concerns is me from a spectator’s point of view is that it’s a hilly course, so it’ll be difficult to navigate in places. Nevertheless, the players will be well equipped to deal with that and I’m looking forward to an Open at a historical course which has produced some great players.

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