Bernard Gallacher has enjoyed some spectacular moments as both a player and captain – but which of those does he rank in his top 5?
In the next article of our Look Back series, we find out about the former Europe Ryder Cup captain’s proudest golfing memories.
1. Winning the 1969 Schweppes PGA Championship (his first win at a professional tournament)
The British PGA Championship – or the Schweppes PGA Championship, as it was known in 1969 – was a big tournament in those days.
It was very early in the season, in April. I’d just returned from Africa – I’d played in South Africa, Zambia and Kenya during the winter. The British Tour, as it was called back then, started almost as soon as I returned home. But I came into some good form while I was out there, after winning a couple of tournaments in Zambia and finishing runner-up in Kenya.
The weather was terrible at Ashburnham and it was quite a long drive to get there. The English section of the M4 hadn’t been completed back in 1969!
In those days, you played two rounds on the last day. During the second round, the weather improved and the course brightened up. I remember going out there with the aim of getting myself into contention and seeing what happened.
I was joint leader with a player called Guy Wolstenholme with one hole to go. I was ahead of him and I hit a good drive in the middle of the green and two-putted for a par. He took a 5 on the final hole and that was that. It was a good lesson for me in putting pressure onto my opponent and playing the course, not the man.
Ashburnham was and is a tough course, even today – it’s stood the test of time. Because it was raining, this made the course even longer and so I had to drive and putt well and hold my nerve, which I did.
I’d become a pro the year before and was showing some promise and consistency. The South African tour was also a valuable experience for me – I went out there on New Year’s Day 1969 with no money in the bank and coming back with enough money in the bank to buy a car! Not only did it take me out of my comfort zone, it got me into the habit of winning. I took this mentality into the Schweppes PGA Championship and I consider this victory to be the defining moment of my career.
This is my proudest moment in golf, both from a personal and professional point of view. I was in my second year as a pro and winning my first tournament showed that I really had a chance of making it as a professional.
2. Winning the 1974 Dunlop Masters in a play-off against Gary Player
The Dunlop Masters was played in the autumn as one of the last events on the European Tour. It was like the Race to Dubai is today. It featured the top 50 players from that season and a few invites got to play so it was a strong field. Dunlop were big sponsors and it was a tournament which had existed for a long time.
The 1974 Dunlop Masters was played at the St. Pierre Marriott Hotel & Country Club in Chepstow, just over the Welsh border. It was a parkland course which was very heavy, which in some ways made it easier to play.
One of the main things I remember from that week is standing on the 18th. It was a very long par-3 you hit over water towards the clubhouse – it was 220 yards, which in those days was a 3-wood. I hit a really good 3-wood which never left the flag and landed about 6 or 7 feet behind. I had a really good chance to win it then, but I hit a poor putt that never looked like going in.
So, then I was in a playoff with Gary Player. We go down to the 14th, which is a driveable par-4. In real time, the 14th is a hole you look to make a birdie at. I told myself to forget who I was playing against, try and hit a good drive on the 14th and see how close I could get to the green.
I thumped the drive and almost made the green – it landed on the verge. I think it was over 300 yards, which in those days was quite an impressive distance. This was a sign of how I’d been playing in that tournament – I was driving well all week.
On the next shot, I chipped it right up to two feet, then Gary missed his putt and I holed mine for a birdie. I subsequently beat him, which was a big moment.
Gary was a fantastic player, especially at that time – he won the Open and the Masters that year, so he was at the top of his game. He was magnanimous in defeat, which showed what a good sportsman he was. I’ve always looked up to Gary, he’s been one of my inspirations – and, in many ways, he was ahead of his time.
People used to think Gary was odd because he’d talk about his fitness and how many press-ups he could do. Back in those days, golfers would head to the 19th hole and knock back a few pints and have a smoke, but Gary always advised against that.
As it’s turned out, Gary was right and everyone else was wrong, because golfers are now adapting what he recommended all along. His dedication to the physical side of his game was exemplary.
3. Beating Jack Nicklaus by one hole at the 1977 Ryder Cup
It was a tough choice between beating Lanny Wadkins at the 1979 Ryder Cup and beating Jack Nicklaus in 1977. Both players were tremendous competitors.
I had to go with the victory against Jack because of what a great player he was. I didn’t have any expectations when I played against Jack, I was just happy to play against him and I hoped my game wasn’t too bad.
I felt that Jack was a bit too relaxed on the day. He missed a short putt on the first green, which I didn’t expect, then he hit in the bunker at the second and third hole off the tee.
All of a sudden, I was 3 up, then I birdied the 4th and missed a short putt to go 5 up. I could have been 5 up after 5 holes against Jack Nicklaus. But as it was, I was 4 up after 4 and in typical Jack Nicklaus fashion, he came back with a few birdies and we were all square. I won at the 17th and that was it.
There’s the clip on YouTube of me holing the 80 foot putt on the 17th but people don’t see the four foot putt I holed on the 18th, which was much tougher. When you hole an 80-foot putt, you just hit up towards the hole and if it’s your day it goes in. But you know you shouldn’t miss a 4-foot putt!
You can also see how disappointed Jack was when my putt went in. That’s what made him such a great player, he just hated losing. All of these great golfers are cut from the same cloth – that winning mentality is in their DNA.
It was a bit surreal beating Jack, because Great Britain and Ireland lost the Ryder Cup quite badly, so my victory didn’t have as much importance as it would have otherwise had. To an extent, you could say it was overshadowed. But at the same time, Jack didn’t want to lose and I wanted to win and that’s what made it such a thrilling contest.
My victory against Jack was the last victory a Great Britain and Ireland player achieved against him! This is, ironically, because he suggested in 1977 that players from continental Europe be allowed to compete in the Ryder Cup. He was a great visionary in that respect.
4. Winning the 1980 Haig Whisky Tournament Players’ Championship
The European Tour tried to run a European Players’ Championship to rival the American version. For a few years it was successful, but it never got the big sponsorship it needed. They then incentivised it so that the winner qualified for the World Match Play Championship at Wentworth.
Being the head pro at Wentworth, it was always my ambition to play at this championship. Its qualification criteria was very tough when it first started – you had to be a Major winner, which tells you how difficult it was.
My performance at Moortown Golf Club in 1980 is the best I’ve ever played over four days. Moortown is a beautifully manicured course in Leeds which is always in perfect condition. It’s hosted the Ryder Cup before and I played there at the Boys Amateur Championship, so I had fond memories of the course.
By today’s standards, you’d call it a short course because golfers hit the ball much further than in 1980. But back then, you’d call it a medium course.
I played well the whole week and I had a 4-stroke lead on the last day. I was the last match and I decided to play for a 5. It’s not a long hole – in the previous 3 rounds, I hit a good drive up there but they’ve got some very tough bunkers off the tee. I wasn’t taking any chances, I wasn’t trying to go in a bunker – I just kept it on the grass and was happy to take a 5.
I won by 3 strokes instead of 4 strokes, but so what? I’d have been happy to win by 1 stroke! I not only beat Nick Faldo and Bernard Langer, who were top golfers, but Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman also played in that championship, so it was a strong field on a great course.
Getting to play at the World Match Play Championship at Wentworth was the crème de la crème – it was the one every golfer wanted to play in. I knew that winning the Players’ Championship was about the only chance I had of qualifying, so it was a sweet victory. I then finished 3rd at the World Match Play Championship, which I was very pleased with.
5. Winning the 1995 Ryder Cup as captain
I didn’t want to be captain in 1995.
I’d captained the team at Kiawah Island in 1991, when we went to the last green and then there was the hostility from the crowd, which was very unpleasant.
Then in 1993, we got off to a good start and then things started to go downhill. Sam Torrance got injured so couldn’t play after his opening foursome, Bernard Langer hadn’t played for six weeks coming into the tournament because he had a bad neck injury and Seve wasn’t the player that he was under Tony Jacklin.
So, come 1995, I wasn’t very keen to be the captain. But Ken Schofield, who was the Executive Director of the European Tour, said the players wanted me to captain them in America, so I agreed to go.
I was under pressure from the press – they’re always looking for scapegoats and I was the biggest scapegoat. Before the tournament, Sports Illustrated wrote that “The possibility of a rout looms large”. That was understandable – America were strong favourites. But had anybody studied the previous two Ryder Cups forensically, they would see that Europe threw it away. It was as simple as that.
The matches were close and you never thought for one minute the tournament would be anything other than close. I just hoped that, this time, it would be our turn to hit the big shots in the crucial moments and that’s how it proved.
We played OK the first two days but we were two points behind going into the singles. But when we saw the draw the night before, we all liked the look of it. Seve was struggling with his game, so we put him at number 1 thinking that we’d get him out of the way, but from 2 down to 10 I was really confident.
I think the most important thing for a captain is to have faith in your players. I had a lot of faith in the players and really felt we could win. We had a strong team right through the field.
What worked to our advantage was that the Americans didn’t know a lot of our players. They knew Nick Faldo, Seve and Bernard Langer, but they didn’t know David Gilford, Philip Walton or Per-Ulrik Johansson. They’d come to regret not knowing about these guys!
Nick, Philip, David and Ian Woosnam all hit the big shots in the singles at the right time and that swung it our way. To win in America as captain was delicious. It was only the second time that Europe had ever won the Ryder Cup on American soil, so it was a very important moment.
We’d had an OK singles day in 1991, a bad singles day in 1993 and a great singles day in 1995. I can now jump on a horse and ride off into the sunset!