Stephen Gallacher geared up for Masters debut

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STEPHEN GALLACHER virtually secured his Masters debut nearly a month ago with his best-ever finish in America.

He refused to believe one of his golfing dreams had come true, though, until it was there in black and white. Not even seeing his name on the official Masters website earlier this week was enough to fully convince him.

He needed it to be official and that, to his sheer delight, dropped through his letterbox on Wednesday morning. The invitation sent on behalf of Augusta National Golf Club by its chairman Billy Payne finally ended his agony.

“It’s so good to get in as it is such a hard tournament to secure one of those spots,” admitted Gallacher. “You’ve either got to win a tournament on the PGA Tour or get into the world’s top 50 – it’s as simple as that.

“I believe I was the only player to get into the top 50 between the first cut-off and the second one, so that was pleasing.”

The Lothians star broke into the world’s elite as the first player in the event’s 25-year history to retain the Dubai Desert Classic title in February.

As a nice reward, he has just been appointed as an ambassador for Golf in Dubai, joining former Open champion Mark O’Meara, Thomas Bjorn and Laura Davies.

Gallacher gave himself some breathing space in the final few weeks in his bid to make the Masters for a first time by tying for sixth in the WGC-Cadillac Championship in Miami. He has already set up a practice round at Augusta with 1988 winner Sandy Lyle and also hopes to pick the brains of two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal before Thursday’s opening round.

“I’ve sent a text to Jose Maria and hopefully he’ll come back to me as it would be good to spend some time with him in the build-up as well as Sandy,” said the 39-year-old.

“But the important thing is that I don’t allow myself to get carried away, because it is just another tournament, though obviously a special one.

“It’s unique due to it being the only major that is played at the same venue each year.

“With the all the mystique surrounding The Masters, I can’t wait to get there and savour it for the first time.

“As a kid watching golf on the television, I can remember The Masters more than The Open or the Ryder Cup. My main memory has got to be big Sandy’s bunker shot as that was unbelievable. Also Larry Mize chipping in (1987) and Ian Woosnam booming a drive more 280 yards up the last and holing his putt (1991).

“Also Nick Faldo when he played with Greg Norman on his disastrous day (1996) and, of course, Tiger Woods winning by 12 shots (1997).

“More recently, of course, we had Phil Mickelson hitting his shot out of the pine at the 13th (2010) and, two years ago, Bubba Watson’s recovery from the trees in the play-off too.

“I’ll go there thinking I know how to play most of the holes through watching it over the years on TV; the hard thing will be trying to execute those shots.

“It will all be about getting a good strategy and having good distance control. There are certain places where you need to put it for certain pins and being able to do that will determine how well you play.”

Gallacher headed out to Georgia yesterday along with wife Helen and their two children – Jack and Ellie.

Instead of heading to Malaysia the week after next, he is staying on in America for another tournament.

“Straight after The Masters I’m going to play in The Heritage at Hilton Head instead of the Malaysian Open,” revealed Gallacher. “It was so hot out in Malaysia for the EurAsia Cup last week, so I’ve decided to change my schedule.”

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