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Class is Permanent

Stephen Gallacher is in fine company when it comes to gaps between wins

Posted Feb 05, 2013 by Dermot Gilleece

stephen gallacher

Eight and a half years is a long time between wins.  Stephen Gallacher would have been acutely aware of this, as he headed towards the finishing line in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on Sunday.  And when an elusive victory was finally secured, the Scot would, unwittingly, have warmed many hearts among his tournament rivals.

Only last July, Ernie Els struck a similar blow for the game’s Major winners when he captured the Open Championship, 10 years after his previous success at Muirfield in 2002.    It was a success which would have been especially welcomed by Padraig Harrington, who kept telling himself that four years between Majors wasn’t really anything to be concerned about.

Harrington, whose last Major triumph was in the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills in August 2008, attempted to ease the pressure on himself by pointing to the experiences of those who had gone before.  Like Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros, for instance,  each of whom had four years between their second-last and final Major triumphs.  Then there was the ultimate hero, Jack Nicklaus, who endured a six-year gap from 1980 to 1986, before nailing down the last of his 18 titles with a sixth Masters triumph at Augusta National.

These players saw considerable merit, no doubt, in the notion that while form is temporary, class is permanent.  And as Gallacher’s career illustrates, winning is never easy.

Nobody was more aware of this as a European Tour player than Roger Chapman, who rocked the golfing world last season by winning two Major titles on the US Champions Tour.   Here was a player who seemed destined for great things in paid ranks when a sparkling amateur career climaxed in an 18th hole victory over Hal Sutton in the top singles on the second day of the Walker Cup at Cypress Point in 1981.  At that time, Sutton was unquestionably the best amateur in the world.

Recalling a victory in the Lytham Trophy that same year, Chapman said: “It was reduced to 54 holes because of the weather and culminated in a four-hole play-off between myself, Nick Mitchell and Ronan Rafferty.  I birdied the 18th to square with Ronan at the end of the four holes and we then went into sudden-death which I won by knocking a five-iron stiff at the first.”

Against this background, why did it take him so long to win on the European Tour?  “I think it all came down to losing the Swiss Open in 1985,” Chapman replied recently.  “With a first-round 61, I opened up a five-stroke lead and was three ahead of Craig Stadler after 54 holes.  As things turned out, however, I fell away to a 74 in the last round and Stadler won the title with a closing 67.

“Had I managed to hold on and somehow got myself over the line on that occasion, I think it would have made a huge difference to my career.  The general public don’t realise just how tight the margins are between winning and losing, especially when you’re attempting to make the breakthrough.”

The heartbreak for Chapman was that from appearing destined to add the Ryder Cup to his Walker Cup representative honours, he struggled on without a win for a further 15 years.  And the breakthrough eventually came in the most unlikely circumstances in late March, 2000 when, with a brilliant closing round of 65, he earned a play-off against Harrington in the Brazil Rio de Janeiro 500 Years Open.  Showing admirable steel in sudden-death, just as he had done at Royal Lytham almost 19 years previously, Chapman won at the second tie hole.  He was aged 40 and had endured no fewer than 472 tournaments without a win, when the golfing gods finally smiled on him.

Then came another gap, this time of 12 years, before his astonishing achievements of last season made him financially secure for life while bringing the bonus of honorary status on the European Tour.

Chapman might well have cursed the misfortune which kept him out in the cold for so long.  Instead, he was invariably courteous and pleasant to be around and was simply grateful when the dramatic turnaround eventually happened.  Which, no doubt, is how Gallacher will feel, deep down, when he contemplates the number of missed opportunities which scarred his tournament career, since winning the dunhill links championship in 2004 after a play-off on the Old Course at St Andrews.

- Dermot Gilleece

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