Gallacher achieves lifelong ambition at Ryder Cup

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GLENEAGLES, Scotland (AP) — As he watched the "Miracle of Medinah" unfold on his television set two years ago, Stephen Gallacher made it his career goal to play at the Ryder Cup in his native Scotland this week.

Gallacher was ranked No. 121 at the time and knew he had to make drastic changes in his life — from his mental approach to golf to his dietary habits, equipment, swing, and daily routines.

The hard work paid off.

After the best season of his 19-year professional career, Gallacher narrowly missed out on qualifying automatically for the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles but his consistency made him a no-brainer for one of Paul McGinley's three captain's picks.

"I definitely thought it had (passed me by)," the 39-year-old Gallacher said on Wednesday. "But I made a conscious effort a couple of years ago to get in this one. Especially for my generation, it's never going to be here again.

"It was my lifetime ambition ... I'm proud that I'm sitting here."

Gallacher is one of three Europeans making his debut in golf's biggest team event but he is not a typical Ryder Cup rookie.

He's pushing 40, has played on the PGA Centenary course at Gleneagles more than 100 times — way more than any of his teammates — and has been able to lean on an experienced family member for advice. Bernard Gallacher, Stephen's uncle, played in eight Ryder Cups, was captain three times, vice-captain twice, and recently spent a week with his nephew when they visited a family member in hospital.

Stephen Gallacher also lives just 35 miles (56 kilometers) away from the course.

So this week, he has been passing on tips to practice partners Ian Poulter and Justin Rose when typically it would be the other way round.

"I gave them info of where the pins are, important things like reads on the greens, where the wind normally comes from," he said. "If I can help in any way, I'm delighted with that.

"I'm a rookie to the Ryder Cup, but having it in my home country is making it a bit easier to adapt as a rookie. I know all the guys really well, as well."

Rory McIlroy is the world's No. 1, and Poulter is known as "Mr. Ryder Cup," but expect the biggest galleries to be following Gallacher, the only Scot in the team.

"Every Scot would want to be here," Gallacher said. "Where better to play really than Gleneagles for your first one — if I could have picked it myself, I would have picked it here."

Such are the strides Gallacher has made since September 2012 that he is ranked No. 34, and one of the most consistent players on the European Tour. His journey to Gleneagles began by winning the Dubai Desert Classic for the second straight year, outplaying McIlroy and Tiger Woods in the process, and he hasn't looked back.

McGinley was so impressed by Gallacher's third-place finish under pressure at the Italian Open, the final qualifying event on the European Tour for the Ryder Cup, that he couldn't not pick him as a wild card. Former No. 1 Luke Donald was even overlooked.

McIlroy tweeted his backing for Gallacher ahead of McGinley's captain's picks and is delighted to have him as a teammate.

"I remember my first match as a rookie in Celtic Manor (in 2010), and I was so uptight and didn't really want to make a mistake, and that isn't the way to approach it," McIlroy said.

"You have to almost go out and be carefree and freewheel ... whenever Stevie plays, I just say to him, 'Go out and enjoy it and embrace it.'"

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