In Bernard Gallacher’s home office, there is just a small photo of the day he led an unannounced mix of aging superstars and willing foot soldiers to perhaps the most remarkable European Ryder Cup victory.
It had been 25 years since the photo was taken on this day, when the Scotsman raced across the 18th green at Oak Hill and lifted Philip Walton into the air in a gesture of sheer elation.
“The photo is small enough not to offend any American entering the room, but I know where he is and it’s nice to look back,” Gallacher told Sportsmail.
Phillip Walton celebrates with captain Bernard Gallacher after taking the decisive victory
There is Jay Haas looking downcast and Sir Nick Faldo’s caddy, Fanny Sunesson, runs to the green. As for me, I was clearly stronger than I thought to lift Philip into the air! It’s fair to say there was a little bit of adrenaline around. ‘
In this week, when we should have been looking forward to the last seismic collision at Whistling Straits, it is only natural to recall the surprising deeds of yore.
In terms of Ryder Cups on American soil, Oak Hill is often overlooked alongside the ‘Miracle of Medinah’, the first away win at Muirfield Village in 1987, the record-breaking Oakland Hills triumph in 2004 and the controversies at Brookline in 1999 and Kiawah Island in 1991.
But it’s a triumph that seems only more remarkable with the passage of time. One that, after two consecutive losses, put Europe back on track for a period of domination that, save for a single hiccup, has lasted to this day.
European captain Gallacher holds the Ryder Cup after winning the Oak Hill Country Club in 1995
Not too many people thought positively in the build up, mind. Poor Seve Ballesteros was an empty shell of a golfer, while Jose-Maria Olazabal didn’t even make the lineup due to arthritis.
Ian Woosnam was called up as a replacement at the last minute after a bad summer. Bernhard Langer had a back injury and Faldo had a wrist problem. To complete the not-promising picture, the captain had not wanted the job.
“At the time, I had the feeling that it was a two-term deal and that I had already played a home and away game,” Gallacher explains. “It was the fact that the players wanted me there that convinced me.”
The American media was in the well-known triumphalist mode. “It will be a defeat,” Sports Illustrated predicted, and the Americans were leading 5-3 after the first day.
Europe came back strongly on the second morning, but received a devastating blow to the last of the four balls on Saturday.
“We were wrestling all afternoon and we watched Faldo and Langer save us from Loren Roberts and Corey Pavin,” says Gallacher.
“But Pavin had this chip where the only way he could stop the ball was if it hit the flag and that’s what he did to compete and win the game.” Cue American delirium. Europe was two points behind the singles.
Was Gallacher worried he was about to become a losing captain for the third game in a row?
“Strangely enough not,” he says. “I sat with my wife and Jane James (Mark’s wife) and said,“ Look at those dances across the green, they think they’ve won. But we are going to celebrate tomorrow evening ”. That’s what I said to my players in the team room, and I firmly believed it. Gallacher had a hard time convincing Ballesteros to go out first in singles.
Gallacher led an unannounced mix of aging superstars and willing foot soldiers to glory
“Poor Seve couldn’t get a shot that week and when I asked him how he felt about going out first, he said he wasn’t playing well enough,” Gallacher recalls.
‘I said do you want to go out last, and he said he was going to leave the team, he wanted me to hide him in the middle.
“I told him that’s going to be the action, if you go out first, there will be 11 teammates behind you to help.
In a way, Seve inspired the team that day by going out first and being just one after 10 holes against Tom Lehman, despite not hitting a single fairway. He would have lost to everyone that day and it was good for us that he played against one of their strongest players. ‘
After the usual ebb and flow, two games headed the European direction. First, the unsung David Gilford took down Brad Faxon.
Then Faldo beat Curtis Strange, thanks to an up and down 100 yards on the 18th hole that he still describes as the most pressure he’s ever felt.
“Nick was so good in those circumstances,” says Gallacher. He had that ability under great pressure to think so clearly. His course management was the best I’ve ever seen. You could see that even a two-time US Open champion like Curtis suffered from Faldo.
His approach shot was not that difficult, but Faldo had caught him. He knew Nick was going to get the ball up and down and Curtis wasn’t ready. ‘
The Ryder Cup now rested on the fate of Walton, a shy, soft-spoken Irishman against the veteran Hare.
“It was not ideal,” admits Gallacher. “You want a Faldo or Langer in that position, not a man in his first Ryder Cup, asking him to hold on and win him over to us. But he did. I was so happy for him. When I picked him up, it was as much joy to him as anything else. ‘
It was Gallacher’s first win in 11 Ryder Cups as a player or captain. With a few inspired decisions, he’d played his full part alongside a team where everyone contributed at least a point, even the stricken Seve, who won a fourballs with Gilford.
Now at 71, Gallacher still plays golf a few times a week at Wentworth, where he was a club pro for 25 years, and it’s a bad day if he doesn’t shoot under his age at the East Course. He has also fully recovered from the terrible day seven years ago when he collapsed while on position in Aberdeen and suffered cardiac arrest that left him in a coma for a week.
Not a single Ryder Cup this week will stop him from looking at that photo and letting his mind wander.
Bernard Gallacher is an ambassador for Golf Care, the UK’s # 1 golf insurance company.