YOU can’t beat a stroll on the auld links. Off you go, walking in the footsteps of legends, breathing in the history and having your senses roused by those stirring sounds of golfing endeavour as cries of “where the **** is that going?” drift on the breeze and through the whins.
Rather like death, the game of golf can be a great leveller. Here at the Pro-Am infused Alfred Dunhill Links Championship there are giants of industry who have struck fear into the boardrooms of the world, entertainers who have dazzled kings and queens and actors who have performed things in front of a camera that would make Caligula blush.
Yet plonk them on to the tee, with Ron and Irene from Pittenweem peering on from behind the ropes, and they look about as collected as a pheasant attempting to cross a busy A-road.
Stephen Gallacher, meanwhile, provided a lesson in composure and control on a bright but blowy day in the game’s cradle as he harnessed the lively conditions on the Old Course with a fine display.
While Tyrrell Hatton set the halfway pace on 10-under after a battling 70 along at Kingsbarns, Gallacher, the Dunhill Links champion back in 2004, posted a fine four-under 68 in the Auld Grey Toon to move to the fringes of the top 10 on a five-under aggregate.
“You knew it was going to be one of those days for battening down the hatches,” said Gallacher of a relentless buffeting which brought to the fore his wonderful ball-striking and shot-making qualities. “The wind was straight across, probably the toughest wind for this course. It’s right-to-left all the way out so you try to cut the ball into it. Then you turn the other way and you have to draw it in. If you just have one shape on a day like this then your ball is out of control. I was delighted with the way I struck it.”
It’s not been a vintage year for Gallacher on the European Tour. In 15 events, the former Ryder Cup player has missed the cut in nine of them. A top-25 finish in the flagship BMW PGA Championship, however, has lifted the morale while the return of simple social pleasures to tour life after a long spell of enforced restrictions has been a timely tonic.
“I didn’t enjoy the start of the year, with no crowds and eating in your hotel room with the restrictions,” said Gallacher, who is just three events away from clocking up the milestone of 600 European Tour outings. “To be honest, I didn’t want to play at all. At Wentworth, you could go back out with your mates and be a bit more social. For the young guys, the last year or so has been all they’ve known but for someone who has been on the tour for 25 years it’s different. Sitting in your room eating breakfast, lunch and dinner yourself was hard. The minute we got back to some normality the adrenaline has started to flow again.”
There was a poignant element to Gallacher’s performance yesterday too. “It was the funeral of my sponsor, Alan Steel,” said Gallacher of the well-kent Linlithgow-based financier who had backed him for 11 years. “I’m just happy I had a good score for him.”
At the head of the field, Hatton stayed on course for a third Dunhill Links title with a spirited two-under card which left him one clear of fellow Englishman, Daniel Gavins. It was a tough shift at the wind-ravaged office but Hatton embraced the challenge and emerged unscathed.
“It’s so hard to get the club right, and a lot of guys are either coming up a long way short or very long,” he said. “When you do finally get to the green, you just want to two-putt and get out of there. I’m happy with how I fought.”
Gavins put together a terrific 68 at daunting Carnoustie to lurk behind Hatton on nine-under while former Masters champion Danny Willett made it an English one, two, three at the top as he moved to eight-under after a 69 at Kingsbarns.
Despite making “an a*** of it” on Carnoustie’s 18th with a closing bogey in a 73, Bearsden’s Ewen Ferguson is still tied for seventh on six-under. Richie Ramsay sits alongside Gallacher on five-under but Robert MacIntyre suffered a sore one at Kingsbarns with a 77 which included a grisly eight on the 12th.