Golf: Amateur Championship: Gallacher survives the sadism

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THE scene looked almost idyllic. The sun turned the sea a Mediterranean blue and the snow-capped peaks of Ben Wyvis provided a dramatic backcloth. Out on the course, however, it was purgatory on earth. The wind ripped in from the Moray Firth with such gusto that most scores were blown sky high. The par at Nairn is 72 but yesterday it might as well have been 82.

In addition to a 25 mph gale the field for the Amateur Championship, consisting mainly of young recruits with skin complaints, had some pin positions to contend with that lent weight to the suspicion that the Royal and Ancient is inhabited by descendants of the Marquis de Sade.

One or two players, like Stephen Gallacher for example, weathered the carnage and his 74 in the second qualifying round, following a 71 in the rain on Monday, represented a considerable triumph. Thus Gallacher's criticial view of the flag placements was not given with the whiff of sour grapeshot.

Gallacher, the 19-year-old nephew of the Ryder Cup captain Bernard Gallacher, described the pin positions as a 'nightmare.' He thought some of them were downright unfair. 'It's tough enough as it is,' he said. The golf club at Nairn, the 'Brighton of the north', was created from a wilderness in 1887, the holes going out and back along a narrow neck of land. On some of the holes yesterday it was an achievement to reach the fairways.

On the seventh Gallacher nailed his drive and still had to hit one-iron, three-iron to get near the green. He took six there. His most remarkable score was a par four at the 13th where he incurred a penalty shot after his ball landed in a bush. Faced with a 70-foot downhill putt to save par, his ball clattered into the stick and dropped into the hole. 'I don't mind the wind blowing because I hit the ball low,' Gallacher said. 'Just as long as the pins are on the greens and not on the hills.' After a round that took him five hours he left the course for a nap.

Gallacher, 6ft 2in and still growing, has recovered from back trouble caused by one leg growing faster than the other. Commitments to the amateur schedule prevented him from accepting in invitation to play alongside Jose-Maria Olazabal in the Benson and Hedges International at St Mellion. He did, however, play a round at Wentworth with Bernard Gallacher and Sam Torrance, scoring 72 over the Burma Road.

As an 18-year-old Olazabal won the Amateur Championship at Formby in 1984. He turned professional a year later, finishing top of the class at the European Tour Qualifying School.

Gallacher, who is at the same age as Olazabal when the Spaniard turned pro, is in no rush to join the paid ranks. He would like to play for Great Britain and Ireland in the Walker Cup match against the United States at Royal Porthcawl next year.

Gallacher, who plays full time in the summer, works as a porter at St John's Hospital in Livingstone in the winter earning pounds 70 a week. Overtime 'saves my mum and dad splashing out all the time.'

There were 288 hopefuls for the Amateur Championship and after the two qualifying rounds at Nairn and Nairn Dunbar the leading 64 and ties go through to the match play stage. That starts today and finishes on Saturday. Formby in 1984 must have been a good year. In the final Olazabal defeated Colin Montgomerie.

SEVE Ballesteros, who did not wish to go through qualifying, will play in next month's US Open after all. The United States Golf Association championship committee decided yesterday to give him a special invitation to Oakmont.

(Photograph omitted)