Editor’s note: On July 30, the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame inducts its Class of 2022. What follows is Part III of a series detailing the achievements of the eight inductees.
Former Ryder Cup hero and five-time PGA Tour winner Jim Gallagher Jr. — born in Pennsylvania, raised in Indiana, and a University of Tennessee graduate — will be inducted July 30 into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.
It will be Gallagher’s seventh Hall of Fame, and probably his most cherished. That’s because, for Gallagher, Mississippi has become home.
Says Gallagher, “It’s like Steve Azar sings in the state song, I’ll bleed Mississippi ’til I’m dead and gone.”
Gallagher, 61, moved to Greenwood in 1989 with his new bride, Greenwood native Cissye Meeks-Gallagher.
“I’ve lived in Mississippi for more than half my life now, and I ain’t moving again,” Gallagher said. “When I drive across that state line or land here, I know I am home. To go into this Hall of Fame, with the Archie Mannings, Walter Paytons, Jerry Rices and Kent Hulls is special.”
Making it all the more special, in this Hall of Fame, he also joins Cissye, his wife, the 12-time Mississippi Women’s State Amateur champion, 2019 MSHOF inductee, and mother of their four children.
“Cissye went in first, as well she should have, but being in there with her is so cool,” Gallagher said. “I know I wouldn’t have had the success I have had without her. She was always there for me, always coaching me whether she knew it or not.”
Gallagher didn’t move to Mississippi until he was 29, but his roots have grown deep here. He won his first professional tournament at Hattiesburg in the old Magnolia Classic in 1985, beating the great Paul Azinger in a playoff. He played his last professional tournament in the Champions Tour tournament on the Gulf Coast in 2018, and he often plugs Mississippi and Mississippi players in his current duties as a TV commentator on The Golf Channel.
All of his big victories came as a Mississippi resident, including the 1993 Tour Championship, during which he shot a course record opening round of 63 and then out-dueled Greg Norman on Sunday to claim what was then the richest prize in golf history.
But surely Gallagher’s biggest claim to golf fame came a few weeks before that when he went head to head with Steve Ballesteros in one of the final matches of the Ryder Cup, trounced him and spurred the Americans to a narrow victory.
“No doubt, it was my most memorable victory of all,” Gallagher said. “That’s the one that people remember all these years (nearly 30) later. I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have won The Tour Championship if not for what happened in the Ryder Cup.”
To understand the magnitude of Gallagher’s conquest of Ballesteros, one must first understand what Ballesteros meant to the Ryder Cup. The Spaniard was the golfer who spearheaded Europe’s recent dominance. Ballesteros, winner of five major championships and 95 tournaments worldwide, was a splendid golfer at any competition but at his best in the Ryder Cup’s pressure-packed match play format. It was as if Seve willed himself — and the Europeans — to victory. His Ryder Cup record 20-12-5 is one of the best of all-time. Gallagher was a Ryder Cup rookie.
“I don’t think anybody except maybe Cissye and me thought I had a chance to win that match,” Gallagher said. “But I was playing well, and I knew I could beat him. And I’ll tell you this: Seve knew it, too.”
Gallagher beat him all right, ending the match on the 16th hole, winning three up with two holes left to play.
It was the crowning achievement of what turned out to be a Hall of Fame career – now a seven Halls of Fame career.
The 2022 Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame Induction Class includes Gallagher, football great Eric Moulds, world swimming champion Maggie Bowen-Hanna, basketball coach Kermit Davis, Sr., baseball standouts Barry Lyons and David Dellucci, and football coaches Bob Tyler and Willis Wright.
For MSHOF Induction Weekend event and ticket information, click here.