From the Alps Tour to the heights of Augusta National
From a distance you might think that Matt Wallace’s rise to the upper echelons of the game has been a smooth one – the smooth, powerful swing tallied with the confidence and no-holds-barred approach. We all know how his 2018 nearly culminated in a Ryder Cup debut in Paris, as it was he had to settle for the three wins and 10th place on the Race to Dubai.
Behind all that though is a very different story. The year after turning pro he wrote to a number of management companies, including his own one, Chubby Chandler’s ISM, asking for a job.
Nobody, thankfully, offered him one.
Then his golf got going on the Alps Tour and in ridiculous style, winning five events on the trot, six in total and didn’t finish outside the top four in nine starts to elevate himself on to the Challenge Tour. The following year he bypassed that tour after going wire-to-wire at the Portugal Open, a co-sanctioned event the same week as The Players.
This year he’ll be playing at Sawgrass, and all four majors, with his current world ranking at 36th, one place behind Ian Poulter.
We sat down with the 28-year-old in Abu Dhabi as he was preparing to get his year going. I spent a good part of three days trying to catch the eye of various players on the range and, for much of that time, Wallace was working away with his coach Robert Rock, his right-hand man Liam James and caddie Dave McNeilly.
A mixed week still resulted in a top-20 finish, the following week he was second in Dubai behind this guy..
It’s been quite a journey, the Alps Tour to Augusta in three years?
Things have changed a little bit! I’ve enjoyed it but I’m always trying to improve and nothing’s standing still and I’m trying to improve my swing. I was shocking this morning but I always find a way to figure it out a little bit.
How did you and Robert Rock get together?
Matt Belsham and I split and I was thinking about Andreas Kali in Denmark. I love what he does, like the Mac O’Grady stuff, and then I would see Rocky coaching some people each week on tour. I didn’t know him from Adam and I went up to him in Ireland in 2017 and introduced myself and asked if he wouldn’t mind having a look at my swing.
That was the Wednesday, I played Thursday and he asked how it went. I said it wasn’t great so he said he’d see me on the practice ground at 7am the next day and he wasn’t off until the afternoon.
I thought that’s pretty cool, we did some stuff and I started birdie-birdie the next morning but still missed the cut. But I knew from that moment that everything was going to be pretty good.
I watched you working together and, from a distance, it all looked particularly technical?
It was proper technique. It’s difficult to do that on the course but I know if I’m working on my technique now, in a month’s time it will be really good and that’s when the countdown to The Masters is going to be happening.
I can always score no matter what my swing’s doing but if I play with a bad technique now it will be bad in a month. So I’m getting the right feels now and I’ll keep working at it.
Other than an encyclopaedic knowledge of the swing what else does he bring to the table?
The beauty of Rocky is that he knows how to win tournaments whereas not many coaches do. He might text me something on the Sunday and it will be something relevant for the day and that’s massive.
His swing is the best, so pure. I’ve only ever seen him hit one like really bad shot, at Kingsbarns on the 1st. He hit a good tee shot and then properly fatted a wedge but it was freezing and he hadn’t warmed up.
You seem pretty regimented in your practice – the work on your TrackMan, putting drills and technique?
It’s the only thing that makes me ready for tournaments. Somebody asked me when I was 12 how I built confidence up before a round and I had no answer, nothing.
Now I know if I do my putting drills and do my numbers and technique then I’ll step on that 1st tee and have no excuses. People do have excuses and it messes with their heads.
If I play bad then so be it but I won’t let myself not be prepared for a tournament.
The 15th Club have also played a part in your success?
They’ve been massive, I won three tournaments last year on courses I had never been to before.
I started with them at the end of 2017 in Italy and they said most of my approaches would be from 100-150 yards so I set up a TrackMan test for those distances and on the Tuesday I got 83 per cent and then on the Wednesday I got 96 per cent so my confidence was huge. I shot seven under the next day finished fourth.
You don’t look hugely nervous on the big stage?
People say that a lot. I gain that from doing the work, people say I work too hard but I have to do it, if I’m not comfortable then I work even harder.
Your swing wasn’t always a thing of beauty, by all accounts?
I had no technique and hit big right-to-left loopers. I was only in the county team as I could make the speeches afterwards. I was shocking. I could get it round and I could hit it but it was all over the place.
My county partner Tom Lewis was the golden boy of English golf, he was brilliant and his swing was so good. He would hit iron shots that I could see in my head but I couldn’t do it.
Interview continues on the next page where Wallace talks us through his Augusta preparations and who he’ll have on his bag in the Par 3 competition…