Matt Wallace: The road from the Alps Tour to the US Open
Three weeks ago not many people knew too much about Matt Wallace, now he is sandwiched between Bryson DeChambeau and Ryo Ishikawa on the world rankings. Go back 18 months and the 27-year-old was outside the top 1000.
If last year was remarkable – the Manchester United fan (his dad is from the city) won on five consecutive starts on the Alps Tour, six in total, and didn’t finish outside the top four in nine starts to elevate himself on to the Challenge Tour – then 2016 has already surpassed it.
Wallace went wire-to-wire at the Portugal Open, a co-sanctioned Challenge/European Tour event the same week as The Players, to bypass his year on the second-string Tour.
Then this week he came through a play-off at Walton Heath to alter more travel plans so, rather than flying back to Hertfordshire from Austria, he will head to Chicago for the 117th, and his first, US Open at Erin Hills.
How on earth do you win five times on the trot?
I don’t know! I have grown up in a family of parents who played high-level sport. My dad played rugby for Wasps and my mum was very good at field hockey, netball and triple jump and my sister is good at netball. So I have always wanted to win and would always be disappointed not to.
I got a lot of confidence from the first win and just grew with each week. A big thing for me is to prepare properly and not to have any excuses.
What was the plan at the start of the year?
Play the Challenge Tour and set my sights on getting inside the top 15. I knew it was really tough as I played a few events last year and it is another step up. I sat down with Chubby (manager Andrew Chandler) and we have this Class of 2017 with me, Ben Eccles and Clement Sordet, and he said he expected two of us to be in the top 15 and the other to be close. So Chubby had high hopes but I don’t think he expected me to win in Portugal. Afterwards he said he could see it coming…
What is Chubby particularly good at in managing players?
He has been there and done it and brought through some really good players. When he says something it tends to stick and gives you a lot of confidence.
He is very to the point, my coach Matt Belsham, who works with Alex Noren, is the same. He will tell you when you are not swinging it well or doing things right. People in my stable are good at telling me what I need to do better and I like people being brutally honest.
What had been stopping you in the past?
I think the change in coach has really helped. I went to Matt at the end of 2015 and pre-season this I went out to Dubai to work on things.
My technique would sometimes let me down coming down the stretch, my head was always in a good place but my technique wasn’t working under pressure.
I spoke to my uncle who has worked in business and he said, sometimes if things aren’t working out, even if you like that person, then you need to do something about it. So I parted with my last coach and Matt and I started working on technique straightaway whereas before I was working a lot on my strengths.
I came third in Egypt, then I was second and I then went on that run with the five wins and loved it.
Portugal was a big step up and you led from start to finish. How nervous was the week?
I wasn’t that nervous. I was playing some of my best golf and we worked on some bits the week before and Matt said it was the best he had seen me swing it. My only downfall would be getting caught up in the wind and to start swinging it poorly but I kept on top of it.
Do you enjoy leading from the front?
I went wire-to-wire twice the previous year but for some reason, and I need to learn from this, I used a lot of emotional energy those first two days in Portugal and I was tired emotionally on the Saturday.
And it was windy and I was ahead, and wanted to stay ahead so much, maybe I should have been a bit calmer the first two days. I had to grind it out and I got up and down on the 18th to stay three clear which was key but I was quite drained.
After that I relaxed and told myself that was the hard day done with and I shot four under with no bogeys on the Sunday.
And then Julian Suri, with nine birdies in the first 15 holes, came at you?
We played together the first three days so I knew he was playing well and I saw him coming up the leaderboard. I didn’t see that he had caught me at the 13th as I didn’t see any scores.
Then I hit the shot of my career at the same hole, a 5-iron for my third shot from 205 yards to tap-in distance after hacking out from the rocks. Then I saw a leaderboard and I was one clear so mentally I was fine, had I seen that he had pulled level things might have been a bit different.
Then I heard he made a bogey so I was two clear so I felt good then.
And now you are off to your first major after coming through a play-off at Walton Heath. Had you tried it before?
I had never been inside the top 500 so as soon as I got inside that my manager called me up and we entered. I had played Walton Heath a few times, a mate and I won the London Amateur Foursomes around there so I had some good memories.
How weird a day is it?
I was up at 4am and off at 6.55. I took an hour to get there, did a good warm-up and birdied the first. I played with Paul Dunne and it was our first round together and we kept each other going coming down the last and shot the same score. So we got to play some more holes together in the play-off.
Did you like the odds of four spots up for grabs from seven players?
I didn’t really think about it like that. In truth I told myself to man up a little bit, I had played nicely, missed a load of putts and should have been about 14 under. So I just told myself to stay focused. I had a three-hour wait so I had to re-do my warm-up and I then just thought I wanted to birdie every hole and shoot the best score.
I made a great birdie at the first, I hit a 3-wood through the green into a bad lie but chipped to two feet.
So five of us carried on and then it gets a little bit more in your favour with four from five. But I put a bad swing on it and three of us bogeyed so it was down to two from three.
At 18 I ripped a 2-iron, Wade Ormsby and Gregory Bourdy both dropped shots, I hit one quite close and didn’t need it in the end. It was obviously quite emotional, it was a fast and furious and long day.
Matt Wallace's rise
6 months ago: On Alps Tour
2 months ago: On Challenge Tour
2 weeks ago: Win on European Tour
Today: Qualify for US Open pic.twitter.com/BTMvQpV0Tg
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) May 29, 2017
What do you know about Erin Hills?
Nothing other than it looks really cool and scenic. I saw Wes Bryan’s video and the rough looks horrendous so I might have to get my mate to take a lawnmower out there.
Chubby says it’s the hardest major by a mile so I should just go there and soak it all up and give it my best.
I will work on some strategy and get some knowledge on the winds and types of shots that I’ll need and then play Austria next week which will be good for practice and then fly to Chicago on the Monday.
Chubby knows what he’s doing and the team knows so I can just concentrate on my golf.
Do you know who the only other wire-to-wire winner is on the European Tour this season?
Yes, Sergio in Dubai. It’s all been pretty cool and these are the sort of players I will be rubbing shoulders with. I’m sure Chubby will sort something out for the practice rounds.
I played Wentworth last week and thought I had played OK but I chucked in a few bad swings and you get penalised for that. It is a lot easier to play those sort of courses when you are under par, I wasn’t so I was trying to make unlikely birdies.
How surprised are you at what’s happened this year?
I’m obviously a little bit surprised but I have worked really hard and worked under the radar. I had three or four years without any success but I have built on each year.
I never expect to win a tournament but I expect the best from myself and to prepare as well as possible so that I have no excuses. That’s what I have learnt the most.