At last year’s DP World Tour Championship, Matt Wallace arrived with low expectations and departed with unfinished business to be taken care of. In finishing with second place to Danny Willett he put the cap on a special year, which featured three wins on the European Tour, fourth place in the final Race to Dubai standings and a near miss on a debut Ryder Cup berth.
With four rounds of competitive action on the Earth course under his belt (68, 65, 71, 68) and a proven winning record, Wallace knows what it takes to get the job done this time around.
“I went out there with no real expectations, not knowing the course having never played it before and having never really practiced up there,” admitted Wallace. “It’s a brilliant course which tests every aspect of your game. I drove the ball really well that week so I know that I need to stay on top of that come the end of the season, and if I can do that hopefully I can go one better than last year.”
Wallace was in the thick of the action right until the very end 12 months ago, almost chipping in for an eagle at the final hole before Willett closed the door with a superb birdie on 17.
“I have good and bad memories of the Earth course,” said Wallace. “Obviously, on 17 last year Danny stuck a dagger in my heart, hitting, what was for me, the shot of the year, to make birdie.
“That hole is iconic, the perfectly situated challenge as the penultimate test. Then there’s the 18th where anything can happen with that second shot up into the final green – and I produced my own little bit of glory there when I almost chipped in. I thought it was going in and an eagle would have been a nice way to finish – but it just wasn’t to be.”
Force on Tour
Wallace came of age on the European Tour last year. His potential was clear for all to see when he won six times on the satellite Alps Tour in 2016, and he earned his European Tour card with victory in 2017 at the Open de Portugal at Morgado Golf Resort – an event co-sanctioned between the Challenge Tour and the European Tour.
He concluded his rookie campaign strongly with a fourth-place finish at the Italian Open en route to reaching 70th in the Race to Dubai, which gave him renewed confidence that he could mix it with the best – and he sure did that in 2018.
Wallace won the Hero Indian Open in March, the BMW International Open in June and the Made in Denmark in September to cement his status as one of the most promising rising stars in European golf.
He even announced his arrival on the Major scene with a hole-in-one – his first as a professional – at the US PGA Championship on his way to a 19th place finish. “To get an ace in a Major championship was really special,” he beamed afterwards. The signs were pointing strongly towards a Ryder Cup wildcard pick for the gritty youngster, but the first eight qualifiers for Thomas Bjørn’s team already featured five rookies, and so the Dane erred on the side of experience with his selections of Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter.
Disappointed, but undeterred, Wallace is using the snub as his motivation going forward. His victory in Denmark came three days before Bjørn made his picks and he was “absolutely gutted” to have missed out. “To be honest, I thought I’d done enough,” said Wallace,. “I thought I was right for a pick. I had shown something different, particularly to myself, in Denmark, where it was all on the line, all or nothing. When it mattered, I got the job done and I really thought that was going to be enough.
“As it turned out, it wasn’t meant to be, but I can now look back at it and take the view that everything happens for a reason. It just wasn’t meant to be my time. I can’t afford to dwell on not being involved. Instead, I know I have got to use it as motivation to make the next team. I’m always grinding, working on trying to figure it out and get better.
“For me, it’s not just about a specific week or tournament – it’s all about the bigger picture for the future. I just want to play better and I want to keep getting better and put myself in position to win tournaments.”
“Dubai has always been very kind to me because I’ve put in a lot of practice out here, back when I was on the Alps Tour, and then on to the Challenge Tour at the start of the season. Just knowing that I can plan my weeks ahead for practice, and I can rely on the weather to be the same as it is when a tournament comes around is a huge help.”
RYDER CUP MISS
Wallace joined Sweden’s Johan Edfors (2006) as the only Europeans to win three times in a Ryder Cup year and not make the Ryder Cup Team. But if he continues on his current path he’s sure to be a serious contender at future editions of the matches.
For now, his focus remains on finishing this season strongly. While he is yet to find the winner’s circle in 2019 he has been in impressive form, finishing runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and posting a third place finish at the US PGA Championship for his career-best result in a Major. His performance at Emirates Golf Club back in January signified his second successive near-miss in Dubai, and it’s not lost on the 29-year-old why he seems to play well when he lands in the Emirate.
“Dubai has always been very kind to me because I’ve put in a lot of practice out here, back when I was on the Alps Tour, and then on to the Challenge Tour at the start of the season,” he said.
“Just knowing that I can plan my weeks ahead for practice, and I can rely on the weather to be the same as it is when a tournament comes around is a huge help.
“Getting up in the morning and knowing that I can wear shorts on the practice days is a nice feeling. You get the sun on your back and the golf courses are always in great condition – what’s not to like about it? I played well enough at the Italian Open but my final round let me down and I had to settle for a three-way share of seventh place.” Wallace shot 69-67-67 but finished with a disappointing 72.
However, it didn’t dent his confidence and buoyed by the prospect of another tilt at the DP World Tour Championship title, Wallace is relishing the challenge ahead at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
“Playing the DP World Tour Championship for the first time last year – I felt that I had made it there on merit and that felt good,” he said. “It’s a condensed field with the best players in the world competing and I enjoyed the success, which pushed me into the top-ten in the Race to Dubai.
“So, my goal this year is to try and beat last year’s performance and I’m in a good position to do just that. It’s a brilliant golf course, brilliant event and I’m very much looking forward to getting back there this year.”