Liv­ing the mini tour dream

This time last year Matt Wal­lace was play­ing on the Alps Tour. Now, he’s a Euro­pean Tour win­ner and has just played in his maiden Ma­jor. He’s liv­ing proof mini tour dreams do come true

Today's Golfer (UK) - - Contents - WORDS MICHAEL CATLING PIC­TURES AN­GUS MUR­RAY, GETTY IM­AGES

Matt Wal­lace was on the Alps Tour... now he’s play­ing in Ma­jors.

Matt Wal­lace has had to wait for his shot at the big time. The English­man spent four years strug­gling to make a liv­ing on the Alps Tour, and watched from be­hind the ropes at last year’s BMW PGA Cham­pi­onship. He would have done the same thing this year, had he not been play­ing in it af­ter win­ning his first Euro­pean Tour event two weeks ear­lier. Few would have be­lieved it when he failed to se­cure his play­ing rights on Euro­pean golf’s top ta­ble at Q-school last year, least of all the man him­self.

“Any­one who has been to Q-school will tell you that it’s the hard­est, most gru­elling ex­pe­ri­ence of your ca­reer,” says Wal­lace. “There are only 25 places up for grabs, and when you put all that ef­fort in and get noth­ing in re­turn, it can be quite soul de­stroy­ing. If you’d have told me back then that I’d get my first win on the Euro­pean Tour so soon af­ter, I would have prob­a­bly laughed in your face.”

A later bloomer at 27, Wal­lace only turned pro five years ago and was still work­ing at Hol­lis­ter when Rory joined the pro­fes­sional rank in 2008. Nine years on and Wal­lace has won more times in the past 18 months than Mcil­roy has man­aged in the last three years. Granted, six of his seven vic­to­ries were on the Alps Tour, but five of those came in suc­ces­sion between Fe­bru­ary and June last year. Not even Dustin John­son can match that.

“The funny thing is I didn’t do much dur­ing my first three years on the Alps Tour,” re­calls Wal­lace. “I think I came 28th, 23rd and 11th. And then in my fi­nal year I came third in the first event, sec­ond in the sec­ond event, and won in the third. I ended up play­ing in nine events, won six of them and didn’t fin­ish out­side the top four all sea­son.”

Wal­lace’s jour­ney from clothes shop worker to Euro­pean Tour win­ner has seen some fans la­bel him the Jamie Vardy of golf. But while his hum­ble be­gin­nings make him the an­tithe­sis of your typ­i­cal tour pro, it’s clear he had to over­come more chal­lenges than most to get to where he is to­day. “Both my par­ents were PE teach­ers so I played sports from a re­ally early age,” says Wal­lace, whose dad also played rugby for Wasps in the 1970s. “But golf was never the top one; I was more into my rugby and cricket. I played both at county level and I only started to re­ally kick on with my golf when I was about 18. At that point, I was work­ing or I was out par­ty­ing quite a lot. I knew I had to make a de­ci­sion on whether to go full-time or pack it in and get a proper job. I ended up go­ing to Amer­ica in 2010 to Jack­sonville State [Univer­sity] on a golf schol­ar­ship for a year.”

“I’d al­ways wanted to go be­cause I loved the Amer­i­can sys­tem and I found out Danny Wil­lett had been there. It was in the mid­dle of nowhere which was good for me at that stage in my life be­cause I could just con­cen­trate on the golf. We’d be up at 5am for the gym and then have a bit of break­fast be­fore classes from 8.15am un­til 2pm and then straight on to the golf course. It was full on but great.”

De­spite be­ing ranked No.1 at the univer­sity and get­ting called up to the Eng­land squad in 2011, Wal­lace strug­gled to make the step up from am­a­teur to the pro­fes­sional ranks and had to wait un­til Fe­bru­ary last year for his maiden vic­tory. In that time, he ad­mits he con­tem­plated giv­ing it all up. “I turned pro in 2012, but af­ter a year or so I went through a phase of work­ing so hard with­out be­ing able to see the out­come,” he ex­plains. “I started doubt­ing my­self and I did send a few CVS off to ISM and IMG to try and get into golf man­age­ment. Luck­ily, I had a few peo­ple be­hind me who were telling me, ‘no, don’t quit, keep go­ing.”

Iron­i­cally, it was a chance meet­ing with ISM’S su­per-agent An­drew “Chubby” Chan­dler at Went­worth last sum­mer which gave Wal­lace the op­por­tu­nity he’d been wait­ing for. “Chubby got me an in­vite to the Nordea Mas­ters in Swe­den around this time last year and that was bril­liant, play­ing in my first-ever Euro­pean Tour event,” says Wal­lace. “I made the cut and that re­ally gave me the con­fi­dence to push on. Af­ter that, I signed with ISM at the Bri­tish Mas­ters and then won the fi­nal event on the Alps Tour and earned my Chal­lenge Tour card.”

Win­ning the satel­lite Tour’s Or­der of Merit brought him ac­cess to the ma­jor leagues and, with it, a chance to make amends af­ter miss­ing out at the Q-school in Novem­ber. He came close at the first time of ask­ing, fin­ish­ing third at the Kenya Open in March. “I was ac­tu­ally lead­ing go­ing into the fi­nal day,” he says. “I didn’t get it done, but there was a progression of play­ing some re­ally good golf. I went to Tur­key, played well there, and then shot 10-un­der par in the first round at the Por­tu­gal Open. That was a re­ally big

deal and to fol­low that up by shoot­ing sev­e­nun­der on the sec­ond day was huge be­cause it is so dif­fi­cult to do. That gave me a lot of con­fi­dence, but I’d be ly­ing if I said I wasn’t ner­vous go­ing into that fi­nal round.

“Not many peo­ple know this, but when I was walk­ing up to the first tee, I just pre­tended that I was play­ing back at my home club [Moor Park in Herts] with the mem­bers. I al­ways have to give them so many shots, so I have to shoot seven or eight un­der not to lose any money! I went into that round think­ing I need to shoot well un­der par, and I man­aged to go bo­gey-free and made four birdies to seal the deal.”

Be­fore then, the most Wal­lace had ever won from one tour­na­ment was just over €10,000. He pock­eted more than eight times that amount by go­ing wire-to-wire in Por­tu­gal. Not bad for four days’ work. But while most 27-year-olds would be ea­ger to splash the cash, Wal­lace has no in­ter­est in liv­ing a life of lux­ury and is still con­tent with liv­ing at home with his par­ents in Mid­dle­sex. “I didn’t even know how much I won in Por­tu­gal,” con­fesses Wal­lace. “I’m not in­ter­ested in chas­ing the money. I just want to get my rank­ing down. I’ve al­ready come from 500 at the start of the year and to 137 af­ter win­ning the Por­tu­gal Open, which is my ca­reer high. I will try to crack that top 100 now but my life­long dream is top 10. It was never num­ber one. When you’re in­side the top 10, you have a chance to be­come No.1 and that’s al­ways been my as­pi­ra­tion.

Of course, some of the perks are nice and it is a dream play­ing cour­ses like Went­worth. But win­ning is the rea­son why I play golf.”

‘I didn’t even know how much I won in Por­tu­gal. I’m not in­ter­ested in chas­ing the money’

Si­lenced crit­ics Reed isn’t afraid to give it back to the par­ti­san crowds. Sta­ble­mates Matt with fel­low ISM stars West­wood and Wil­lett.

Ma­jor man Wal­lace even qual­i­fied for the US Open at Erin Hills.

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