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
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.