Matt Wallace: European Tour player dreaming big after breakthrough year

Matt Wallace
Matt Wallace turned professional in 2012 and has won 10 tournaments

Few European Tour players will view 2019 with more optimism than Matt Wallace, the late blooming but prolific Londoner who enjoyed the season of his life last year.

Wallace competes in this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and will be among the leading contenders during the Middle East swing that kicks off the tour's schedule this year.

He also plays the Dubai Desert Classic and the inaugural Saudi International and will, no doubt, bring infectious confidence to all three stops.

Last year he climbed from 139th in the world to 44th and that top-50 spot means he will celebrate his 29th birthday playing the second round of his Masters debut on 12 April.

His ranking rise came from winning titles in India, Germany and Denmark. He also put himself in the Ryder Cup mix and ensured he will play all four majors this year.

Wallace was runner up at the season ending DP World Tour Championship and with nearly 3m euros earned, he finished 10th in the Race to Dubai.

"At the start of last year I planned to just play everything when it came around," he told BBC Sport. "Every time I played well it threw up a different opportunity and by the end of the season I was playing for Race to Dubai positioning."

Wallace is sitting in a meeting room at The Belfry having just signed a deal to represent the venue. "I remember growing up watching the Ryder Cups and tournaments held here and really that's the reason I got into golf," he said.

But it is the future that is uppermost in his mind, especially as he had just opened the invitation from Augusta to play the Masters.

"It was a really nice moment to receive it, look at it and have it there in my hand with my name on it," said the 28-year-old Englishman. "Pretty buzzing about that."

Providing he maintains his top-50 status he can look forward to competing in PGA Tour events such as The Players Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational in the build up to the first men's major of 2019.

Wallace has already demonstrated the happy knack of seizing opportunities and it nearly brought him a Ryder Cup debut in September. He is coached by fellow player Robert Rock, who also helps the victorious European skipper at Le Golf National, Thomas Bjorn.

"I got Rocky to ask Thomas what I needed to do to have an opportunity to play in the Ryder Cup," Wallace revealed.

The answer came back that he would need to play both the Czech Open and Made in Denmark tournament at the end of the qualifying period and show the captain what he could do.

Wallace secured a last-minute invitation to the Czech event which led to an unremarkable share of 36th that did little to help.

But then came an astonishing play-off victory in Denmark. He birdied five of the last six holes to force his way into a four-man shootout, which he won at the second extra hole.

Matt Wallace reacts after winning the Made in Denmark tournament
Three of Wallace's four European wins came in 2018

Of his 10 professional wins this was surely the most satisfying.

"Absolutely," Wallace said. "Knowing exactly what I needed to do, the last tournament to get into the Ryder Cup with a chance.

"After seven holes I seemed out of it, after making bogey on 12 I was out of it.

"Anyone in the boxing arena will know that if you've been knocked down twice and comeback to win the match then you've done something pretty spectacular.

"That's how it was and definitely the best win I had last year."

But it still was not enough to persuade Bjorn to give the Englishman a wildcard pick. Wallace would be on his sofa for the Ryder Cup.

"It was hugely disappointing," he said. "After the highs of a win I didn't get to celebrate it as much. If I'd got into the Ryder Cup it would have been the best week of my life but it was a downer to end such a good week.

"But even now, just thinking about it, I feel there is a reason why it happened. They went on to win it quite comfortably. It was amazing, I loved watching it."

Matt Wallace tweet praising the European team on their Ryder Cup success

And although he had not done quite enough to be part of Europe's success, Wallace had still elevated himself to a higher level which was recognised by tournament directors.

"I played with Sergio [Garcia] in Portugal which was great and that was the first time. He's been an idol of mine for years and it's given me the fire to want to make the next one," Wallace said.

And when he considers the progress made he can only reflect with immense satisfaction. "That was mental, getting so close to the Ryder Cup after what was basically my first full year on tour," he said.

"Who would win a tournament between Matt Wallace now and Matt Wallace back then? I would wipe the floor with that guy now," he stated.

"I've learned more, I've become a better golfer technically, I've become a better golfer mentally. I know the depths I need to go to to win a tournament now. I showed a new level in Denmark.

"I'm a much better golfer now than even when I won five tournaments in a row on the Alps Tour."

Rory McIlroy began 2019 by describing the European Tour as "a stepping stone" to the PGA Tour. Wallace is at a different stage and sees it differently.

He is fully committed to his home circuit, while ready to make the odd foray to the United States. "My stepping stone is I've won three times last year, now I want to put myself more in contention like I did at DP World and try and win an event like that," he said.

"Then give myself chances in majors, WGCs and see how that goes.

"There's so many good young players wanting to win. I'm in the hot seat right now, living the dream."

Matt Wallace
Wallace is ranked 44th in the world

Wallace has no fears of suffering a "second season syndrome" and is confident he can continue his upward progression.

"I don't let myself get into a rut of playing so badly that I keep on going like that; I will change something," he reasoned. And he firmly believes he can always rely on his uncanny winning mentality.

"Everything just slows down when I'm in contention," he said. "I just seem to get into a different zone when I'm up against it. I love the battle, I love the fight and I won't shy away from any confrontation."

He makes it sound pretty simple but countered: "It's not as easy as it sounds."

And the overwhelming message is positive, meaning there may be more fireworks in the coming weeks in the desert.

"I'm loving every minute of it," he said. "This isn't the end this is just the start."