After failing to persuade Thomas Bjorn he was worth a captain’s pick with his fast finish to the last Ryder Cup qualification campaign Matt Wallace plans to leave nothing to chance when Padraig Harrington is handing out the invitations next year.
The 29-year-old Englishman was hotly tipped to be handed a wildcard 12 months ago after completing a hat-trick of 2018 wins with a sizzling Sunday in Silkeborg that saw him close out the Made in Denmark tournament with seven birdies in eight holes.
Wallace didn’t hide his disappointment when Bjorn opted for experience ahead of his blistering form, but rather than descend into a long-term sulk he has used the experience to incite the next stage of his career.
And when the 2020 Ryder Cup points chase began at the BMW PGA Championship Wallace continued where he left off in Denmark, thrashing a brilliant, bogey-free 7-under-par 65 at Wentworth to grab the first round lead.
Last week, in the KLM Open, he had opened with a limp round of 75 which left him tied 111th on the leaderboard before adding scores of 67, 63 and 68 to claim solo third, a performance which fuelled morale ahead of a third start in the European Tour’s flagship event.
“I said to my caddie when we were walking to the first tee, let’s keep the focus of last week,” he explained afterward. “Why can’t we just carry it on? And a start like that is a real boost to the confidence.
“It’s not just about this week though. It’s about the bigger picture. I want to play better, to keep getting better, to put myself in positions to win tournaments. This is just a good start.”
The Londoner’s hunger excites his manager Chubby Chandler.
“He’s got more desire than anyone I’ve ever met and there’s nobody more detailed then him,” says the man who has overseen the careers of the likes of Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood.
“He asks questions, lots of them. He even used to jump in (courtesy) cars with the top players, just so he could learn from them.”
Wallace’s ascent has been swift. In just three years he’s gone from playing at a resort called Dreamland in Egypt on the third tier Alps Tour to real life dreamland, finishing third in May’s PGA Championship.
“That week showed people I can perform at a hard golf course, up against good field, with only Brooks (Koepka) and DJ (Dustin Johnson) ahead of me, feeling comfortable,” he said, an allusion, perhaps, to the perception that one reason Bjorn looked elsewhere 12 months ago was that Wallace was yet to excel at the highest level.
He added tied 12th in the U.S. Open, but as the summer wore on his results were struggling to match expectations and his veteran caddie Dave McNeilly often bore the brunt of his frustrations amid scenes that prompted criticism on social media.
Last month the two parted company, Wallace joining forces with Jonathan Smart, who worked for Danny Willett during his Masters win, but the split from his long-term bagman hurt.
“It was the hardest decision I’ve had to make in my career,” Wallace said. “He’s done so much for me, he got me where I am today. I didn’t want us to go separate ways, I wanted to get through the tough times, but sometimes you’ve got to make big calls.
“It’s the first decision I’ve had to make in my team like that and I didn’t enjoy it. But I didn’t want to keep being like that with Dave and Dave being like that with me. We were going back and forth at each other.”
In just a few weeks the new man has proved himself Smart by nature as well as name.
“I can remember exactly what he said to me on every tee last week and that’s why I was so confident from the tee,” said Wallace. “I’ll keep that to myself, though – top secret.”
Thoughts of the future, and particularly the skirmish with America, are tricky to balance, a factor Chandler is keen to keep in check.
“I’m trying to avoid talk or thoughts of the Ryder Cup,” he optimistically explained. “It needs to just be part of his journey because too many people build it up and then after playing it once they never get back there again.
“I keep saying to him: ‘Don’t make it a goal, you just keep doing what you’re doing and let qualifying take care of itself.’”
Wallace himself is clear.
“I’ve got to take care of the next 25 tournaments, it’s not about one event or this week,” he said. “I work hard when things don’t go right and when I get a chance I don’t back away from it.”