Few players will head into the off season with more confidence than Matt Wallace.
The Englishman proved his class in 2018, with three European Tour victories and a second place at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, adding lustre to what has been a magnificent campaign.
That’s not to mention the T5 finish at the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa or his T3 at the China Open, other tournaments where he showed his potential as a world class player.
In fact, the 28-year-old has climbed more than 1,600 places in the world rankings since 2015, having acquired an impressive knack of closing out winning opportunities. And this morning he will wake up ranked 44th in the world after a stellar year on the European Tour.
Speaking to Sport360 at the Els Club on Monday, Audemars Piguet ambassador Wallace said: “It’s been a special year. There has been a lot of ups and down but I think I’ve showed my character to come back from a few missed cuts. To win again when people might start getting into their way and into their head.
“It’s the best year I could wish for and to finish the season with a second place finish in Dubai and to get into the top-50 in the world sets up next year well.”
His three wins this season at the Indian Open, BMW International Open and Made in Denmark tournament were all sublime in different ways, but each one proved to be better than the next.
In India, he birdied the final play-off hole to beat compatriot Andrew Johnston in a thriller. The remarkable thing about this victory was he was three-over par through eight holes of the first round and managed to storm back to take the lead after round three, thus going on to secure the win.
Three months later at the BMW International Open in Germany, he arrived low on confidence and hope after missing the cut at the US Open. Some golfers may suffer after a setback, but Wallace stepped up to produce a scintillating performance and clinch his second win of the year.
Trailing by two shots heading into the final round, he ripped around Golf Club Gut Laerchenhof to card a stunning 65 and hold off home favourite Martin Kaymer by one shot. It was a victory that would underline his status as a rising star in the game.
“All the wins were massive,” he said. “India set the tone. It showed I mean business. To get the next win in Germany after the US Open was special.
“Denmark showed a different side to me because there was so much on the line with Ryder Cup spaces. I had to dig deep to get it done. Denmark was my favourite one because of the whole scenario.”
It was Wallace’s win at the Made in Denmark tournament in September that had golf fans worldwide strongly tipping him as a potential captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup, based on his sparkling form and the manner in which he closed out the tournament.
Around the sweeping greens of Silkeborg, he demonstrated an aggressive side of his game to post eight birdies in his final 11 holes, but it wasn’t enough to convince European captain Thomas Bjorn to select him for the Paris showpiece.
Still, for all the class he has shown this year, he is sure to be a mainstay in European Ryder Cup teams of the future. And he insists he will use the 2018 omission as motivation for selection for Whistling Straits in 2020.
“I was gutted. But I don’t see it as a reason to be upset not to be in the team,” he said.
“To be associated with the Ryder Cup in the first place is special. And to get the support is amazing. I’m a European fan. I love Thomas (Bjorn) and I get on really well with him. He said some really nice things to me. I’m the type of character to use that disappointment as fire. I want to get into the next one badly.
“Even after Sunday in Dubai, I want to get out there and win again. I want to put myself in contention and the Ryder Cup shouldn’t be a difficult thing if I keep going on the path that I want to go on.”
Every golfer who tastes success at the highest level will tell you how valuable their caddie is, and Wallace has one of the best in the business in Dave McNeilly, as well as his coaches Liam James and Rob Rock.
His game is certainly at a new level to where it was back in January and will only improve with more experience on both the European and PGA Tours in future years. At world number 44, the only way is up for the Hillingdon native, with crisp iron play and consistent putting at the heart of what is an exciting and ferocious game plan.
He said: “I’m a totally different player to the start of the year. I’m a different player to when I won in India. My game is even improved since then. My caddie Dave has seen it and my coaches Robert and Liam have seen it. We’re in a good shape. We’ve got some more work to go. We haven’t seen the best of Matt Wallace yet.”
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