Matt Wallace interview: Road to the Ryder Cup begins at the Desert Swing

English golfer's game is moving in the right direction as he targets tournament wins and a place on the European team 'on merit'

Matt Wallace is determined to make the 2020 Ryder Cup team after narrowly missing out in 2018. Sponsors photo
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Ask Matt Wallace what represent his goals for next season and the answer comes back before the question has time to settle.

“Win,” says the Englishman. “Pretty simple.”

In truth, it felt the only thing missing from the campaign just gone. Wallace’s 2019 might not have been highlighted by three victories like the year before, but it was another season of golfing growth.

Tied-third at the PGA Championship was a standout showing, to go with the runner-up finish at both the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and the British Masters, helping comprise eight top 10s in all. At one point, Wallace climbed to a career-high 23rd in the world rankings.

And, although the absence of a win stings somewhat with the year now closed, improvements have been made. Assessing the season, just as it was in outlining his 2020 targets, doesn’t require much thinking.

“Pretty simple really: good in spells and not the best of finish,” said Wallace on the sidelines of a golf day for sponsors Audemars Piguet. “But if I look at the overall place of where my game’s at, I finished seventh on the Race to Dubai and was 10th last year.

“I’m [30th] in the world, improving on my world ranking as well, so I’m very happy with how I’m progressing. Just a shame I couldn’t capitalise on a really good start to the season with the Rolex Series events and the others at the end.”

Indeed, Wallace’s best performance at the business end of the season came in the European Tour finale, a T28 at the DP World Tour Championship last month. Having sought to conclude the campaign on a high, he puts the disappointing run – T60 China, T50 Turkey, T44 South Africa – down to a gas tank running empty.

With 28 events, Wallace may have played one fewer tournament than last year, but the four competitive weeks on the bounce were a culmination of a season spent trekking the world to compete – a sign of his relatively newfound place among the game’s elite.

“That was the biggest frustration: the last five weeks,” he says. “I was probably very, very tired and played a lot of golf. So feeling fine, but just not being able to play the golf I know I can.”

Still, the highlights came earlier in the year. At the Open in July, Wallace was paired for the opening two rounds with Tiger Woods and, after initially coming to terms with playing alongside one of his golfing heroes, he outperformed the 15-time major champion.

Wallace shot rounds of 73 and 70 at Royal Portrush to sit a 1-over par; Woods, a three-time winner of the Claret Jug, missed the cut. It’s just one of the experiences in 2019 he looks back at fondly.

“Obviously playing with Tiger at the Open was really special, I loved that,” Wallace says. “And the second was probably playing all four majors; playing the Masters; coming third at the PGA; playing Pebble Beach, another course I’ve always wanted to play, and to play well there [T12 at the US Open].”

It motivates Wallace for what he hopes to be an even better 2020. Other than a return to the winner’s circle, cracking the world’s top 10 ranks as a priority. So, too, a debut run at the Ryder Cup.

Wallace, 29, came agonisingly close to making the European team last year, when he triumphed at Made in Denmark for a third victory of the season and a fourth win on tour. It was weeks out from the Ryder Cup in France, days before captain Thomas Bjorn announced his wild cards. In the end, the Dane plumped for the experience of Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.

At the time, many thought Wallace should have gotten the nod. The frustration at missing out, though, will fuel him to qualify automatically for Padraig Harrington’s side at Whistling Straits next September.

“Massive,” he says. “I play with all of the guys pretty much every week who have been part of Ryder Cups and played in the last. Yeah, it’s pushing me forward so much, especially how close I came last time as well.

“So I want to be there. And hopefully I won’t give Padraig the choice to have to pick me and I’ll be there on merit.”

It makes a fast start at the Desert Swing all the more important. After much-needed rest and then some fine-tune time on the range, Wallace will open his season with next month’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA, for what will be his third appearance at the National course. Earlier this year, he finished T16.

The following week, at the Desert Classic, he will bid to finish one place higher than he did in February. That would be the win chalked off nice and early.

“I love Dubai, I love playing in the Middle East,” Wallace says. “Abu Dhabi and Dubai are two of my favourite events in the season. So, coming back here at the start of next year, I’ll be raring to go and hoping to put myself back in position that I did last year and go one better.”