EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Matt Wallace on striving to win, his 2019 season and playing with Tiger Woods

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The journey from Heathrow Airport to his base in Sunningdale takes 20 minutes on a quiet day.

Anyone who has driven along the A30 knows how treacherous it can be during rush hour, leaving plenty of time to ponder.

So when he arrives back to London later this week and takes the short journey home, a road he navigates countless times per year, Matt Wallace will reflect on what has been his finest season yet.

By his own competitive standards, the world No29 may be disappointed not to have added to his four European Tour triumphs, but stellar results should be commended on a personal level nevertheless.

He started off the year with second at the Dubai Desert Classic and followed that up with a T6 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Florida.

In May, he recorded a T2 at the British Masters and then achieved a stunning T3 at the PGA Championship in Bethpage Black.

That’s not to mention his T12 at the US Open and third place finishes at the KLM Open and BMW Open.

There were top-10s also thrown in the mix at the Italian Open and Portugal Masters. Results that would delight most players.

But Wallace is different. He has that inner resolve. That steely determination. Something you can’t teach a person. It’s a drive where one is constantly motivated by the next target and, most of all, to win.

Reflecting on his season, Audemars Piguet ambassador Wallace told Sport360: “There was good consistency all year, some good results which is nice, but I am always striving to win. You want to get over the line and hold the trophy. I guess it just wasn’t my year this year.

“I got off to such a good start at the beginning of the year that I felt I could really push on and really make something of the Race to Dubai, but unfortunately I didn’t.

“I played a lot this year. The last five weeks I was trying to run on adrenaline and that didn’t see me through. I didn’t play as well as I wanted to at the end of the year. Overall, I’d give myself a B+ grade for my efforts.”

The B+ grade is still a formidable achievement by most people’s high standards but there is always a motivation to do better for Wallace.

Although he played two less tournaments than his 2018 season, the 29-year-old travelled to compete in more events in different countries and missed fewer cuts. Naturally, between the gruelling schedule and additional time on course, it affected his energy levels and general sharpness.

Yet each year is a learning curve and every professional will have their various takeaways that will help spur them on to become more rounded and crafted players for the following year.

Rest and an improved schedule for the new season is sure to bring back that mental and physical freshness that he desires, and hopefully propel him to further success.

“I definitely saw improvements in my game in Dubai last week. I’ve got to work on my technique a little bit more. I need to work on my driving and get it back to where it was at the start of the season. I’ve improved my iron play but that can still be improved. Short game, putting as well,” said Wallace.

“The key for me is rest. To get my sharpness back and get my intensity back to be able to come to Abu Dhabi at the start of the year and then I have Dubai and give it the best shot I’ve got. I enjoy playing in the desert so hopefully I can come back and be confident and give myself the best chance.”

Away from the results and various improvements, playing with Tiger Woods at the Open Championship at Portrush ranks among the finest moments of his campaign.

An idol for every golfer, it must have been daunting to see your name drawn to play alongside the 15-time major champion for the opening two rounds in the final major of the year.

Wallace actually first met Woods as a bright-eyed 13-year-old at the Open in Royal St. George’s in 2003 and, while the American is unlikely to remember their first encounter, the Londoner will always hold that memory.

“It was amazing. It was the highlight of my year after my own results was to be able to play with Tiger Woods. He’s a super nice guy and great to play with. His aura and everything about him and the crowds that he brings. Hopefully I’ll get to play with him again in the future,” he said.

Wallace performed admirably with Woods, posting solid rounds of 73 and 70 to sit on one-over par at the halfway stage, while Woods missed the cut after carding disappointing rounds of 78 and 70 to end any hopes of a fourth Open triumph.

Regardless, it was memorable for the Hillingdon native.

“I was there to watch him rather than play myself really, but as soon as I got over the initial ‘I’m playing with Tiger’, it was then full focus on how I am going to perform as best as I can. I think actually playing with him helped me to focus better,” he recalls.

“I remember on the first tee, he hit it up the left hand side, and I remember saying ‘he is human after all’ and I hit mine down the middle. At the end of the day, he can’t affect how I play and he won’t care where my ball goes. I needed to do my job.

“I was happy with how I performed with Tiger and it’s a great story to have for the rest of my life.”

Despite ending the year without a victory, Wallace has been consistent all season and that should bode well when he takes a well-deserved break from competitive action this week.

He’ll do his best to keep the clubs away for a few weeks, but that competitive beast in him is sure to want to get back out playing, hitting the gym and fine-tuning his mental game ahead of the 2020 season.

Twelve months ago, he just broke into the world top-50 at number 44 on the back of his T2 finish in Dubai. Now, just over a year later, he sits handsomely in 29th place.

Life is good for Wallace. He bought his first house earlier this year in Sunningdale, has great people around him and his golf is continuing to brim with class and purpose.

“I’m learning more and more. For next season, I’m going to get back to the ambitious younger Matt Wallace that I was a couple of years ago when I didn’t really care and I tried to win as many tournaments as possible. This year, I tried to conserve a little bit because I knew I was playing all around the world,” he said.

“I’ll be heading into every single event next year with lots of energy because I’ll have my schedule planned a bit better so I’m going to be giving my best in every single tournament and try to win every one.”

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