Matt Wallace started the 2017 season as a definite ‘one to watch’ following his record-breaking exploits on the satellite Alps Tour last year and, having lived up to his billing in Kenya, he is hoping to build on that confidence at the Turkish Airlines Challenge.
The Englishman led going into the final round of the season-opening Barclays Kenya Open but could not live with his inspired playing partner Aaron Rai, though a late rally secured him a share of third place.
The 27 year old won six times last year, including five tournaments in a row, and rather than treating his elevation to the Challenge Tour as a new chapter, he is keen to continue in the same vein.
“I’m carrying that on, for sure,” he said. “I can’t speak from experience, but I think the tours are getting closer and closer, and the quality of the golfers is getting better and better.
“Doing what I did last year, it was almost no surprise that when I went to Sweden for my first European Tour event, having only played one Challenge Tour event before that, I was in sixth place after two rounds.
“If you play good golf, the scores will take care of themselves and it doesn’t matter who’s playing, so I think if you play the golf you know you’re capable of doing you can compete with anyone.
Playing against my idols makes you go 'wow!' - but you need to forget about it, it's just you and the golf ball
“The quality of players out in Kenya, you just go ‘wow!’ Because I used to watch these guys on TV, they were my idols, and now you’re competing against them – it’s the same here this week.
“I actually messaged Ollie Wilson on Instagram and just said ‘I love your work, I love the way you go about your game, hopefully we can get a practice round in at some point,’ and he replied saying yes, so I’m really looking forward to that.
“He’s a Ryder Cup player, I mean, that’s incredible! But the standard, on Alps Tour, Challenge Tour and European Tour, is now so bunched, so having done that well last year, I’m definitely drawing on that confidence coming into this season.
“I think there’s so much more to learn from now with Trackman and other technology, we all know the drills we need to do, and it’s a lot easier to compare yourself with the very best and learn what you need to work on.
“Then it’s the mental side, and can you deal with the pressure of competing, and that’s just an experience thing really, but just playing against these guys is amazing – but then you need to forget about it. It’s just you and the golf ball, you and the golf course, and that’s it.”
Turning his thoughts to the disappointment of the near-miss in Kenya, Wallace is justifiably drawing the positives from banking so many Road to Oman Rankings points at the earliest opportunity.
Though Rai is his compatriot, his mother’s Kenyan heritage saw him embraced by the home fans as one of their own, and their enthusiastic support helped sweep him to victory – at the expense of Wallace, whose grace in defeat endures.
I didn't lose it, he definitely won it - I'll learn from it for next time
“I just didn’t hole the putts that I normally would have done,” he said. “Aaron played so well though, he was three under through four and took the lead and then I was playing catch up.
“I didn’t lose it, he definitely won it – I didn’t play great but he deserved to win. But I know that if I had made some more putts then it could have been interesting.
“He got the early momentum and I started to chase it a little bit and was missing a few putts but I holed one on 11 and I played really nicely from then on, made three more birdies, so I was four under for the final eight holes which I took a lot of positivity from coming into this week.
“The atmosphere was a bit different, but I’ve had a bit of that before, especially when you’re playing in someone else’s country, and it was tough but you just take it for what it is and crack on – it’s just golf at the end of the day.
“I’ll learn from it, learn how to deal with it better next time, not that I didn’t deal with it well then, but hopefully they’ll be on my side the next time.”
Gloria Golf Club again plays host this week and Wallace has been benefitting from some insider knowledge by picking the brains of Clément Sordet, the winner around the New Course 12 months ago.
“I’m feeling really good,” he said. “I had a couple of weeks at home with my coach, just working on my game, working on stuff I needed to work on from Kenya.
“I also asked Clément about the golf course because we’re in the same management company, and he gave me some advice which is amazing! I can work on that and from the practice days I love the golf course.
“It’s a tough golf course and you’re going to have to play good golf, but that’s what we’re here for and you’ll get rewarded for playing well.“It should be perfect for my game. It’s pretty long but if I drive it well I’ll give myself a lot of chances so that’s what I’m aiming to do.”