Matt Wallace’s Hero Indian Open victory will have been met with a mixture of pride and mild panic in the England Golf offices at Woodhall Spa. Pride that another England Golf graduate has won on the European Tour, and panic that it could force more young players to jump to the professional ranks too soon.
Add Wallace’s name to that of Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Chris Paisley, Jordan Smith, Andy Sullivan and Oliver Fisher to name a few young Englishmen to have won on the European Tour in recent years. Throw in the man Wallace beat in a playoff to win the Indian Open, Andrew Johnston.
Wallace had a decent amateur career, but nothing compared to the above players. He won the 2011 Czech Amateur and Argentine Amateur championships, but it paled in comparison to the exploits of most of his contemporaries. No Walker Cup appearance for Wallace, unlike Fleetwood, Fitzpatrick, Smith, Sullivan, Paisley and Fisher. He’s more Ian Poulter than Justin Rose – Poulter had no amateur career to speak of, while Rose was the darling of amateur golf.
Not many would have predicted Wallace becoming a two-time European Tour winner, just as few would have picked Poulter to become a 12-time champion or Ryder Cup star.
Wallace seemed to be treading a familiar path of many England Golf graduates after he turned pro in 2012 off a handicap of plus 4. He seemed destined for a mini-tour life. For every Fleetwood who wins the European Tour money list, there are Englishmen like Stiggy Hodgson, Dale Whitnell, Luke Goddard, Sam Hutsby and Matt Haines who toil in obscurity, still hoping to one day fulfil their dreams of European Tour glory. All five played with Fleetwood in the 2009 Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team. So did Paisley, winner of this year’s BMW SA Open.
Haines was predicted to have the best career of the above after winning the 2008 Lytham Trophy. In 2010 he beat Fleetwood to win the Spanish Amateur. Yet he’s disappeared off the radar.
Wallace didn’t come close to a Walker Cup appearance. He made three unsuccessful trips to the European Tour Qualifying Tour. In 2016 he was plying his trade on the Alps Tour, a European circuit beneath the Challenge Tour. He made a name for himself there by setting a record with five consecutive wins.
Scroll down to 2017 and Wallace finished third in the Barclays Kenya Open at the start of the Challenge Tour schedule. It pointed to a hopeful season of finishing inside the top 15 to gain a card for the 2018 European Tour season. Two months later he took care of that by winning the Portuguese Open. It’s an event that counts on both the European Tour and Challenge Tour, an administrative trick only the European Tour could think up. (Seriously, why can’t a tournament be either a European Tour or European Challenge Tour event?)
Portugal was the springboard by which Wallace gained a foothold on the European Tour. The rest seems like a script made in heaven. He now has a European Tour exemption through the end of the 2020.
Well done Matt Wallace, England Golf would say. Deep down that group’s leaders might be thinking the floodgates are going to remain open.
England Golf spends a lot of money nurturing young players, money that doesn’t always get the best return. Sure, it can help produce excellent talent, but it can have a negative effect on England’s chances of winning major team competitions such as the World Amateur Team Championship, the European Nations Cup and Home Internationals, because the turnover of players is so rapid.
Three-time Walker Cup captain Nigel Edwards, England Golf’s performance director, has spoken many times to Golfweek about the problem he has choosing teams because so many players jump to the professional ranks each year. Edwards watched in dismay as more than 20 England players turned professional between the 2013 and 2015 Walker Cup matches. That figure was more than 30 between the 2015 and 2017 contests.
Edwards tries to advise English amateurs to consider when to turn professional precisely because so many are in a hurry to do so before they’re ready. “They can’t all play on the European Tour,” Edwards said.
Yet you can’t blame players such as Wallace for wanting to earn a ticket for the European Tour’s gravy train. He’s made just over $1.1 million in the last 15 months.
No wonder the England production line shows no sign of shutting down. Gwk