English golfer Matt Wallace sits 2 strokes behind fellow countrymen Matthew Fitzpatrick entering Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. The 28-year old shot 2-straight rounds of 3-under par to put himself within striking range of his first PGA Tour win. He will tee off alongside Australia’s Aaron Baddeley at 1:35 p.m. EST (Golf Channel, NBC).
The 6-foot, 187-pounder is jockeying with the likes of defending Arnold Palmer champion Rory McIlroy, the No. 6 player in the world. Wallace currently ranks No. 37.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. He’s Coming Off a Spectacular Season on the European Tour
Wallace entered 2019 after 4 European Tour victories last season, including 3 in the 2018 calendar year. This took him across the globe, as he seized the Hero Indian Open in New Delhi, the BMW International Open in Germany and the Made in Denmark title at the Silkeborg Ry Golf Club.
His efforts nearly earned him a wildcard spot on the Ryder Cup team captained by Thomas Bjorn. The Danish golfer eventually passed, but Wallace appreciated the long look.
“It was amazing to be part of that conversation,” says Wallace. “If you’d told me at the seat of the year I would be close to making the team I would have bitten your hand off. So, although it was disappointing at the end, I gave myself a great chance. I did everything I could do. Only the big events in the summer let me down (he missed the cut in four successive events—the French Open, Irish Open, Scottish Open and Open Championship). But that is part of learning during your first year on tour. So, while it was hard not to make the side, it is hard to disagree with what Thomas did. I’m certainly not arguing. He made the right picks. I’m a European fan, so to see them win was amazing. But it has also added to my desire to make the next team.”
Team Europe topped Team USA 17.5 to 10.5 in France for its fourth win in the last 5 meetings.
Wallace’s win at Made in Denmark came in a playoff with 3 other Englishman: Lee Westwood, Steven Brown and Jonathan Thomson. Wallace said that his “grit and determination” put him over the top.
“That playoff was pretty mental,” he said. “4-man…to keep the 100 percent record as well from India is really nice. To do it in the style I’ve done it…I birdied the last 5 holes, including the 2 playoff holes there…That grit and determination. That’s what I’m all about.”
He also beat out Andrew “Beef” Johnston in a playoff for the Hero Indian Open.
2. He Drained a Hole-in-One at the 2018 PGA Championship
The Englishman has only appeared in 8 PGA Tour events, including 2 U.S. Opens, an Open Championship and last summer’s PGA Tour Championship in Bellrive Country Club in Missouri. At that event, he drained a hole-in-one on the 16th hole.
Following the make, he tossed the ball into the crowd. It was just the 26th ace in PGA Championship history since 1983.
In every other major, Wallace has missed the cut. Since his breakout top-20 finish in Missouri, he’s been rising on the PGA circuit. To start the year, he notched a 2-under at the World Golf Championships in Mexico for a 33rd-place finish. A week ago, he earned a tie for 20th at the Honda Classic.
These recent results have helped him garner $177,861 in PGA winnings since last August.
3. He Challenged Himself by Competing in the Alps Tour
The Londoner left England for an extended period to golf on scholarship at Jacksonville State University in Florida. TPC Sawgrass was just miles down the road.
He said to Golfworld that his dad sent him there to “find what he wanted to do.”
It was hard graft. Workouts at 6 a.m. Classes until 2 p.m. Then golf until 7 p.m. Then repeat every day for three months. But when I came home I was promoted into England Golf’s elite squad. That was special, so I decided not to go back to the States, even though I had done well over there. I won freshman of the year in my conference. My team won the conference and I had a decent stroke average. But I still wasn’t close to the player I am now.
That hard work set him up for a chance to tackle the European Tour. Since the logistics of travel were easy (he could drive to most events in England), he decided to challenge himself on the developmental Alps Tour. He golfed in places such as France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and Morocco.
On the Alps Tour you don’t know when your next meal is going to be. I went to places where they weren’t familiar with English or the language. I had to learn how to say ‘bread’ in a few different languages. But it was all good for me and helped me enjoy the good stuff. I spent three years losing golf tournaments. I don’t want that to happen again.
He moved onto the European Tour after 6 Alps Tour wins, including 5 in a row in 2016.
4. He Considered Quitting Golf at One Point
In a conversation with John Clarke of the New York Times, Wallace revealed that he was close to quitting golf only a few years before the success he saw in the Alps and abroad.
“I started to send off emails to management companies,” said Wallace. “I decided I would use my love for sport and go down that route. I never got one reply.”
He instead refocused and hired coach Matt Belsham in 2015. He focused on his technique, stating that his problem wasn’t mental or lack of confidence.
Belsham said he would have to change fundamental techniques of hitting the ball to reach the level he wanted to play; he also told Wallace that he was nowhere near that level. “He was brutal and blunt, which was exactly what I needed,” Wallace said. They worked hard on his swing with the theory the swing makes the ball do what it wants to do. “He was brilliant,” Wallace said.
A year later, he was taking the European Tour by storm.
5. He Has Been Dating a Woman Named Chelsie Joce
Wallace is dating an English blogger named Chelsie Joce. Her site is called Girl on Tour, which chronicles her travels alongside Wallace.
The earliest mention Wallace made about her was back in June 2017 to The Telegraph. He was speaking about his parents watching him on the European Tour at the Pyramids Open.
“Dad played for Wasps in the Seventies and they are both PE teachers and are very sporty and know what I’m striving for. They are coming to Erin Hills with me and my girlfriend, Chelsie, and it’ll be wonderful to be there with them, to highlight how far I’ve come.