March 11, 2018: Winning is a character trait. Ever since Matt Wallace activated his hitherto dormant genetic material in 2016, he is a man on a hunt. The 152nd ranked golfer went “all in” on Sunday to score a memorable victory in the Hero Indian Open. It needed a playoff to edge out Andrew Johnston, who played brilliant golf to force it with a birdie at the 17th hole.
The art of winning did not come easy for the 27-year-old from Middlesex County. In 2014, already a couple of seasons into his career as a professional, Wallace was at the crossroads.
The game was asking some uncomfortable questions and the perturbed young man mailed out his resume to the IMG and ISM, hoping to find a job in management.
Just as well that neither of them thought much of him as a management professional.
After hurtling around without success for much of 2015, Wallace reached out to his namesake, Matt Belsham towards the end of the year. That meeting in Hertfordshire proved fortuitous, as the ideas triggered a new world of possibilities for Wallace.
The results were nearly immediate as Wallace conquered the Alps Tour in 2016 – claiming six wins in seven events, including a quintet on the run. Soon Chubby Chandler became his manager and Robert Rock signed on as a coach.
In only his third start on the European Tour, Wallace secured himself with victory in the Open de Portugal last year. He had a two-stroke cushion in the Italian Open too, but the silver slipped out grasp on a weary Sunday.
There was no such let down on a bright and balmy Sunday at the DLF Golf & Country Club in Gurugram.
Wallace pulled clear with some early birdies and made the turn in 32. He buttressed himself with a fifth birdie at the 11th and stayed in control for the rest of the day to clinch his second win on the European Tour.
“I’m ecstatic,” said the Englishman. “I just played some amazing golf.
“I hit some really good shots and that play-off: I pumped it down there on the last and it went a long way and then a four iron went even further than I thought it would so I was jacked up a bit. To hit two shots like that is exactly why I play the game.”
Back to back top ten finishes for Shubhankar Sharma
Shubhankar made a rousing start to the final day. Birdies at the second and fourth put the Indian firmly on the path to a dream finish on his home course. But a couple of nervous mistakes proved expensive, as double bogeys at the fifth and seventh jolted him five strokes back.
The tee shot at the fifth got wet, falling woefully short of the spectacular island green. At the seventh, he flew right into the vegetation, needing a chip out to just get back into play.
“I made a great start. I was between yardages on the fifth. My six iron did not come off as I thought it might and I ended up in the water,” explained Shubhankar. “I hit a bad shot on the seventh and it was always going to be difficult from there. You cannot make a pair of double bogeys when you are in contention.”
“But I am happy to have made six birdies today. It is not often that you make so many in a single round. I finished with a birdie on the 18th hole and another top ten finish,” added the 21-year-old. “It was nice to enjoy the support from the crowds this week. I will look forward to taking a couple of days off, before starting preparations for the three weeks in America.”
Andrew “Beef” Johnston was feeding off a pleasant week. The taste of Indian food has been an endearing experience for the young man. But nothing excites a golfer as the scent of victory on a Sunday morning. Johnson caught the smell and arrived early on Sunday to sweat under the Sun. He spent an hour warming up before launching into a final round built on purpose.
Beef was matching Wallace stroke for stroke, but he was chasing all day. He was playing in front on the clock though and a birdie at the 17th cut the lead to one. Wallace obliged with a bogey on the 16th and the two men caught up with each other for a playoff.
It only lasted one hole, at the par-5 18th. Wallace fired away with a lot of belief, reaching the green in two. Beef chose a more conservative path, opting to lay up and work from there. He nearly sank the fourth in the cup with a fine wedge shot, but it wasn’t to be. Wallace prevailed to win the title with another birdie.