Before this week Matt Wallace’s only experience of Augusta National was driving past it down Washington Road on his way to a college golf tournament.
But after a practice round with three-time champion Sir Nick Faldo and advice from his experienced caddie Dave McNeilly and 2016 winner Danny Willett, the 28-year-old Londoner is daring to dream of becoming the first Masters rookie to win the green jacket for 40 years.
“Dave is loving being back, he’s got plenty of stories,” Wallace told Press Association Sport. “He’s had some good results here and came fifth with Nick Price. Everyone in my team is ready to go and we’re ready to win a big tournament, whether it’s this one or another one.
“We’re going to give ourselves the best chance possible with the preparation that we do. I’m confident in my ability when I’m working hard and playing well. If I can give myself an opportunity to do it I will try and grab it with both hands and I won’t shy away from that situation.
Race to Dubai
“To be the first English player to do it as a rookie would be pretty cool.”
Less than four years ago Wallace was finishing fifth in a tournament on the Alps Tour to move up to 1,672nd in the world rankings, but the following year won six times and then claimed his first European Tour title in Portugal in 2017.
Three more wins in 2018 meant Wallace was unfortunate to miss out on a wild card for the Ryder Cup in Paris, but he ended the year inside the world’s top 50 to earn a treasured invite to the Masters.
“I’ve driven past it before when I was at college and outside the gates it’s strange, you’d never think that there was a golfing Mecca in there,” Wallace added. “I think we had a tournament down in Florida. We were in Alabama so we did a little detour so we could drive past it.
“I wasn’t a very good golfer at the time, I was playing OK but it was always a dream that you’d hopefully play there one day, never knowing how hard you had to work to get there. And I’ll tell you it’s blooming hard to get to that position.
“It’s taken me a long time and a lot of really good golf to get there. It’s a lot of hard work, dedication and time. I’ve always said I want to go there and play in it rather than to watch so I’ve saved that for myself.
“It’s the same as other things like touching trophies before you’ve won it. Having those sorts of goals and dreams, one of them has now been ticked off but hopefully I will save one of those invites and put it next to the green jacket.”
This week will be just Wallace’s fifth appearance in a major and he had failed to make a cut until last year’s US PGA at Bellerive, where he also made a hole-in-one in the third round while playing alongside Jordan Spieth.
“It was massive, massive,” Wallace added. “I knew I had the ability to compete anywhere but I guess the PGA type of course really suits the way I play.
“The learning experience of playing with Jordan Spieth on a Saturday, Tiger Woods behind, a hole-in-one and then playing nicely on Sunday and at the end of the day finishing 19th was amazing, but I also feel like I didn’t play my best golf.
“I played nicely obviously but I didn’t play my best golf so took major confidence from that and ultimately it served me well in the final stretch of the season. Everything’s a stepping stone I feel and it’s going in the right direction.”