Matt Wallace anger management could be key to his Open fortunes

Matt Wallace thrusts his palms forward and laughs. Jermaine Jenas had reached the top of his back swing, aim locked on the par-3 green 170 yards ahead of him.
Click, click, click.
With his club about to start its descent, the camera's shutter fluttered like the wings of mechanical butterfly. Put off by the unexpected rattle, Jenas returned the club at slightly the wrong angle and the ball veered off in a direction best described as 'off-target'.
'See!' chuckled Wallace, gesturing towards the photographers. 'Now you know how we feel! Imagine that happening when there's a tournament on the line.'
Thankfully, for Jenas, there was nothing more than a one-hole lead in a friendly knockabout at stake. And out of a sense of courtesy and fair play, Wallace allowed him to reload and go again. This time, with no distractions, eight-handicapper Jenas flushed his iron to five feet from the hole and Wallace conceded the putt. Lead intact.
It's all smiles as the pair walk off the green and the chat soon moves on to Manchester United, for whom Wallace is a big fan, and whether Paul Pogba will go and whether Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the right man for the job.
But one cannot help thinking that if something similar happens again this week while Wallace is grappling the winds and rolling dunes of Royal Portrush, it is unlikely to end quite as jovially.
And why should it? The Open, the most prestigious golf tournament of them all, could be on the line. Yet on a course as punishing as Portrush, control over the emotions is paramount. Lose your cool, and your chance of sipping from the Claret Jug are likely to go with it.
1. Think 'Strike'
Whenever I am over my shot, I am only thinking one thing: strike. That is the key word. I will sometimes put a dot on the ball and try to focus on it to keep my mind on the strike. Then just swing smooth.
2. Thin it out of fairway bunker
When you are in a fairway bunker, stay tall and just think about hitting the ball. Ignore the sand. If anything, try to thin the ball. At least then you will get it going where you want it. If you get too much sand, you're nowhere. That is the opposite of green side bunkers where you want to think about getting as much sand on to the green as possible.
3. How to hole more putts
When I practise putting, I will put a hole with a tee peg about six inches in front of the ball on the line I have chosen. It is much easier to get a good stroke on the ball over that spot than by aiming up at the hole. That will also help you know if you have read your line correctly.
For Wallace, it may be this which defines or destroys his chances in Northern Ireland. The 29-year-old, the four-time European Tour winner and second in the Race to Dubai, has not always been able to avoid bubbling over when things go awry on the course.
Wallace was criticised after appearing to berate veteran caddie Dave McNeilly at the BMW International Open in Munich last month after twice finding the water on the last hole to see his hopes of defending his title disintegrate.
'I am not proud of how I reacted,' says Wallace, who received a rollicking of his own from his parents for good measure. 'Our process hadn't been quite right, which led to some bad shots and then me over-reacting.
'It is something I really want to improve. We were great after the round, even though people might not expect it. We were laughing about it and hugged it out. Dave and I know exactly what we have been doing wrong and we are going to get over that together.'
'It's weird,' adds Jenas, as they stroll up the next fairway. 'In football those sort of reactions are construed as caring, that they are bothered. On the pitch, we would always say that something good is going to come out of that. We have aired the issue and will move forward as a team. It makes you stronger.
'I want to see passion. We all love it when Ian Poulter is pumping his chest. The worry is you take away that fire and what are you left with? It is a fine balance.'
It is a balance which Wallace knows he has not always got right, a byproduct of his intensity when locked in competition. He apologised for a 'petulant act' in May after he slammed his putter on to the green at the British Masters. At the US Open at Pebble Beach, he whacked his bag with his putter in frustration before later chucking it away after a dropped shot.
Yet if there is one thing that comes through during this round, it is Wallace's honest self-awareness and his drive to improve. He has enlisted the help of Dr Steve McGregor, the performance coach who helped both Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood soar to No 1 in the world.
'It's the area I can improve on the most and the one of which I am least proud. It probably was not noticed three years ago because no one knew who I was. I am excited to show people that I can change and will change.
'I need the control of emotions to help me go to that next level. That is a positive thing. If I can do that, who knows where that can take me.'
Wallace will hope that is to become the first English winner of the Open since Nick Faldo 29 years ago as he continues his rise from, by his own admission, 'pretty much nowhere'.
He turned pro in 2012 but in just the last three years he has gone from the the Alps Tour, the third-tier of golf to the top of the European Tour. He was hugely unlucky to miss out on a place in last year's Ryder Cup. He finished tied for third at the PGA Championship in May and then tied 12th at the US Open. He is is now up to 24th in the world.
His relationship with McNeilly, still strong, could prove invaluable if he is triumph at Portrush. McNeilly, a Northern Irishman himself, knows it well.
McNeilly's experience is vast too. Over his career, he has been 'on the bag' for the likes of Nick Faldo, Nick Price and Padraig Harrington, all of whom went on to become Open champions themselves.
Wallace had never been to Portrush until this week when he played a round with 2011 Open champion Darren Clarke, a member of the club that is holding the competition for the first time since 1951. For a course that has enticed so many unwitting souls into its clutches over, to reveal a few of its secrets before Thursday is priceless knowledge.
Yet there is still so much more work will still need be done before Wallace tees off on Thursday. The nights working through the course planner. That is, says Wallace, when you are allowed to think about the negatives. The bunkers to miss, the rough to avoid, what clubs to get him to what position in what wind. All so that when the tournament begins, and he is over that first shot, his mind is clear. Easier said than done.
'You are allowed to have negative thoughts,' he says. 'Everyone does. It is just how long you keep them in your head.'
Anyone who has played golf knows that feeling, Jenas included. 'The amount of times I have taken a shot and thought the danger is the bunker,' he says. '… and I've hit it in the bunker.'
'Yeah, but when you are taking a penalty, are you thinking 'Don't miss, don't miss'?' asks Wallace.
'Well, no,' replies Jenas.
'It's the same thing. I do this enough to know I don't need them. I can see enough good shots that I know I can hit.'
He has hit plenty on this round too. They both have. Jenas finds the rough but crunches a five-iron, on Wallace's advice, just short of the green. A few more lessons on chipping and putting help him get up and down. Wallace's turn to play caddie.
Wallace is relaxed, certainly more so than on the 72nd in Munich last month. If all goes well this week, and his emotions stay in control, Wallace knows he has a chance.
'It is huge,' he says. 'I am playing some good stuff at the moment. It is another challenge for me to show my improvements on and off the golf course.'

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