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In defence of Matt Wallace

Matt Wallace

If conventional wisdom holds true, and everybody deserves a second chance, then golf fans should pause in their rush to judgment of Matt Wallace.

The Englishman has become something of a social media whipping boy in recent weeks and months following a series of petulant outbursts.

Fits of pique at the British Masters and US Open were compounded by multiple tense exchanges with his caddie, Dave McNeilly, during the final round of the BMW International Open two weeks ago.

All of which has conspired to debase Wallace’ reputation. The court of public opinion has judged him – and the verdict from the armchair jury ain’t good.

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He’s been called a “bully”, a “brat” and much worse besides. His stock is low, his popularity mangled. The good will he accrued after being  overlooked for a Ryder Cup spot last year has largely evaporated.

There is, though, a ‘but’. A very significant, very important ‘but’.

Ahead of this week’s Irish Open, Wallace spoke to reporters on-site at Lahinch where he took full ownership of his recent failings.

“I'm not proud of how I dealt with that situation,” he said, referring to the final round falling out with McNeilly in Munich. “I need to take full responsibility for what I did there - and I know that. It's something I am working on.”

Matt Wallace 3

He added that he has spoken with the tour’s chief executive Keith Pelley on more than one occasion about his future and, more recently, about how to control his emotions.

Actions, of course, will speak louder than words but Wallace deserves credit for acknowledging the error of his ways.

More just that, he deserves the opportunity to right his self-made wrongs.

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It’s important to bear in mind that Wallace has done nothing worse than fall short of the exceptionally high standards expected of a professional golfer. He has broken no rules. This is, essentially, a matter of etiquette.

There is a double standard in the way golfers are judged relative to other athletes. Footballers, for example, can spit their way through ninety minutes. Golfers who do likewise are marmalised. Other sportspeople can cheat and gouge and snipe their way to victory and be celebrated for it. For golfers, such behaviour would (quite rightly) precipitate excommunication.

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So, amidst the fire and fury of social media reactionism, it’s worth reminding ourselves of Wallace’s “crimes”.

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The way he has spoken to his caddie at times? Unacceptable.

But tossing clubs at his bag? Huffing and puffing after dropping shots? Throwing balls in the water? These hardly merit wrath with which they have been met. I genuinely don't see the problem with players reacting when things don't go as they'd hoped. They're human, so why shouldn't their reactions be?

The people who arrogantly denounce their behaviour are probably the same folk who sit their kids down to watch Neymar and Co. roll and writhe around the football pitch in faux agony.

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Again, it speaks to a double standard. People lament the lack of characters in golf, bemoaning the bland, automated personalities that appear to dominate the game. Yet as soon as somebody comes along and demonstrates a bit of fire, they have it doused by condemnation. Passion and will to win are, evidently, prescriptive things. We like them on our terms and nobody else’s. It’s a hypocritical position that says more about us than those we judge.

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Wallace is an exciting young player. You don’t win four times on the European Tour, contend in majors and force your way into conversations for Ryder Cup selection by fluke. He is a serious talent. 

Perfect? Of course he's not - but who is?

I have huge respect for anybody, particularly those in the public eye, who have the gumption to acknowledge their shortcomings. It’s not an easy thing to do. That's why many better and higher-profile people than Wallace have resisted.

Actions speak louder than words? That, too, is correct. Wallace should now be judged on how and if he mends his ways. But he deserves the opportunity to do so. Everybody does.

McNeilly clearly believes in him. Why else would he remain on his bag?

Perhaps we should follow his lead. "He that is without sin among you", etc.

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