Kent professional Richard Wallis will be, almost, rubbing shoulder with the stars this week, writes Steve Acteson.
Canterbury Golf Club’s Great Britain & Ireland International coaching professional plays in a European Tour charity pro-am event on Thursday, with a £10,000 first prize for the professionals.
Wallis has been invited to play in a high-class field of 53 teams of amateurs and pros, including former Ryder Cup captain and eight-times European No.1 Colin Montgomerie, who now plays on the stellar Seniors Tour and has already won three Seniors Majors.
The event is hosted by European Tour players Paul Waring and Andy Sullivan and includes fellow Tour players Steven Brown, Laurie Canter and Richard Bland at the 6,400 yards, par 71, Worplesdon Golf Club, Surrey, in a fund raiser for the Rainbow Trust children’s charity.
The invitation more than makes up for the disappointment Wallis felt when his first tournament after the coronavirus lockdown, the one-day London Open at West Byfleet GC, which was also scheduled for June 25, was cancelled by the PGA due to ‘government restrictions’.
Wallis, aged 38 and who lives with his family near Herne Bay, said: “I don’t know about rubbing shoulders with the stars because we’ll be social distancing.
“But I am excited about it, it will be good fun and an easy opportunity to play alongside European Tour pros without it being a European Tour event. It’s an 18 hole stroke-play event for the pros and the amateurs can contribute to your card.’’
After working hard in the gym all winter and during the lockdown to banish his troublesome back problems Wallis is relishing the prospect of some competitive golf that after winning his first tournament of the year by a massive 24 shots in Spain at the end of February, before the Coronavirus hit.
He hit agolden patch of form at the end of an otherwise disappointing, injury-hit 2019 as GB&I’s best player in a narrow PGA Cup defeat to the USA in Austin, Texas in September and then winning the Sandwich Links Championship over two rounds at Royal St George’s and Prince’s GC two weeks later.
He made the GB&I team by finishing second in the PGA Club Professional championship at Hunstanton in Norfolk in June. Both that result and his international rating means he goes straight into final qualifying when the Open Championship is staged, a year late, at Royal St George’s in July 2021.
Wallis said: “I made a good start to my tournament year near the end of February at El Rompido in Spain.
“The course was quite tricky and demanding off the tee but I had done some work on my game and played quite nicely.
“It was a pro individual with a field of 22, which I won by 24 shots with a pro-am on the side, which I played with three of my sponsors, Canterbury members Ken Williamson from Strata, Richard Beer from Jemfruits and Kevin Williamson from Synergy and we won that by eight shots.
“Since the lockdown eased I’ve had three or four game, I’ve hit loads of balls in practice and my new Titleist wedges have arrived but I’m still a bit rusty because I haven’t been able to play on the course much and certainly not with a card in my hand for a few months.
“But it’s all okay, my game is quite nice, I’m hitting it well on the range and now I’ve got to try to take that across onto the golf course. It’s all about confidence, because if you start to doubt yourself that’s when you get into trouble.
“I’ve had a good winter in the gym working with my fitness trainer Lewis McCulloch at the DW Gym in Canterbury, who have been kind enough to give me free membership because I’m a local sportsman and a GB and I player.
“My back is strong now and overall, physically, I’m a lot stronger than I was. I have tried to keep up my fitness during the lockdown which was was difficult and I’m hitting the ball further now.
“I was planning to target the EuroPro Tour and a few other things this season but with the Tour having been cancelled for the rest of the year, it’s been a bit tricky to re-evaluate my targets.
“Having finished second in the national championships and become a GB and I player I am now exempt though to the final round of qualifying for The Open for the next two years.
“So really my targets are to stay fit, keep the game going and next year get through final qualifying and play in what will effectively be a home Open Championship.”
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