Mind Games

The brilliant mind game this Mexico Open leader is playing with . . . himself?

February 23, 2024

Hector Vivas

One of the many beautiful things about a 36-hole cut is that it forces you to be on your game from the very first tee shot. Of course, knowing that doesn't make it any easier to get off to a fast start.

Fast starts have been hard to come by in 2024 for Matt Wallace. The Englishman has missed two out of five cuts to begin the year on the PGA Tour and has a high finish of T-40, which came in a 59-man field at The Sentry early last month. In his most recent two starts on tour at Torrey Pines and TPC Scottsdale, he opened with rounds of 73 and 75. 

Something has changed this week at the Mexico Open, where Wallace has gone 66-65 to reach 11 under and grab a share of the 36-hole lead. Wallace had his caddie, Jamie Lane, to thank for that after his second round at Vidanta Vallarta on Friday. Lane came up with a brilliant mind trick for Wallace to play on himself for this week, and the scheme is clearly working. 

"Basically we started tournaments pretty poorly this year," Wallace said. "And it's kind of been like, OK, we'll see how it goes to start the tournament on Thursday. We find ourselves behind the 8 ball and then we've played really well on Fridays because we've been determined to get the score back."

On his last two Fridays, Wallace has shot a two-under 70 and a seven-under 64. The plan? Make Fridays the new Thursdays. Or something like that. 

"So we kind of came up with a system of like starting over par so we've already played one round, right?" he said. "To make the cut, you've got to get yourself into it. So yesterday was four over and we managed to shoot one under, which is five under, and today it was three over. It's not nice standing on that 10th tee, three over already. Then I bogeyed it, so I was four over, so I had to get it back. That sort of determination and focus really helped."

For those still confused, Wallace is saying that he pretended that he was four over par before he even began the tournament this week. That way, he'd trick his brain into thinking that he needed to fight back in order to make the cut. That led to a five-under 66, which in his system was actually a one-under round. On Friday, he told himself he was three over standing on his first hole, the 10th, which is playing nearly a half stroke over par this week, making it the hardest hole on the golf course. 

It's brilliant stuff. It's also sort of hilarious the mind games a high level tour pro has to play on himself in order to get himself into the game. Whatever works, right? As it stands, Wallace is top five in the field in both strokes-gained/putting and approach. Now he just has to figure out how he's going to actually convince himself he's over par when they announce his name in the final pairing on Saturday.