Connor Wallace, a 16 year-old sophomore at Glacier Charter High School, may be small at 5-foot-4, 100 pounds, but he made a big splash in the Fresno Open Professional Golf Tournament Feb. 24-26.
Played at Dragon Fly Golf Club (formerly River Bend) on Ave. 12, the tournament, part of the Golden State Tour, included an international field of golfers from as far as Switzerland and Canada, along with 11 states including New York and Hawaii.
After a difficult first day for the young amateur, Wallace regrouped and shot a 78 for his second round on one of the longest courses in professional golf at nearly 7,500 yards. Wallace’s play got the attention of tour officials who sent out a tweet congratulating him on his efforts.
Wallace was one of a handful of non-professionals that were allowed to play in the Fresno Open.
While many of the pros celebrated their rounds with their wives and a cold drink at the end of play at Dragon Fly, it was back to school for Connor, just in time for his robotics class.
Quick learner at the age of 12
Connor, who lives in Teaford Meadow with his family - father and coach Brian, mother Stephanie, and an older brother - first picked up a golf club at the age of 12.
Connor was 12 when he and his father were visiting friends who had a synthetic practice green with sand bunkers at their home. He picked up a nine iron for the first time, and made a chip shot 20 yards from the pen. To his surprise, the ball hit the green and rolled into the cup.
After telling his dad what he had just done, Brian Wallace asked his son to do it again - and like the first shot, Connor’s ball hit the synthetic green and again rolled into the cup.
“Connor got my attention when I saw him hit that second shot in the cup,” Brian said. “I realized Connor had a natural talent for golf, and I soon started teaching him the game.”
In the golf world, 12 is pretty old to take up the game, considering most professionals start swinging clubs at the age of 6 or 7.
After playing a total of nine holes in his life, Connor told his dad he wanted to play in a tournament. Brian, feeling it was way too early, dismissed the idea at first but after much persistence on Connor’s part, told him to look for a youth tournament close to home.
“Not thinking that I would hear anymore about it, Connor found a junior tournament by that afternoon,” Brian said. “He actually did well considering he was competing in his first nine-hole tournament.”
Within a few months of playing tournaments with the Central Valley Junior Golf Association (CVJGA), Connor shot a 42 and finished second in the season championship.
Connor wanted to enter a statewide event, but his father told him he could not enter until he won a Valley tournament. Connor wasted little time, being named the season champion for his age group after winning six of seven CVJGA tournaments that season.
Before golf, Conner was an outstanding soccer player, being a member of the Yosemite High varsity team as a freshman.
Short game is his strength
Connor’s tee shots average about 265 yards, which is average for his age, but his short game (pitching and putting) is where his strengths lie.
“I like all parts of golf but my strength is the short game,” Connor said. “It is where I spend the most time practicing. It’s the short game that makes the difference between a good player and an elite player.”
As a charter school student, he has the flexibility to practice about 30 hours a week and currently carries a “zero” handicap, unusual for a 16-year-old.
He is especially thankful to Glacier High Director Mike Cox for his encouragement and support of his blossoming golf career.
“I like the challenge of the game and that there are so many different courses to play,” Connor said. “I like that it’s more about what I do on the course, than about what people think I can do. No one tells me I can’t do it because there is someone bigger and stronger than me.”
Connor calls Dragon Fly Golf Club his home course, and he and his father are familiar faces there.
Stephanie Clay, the pro shop assistant manager at Dragon Fly, calls Connor a dedicated golfer with a passion for the game.
“You can normally find him rolling in through the pro shop about 6:30 a.m., wide awake and patiently waiting for the sun to come up so he can go out and practice,” Clay said. “If he’s not on the course, you can find him on the practice putting green or chipping green working on his short game which, as Connor will tell you, is the most crucial part of the game.”
Clay said Connor was the youngest amateur that played in the Golden State Tour match held at the club.
“I spoke with him after day one of the tournament, and his head was still held high after a rough day on the course,” Clay said. “Playing in a professional/amateur tournament for the first time can be very nerve racking, but for his age he was very competitive and had a positive attitude.”
Connor said his current golf heroes are Phil Mickleson and Jordan Speith.
“I got to watch them both play at Pebble Beach and they were both really great,” Connor said. “Speith gave me a fist bump. Later that year he won the Masters and U.S. Open.”
USJA (United States Junior Amateur) tournaments are held in California and Nevada starting this month, running through November. During that time, Connor plans to play in 20 tournaments.
“This season I hope to qualify for the USJA in July,” Connor said. “That would mean a lot because I would be competing for a national title and just being at that tournament would expose me to some college coaches.”
Being an athlete is just part of being a Wallace. Brian played football and golf for Eric Hansen at YHS, graduating in 1989. At one time he held the course record at River Creek for shooting seven under par for nine holes and also won the club championship.
Stephanie, Connor’s mom, ran track in high school in San Diego, and played lacrosse in college. Connor’s older brother Tyler is a pitcher for the Yosemite High varsity baseball team.
“Connor has great mechanics, and he also has the mental discipline to get real good at this game,” Brian said. “His composure on the golf course is much better than mine ever was. It takes a special person to be good at golf, because you are spending hours and hours alone practicing, and not everyone can handle the solitude.”