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Matteo Manassero: Flying under the radar

Golf was traditionally seen as an old man’s game, something to do once one can no longer cope with the exertions of more physically demanding sports. The success of a young Tiger Woods was seen as the exception and not the rule, but things are changing with the likes of Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and the USA’s Rickie Fowler bursting on to the scene in spectacular fashion and showing that young men can compete at the very highest level. Fowler won the PGA Rookie of the Year award for 2010, but it is for the Ulsterman that most praise has been reserved. This is of course justified, but one young man flying under the radar may just be the best of the crop.

At the age of 18, Matteo Manassero has already won as many tournaments as Rory McIlroy (two) and has broken a seemingly endless list of records. As an amateur, the Italian became the youngest ever winner of the Silver Medal at The Open and registered the best performance at The Masters by a European amateur in 73 years. Furthermore, at the age of just 16 years, 11 months and 22 days, Manassero became the youngest player in the history of The Masters to make the cut, breaking Bobby Cole’s 43 year old record.

The youngster has carried this form into the professional ranks. He registered his first European Tour tournament win on 24th October 2010 at the Castello Masters Costa Azahar, becoming the youngest ever winner on the tour in the process. This was followed by a strong showing at the 2010 UBS Hong Kong Open, where he finished second, one stroke behind Ian Poulter. His performances netted him the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year award for 2010 and the admiration of many fellow players. He did not however, rest on his laurels and in April this year, Manassero added a second tour victory when he impressively won the Maybach Malaysian Open. In fact, in his last six tour appearances, the Italian has posted four top 10 finishes. This rich vein of form has seen him rise to 30th in the world rankings and he is currently sitting 14th in the race to Dubai. Remarkable achievements for an 18 year old.

Manassero is undoubtedly a precocious talent, but he is certainly flying under the radar in comparison to other young prodigies past and present. As golfmagic.com’s Alex Perry puts it; ‘There weren’t enough calculators in the world to keep up with how many major wins the pair (Garcia and McIlroy) would have between them.’ So why has the young Italian not been afforded the same attention and hype? Part of the reason may lie in the fact that he is a young Italian. Golf is very much a marginal sport in the country with many estimates placing the number of club members at just 100,000. Consequently, the sports papers prefer to focus on more popular sports. This is in stark contrast to the British media, which have not been able to give Rory McIlroy enough coverage.

Manassero does not however dwell on a lack of coverage which borders on neglect, preferring instead to focus on his game. He goes about his business with ruthless efficiency and unwavering concentration. Whilst he is confident in his ability, he comes across as very humble. He has spoken of his own amazement at his meteoric rise and of the fact that he still has much to learn. He is not the finished article by any means, but demonstrates the maturity to take setbacks (such as that at Wentworth recently when he led going in to the final round before finishing eighth) as an opportunity to learn. Instead of beating himself up about it, he has focused on the positive of carding three very good scores. However, do not take this to mean that he will not work on improving his game.

Manassero is not a big hitter by modern standards but his strengths lie in his accuracy and a touch around the greens which is reminiscent of the great Seve Ballesteros. His game has won him many admirers, most notably Sir Nick Faldo who during The Masters tweeted ‘Schwartzel won but… da da daaa, Manassero wasn’t there. Discuss.’ This shows the high esteem in which he is held by those in the know.

For an 18 year old, Manassero takes everything in his stride. Italian journalist Massimo Lopes Pegna stated: ‘He looks like a kid and talks like an adult.’ This mix of maturity and God-given natural talent is a recipe for success so watch out, because the youngster from Verona may just be about to take the golfing world by storm.

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