Golfing career of Matteo Manassero ready for take-off

The 20-year-old Italian's victory at the BMW PGA Championship is sure to propel him to further prominence, writes Steve Elling.
Matteo Manassero, 20, has now won four events on the European Tour. Ian Walton / Getty Images
Matteo Manassero, 20, has now won four events on the European Tour. Ian Walton / Getty Images

Part of it was the packaging.

Perhaps 12 hours after he had experienced a breakthrough moment at the signature event on the European Tour, rising star Matteo Manassero was cruising through London Heathrow, not exactly eliciting stares or commanding attention.

A few travellers somehow assumed that he was a golfer, rightly guessed that he had competed in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and asked how he had played. Pretty well, actually. Yet, since he was wearing civilian clothes, no one identified him.

"I was out of uniform," he said.

Drawing attention that might have made the savviest veteran nervous, Manassero won his fourth European title on Sunday, one month past his 20th birthday.

While his earlier victories were impressive, including a 2010 triumph that made him the youngest winner in European Tour history, winning at Wentworth is sure to lift him to greater prominence.

Not that Manassero - a charismatic player, but hardly an extrovert - is completely comfortable with that scenario. He jumped to the top of the Race to Dubai standings and to a career-high No 28 in the world ranking, but the notion of celebrity still gives him pause.

"To be honest, it is good to be recognised as a good golfer," he said by phone as travellers surged past. "But I would not want to be known everywhere I go. I do not think you would have a normal life.

"That would be very stressful."

After what he has fast accomplished, the stakes are sure to change, regardless. The victory was quite likely a game-changer, both for Manassero and the game in his native Italy.

Somewhat overlooked among global up-and-comers, Manassero has blown past more celebrated young talents, including Japan's Ryo Ishikawa and a handful of promising LPGA players, and moved to the front of the line. All in a span of four storybook years.

After becoming the youngest to win the British Amateur, he finished 13th as a 16-year-old amateur at the 2009 British Open, playing two rounds at Turnberry alongside Tom Watson, who nearly won at age 59.

It was not obvious at the moment, but their pairing was like those New Year's Day renderings of the old guy, Father Time, yielding to the babe in swaddling clothes.

Even the world No 2 Rory McIlroy, at the ripe age of 24, joked moments after the Wentworth finish that Manassero "makes me feel like an old man".

After Turnberry, Manassero turned pro and won the following spring on the European Tour, where he already has logged victories in the past four seasons, an active win streak matched only by Louis Oosthuizen and Ian Poulter, two fixtures in the world top 20. But beating a field, at Wentworth, that included 13 of the world top 40 is easily the defining moment of his career.

"I have felt happy after every win, but this one is big," said Manassero, who this year became the ambassador for the Golf in Abu Dhabi marketing campaign. "This is where I am from, and considering how much the European Tour does for us, and the way the tournament has developed, it feels like a major."

At times, Manassero has struggled to find the words to describe the ascent. Like his ultra-consistent game, it has not been flamboyant or meteoric, but it has surely been steady. Nobody envisioned so much, so soon, particularly from a player who learnt the game in a country that barely acknowledges the sport.

"Yes, it is all a bit incredible," Manassero said.

"The quickness, the way my game has developed. The people beside me have helped keep my feet on the ground, as well. They have seen me since I was a kid, growing up."

Seems like only yesterday. Because, of course, it was.

Manassero still lives in Verona with his parents, not that he is home much. He intends to get his own house at the end of the year, but if he moves out, he will not get to see his little brother, Giovanni, as often.

At age seven, the latter is still coming to grips with his big brother's elevated place in the world, too.

"I don't know if he has a clear idea of what I do," Manassero said, laughing. "He knows I play in golf tournaments, but he is a non-golfer. I mean, he knows where I am playing. But I don't think he gets all of it. How could he?"

Given Manassero's record-breaking climb, a degree of wonderment is perhaps to be expected, regardless of age.

Published: May 29, 2013 04:00 AM


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