After winning his first professional title at his native Italian National Championship last week, Renato Paratore will make his first appearance as a European Tour professional at the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa, hoping to stand proud against some big game players at the magnificent Leopard Creek.
The 17 year old Italian won his place on The European Tour by taking third place behind Mikko Korhonen and Ricardo Gonzalez at the Qualifying School Final Stage three weeks ago, becoming the third youngest player in Q-School history to earn a card.
He followed that with a stunning final round performance in the Italian National Championship last week, carding a nine under par 62 at San Domenico Golf in southern Italy to force a play-off with Andrea Pavan which Paratore won at the first extra hole.
Having enjoyed a brilliant amateur career in which he won Men’s Individual Strokeplay Gold at the 2014 Youth Olympics in China, the 2014 Portuguese Amateur Championship and made two Junior Ryder Cup appearances, Paratore now faces the biggest challenge of his career as he looks to follow the same path of success his friend Matteo Manassero took just a few years ago.
Paratore first met Manassero as a 13 year old at a training camp for the Italian National squad and has a similar game to his old friend: dead straight, good around the greens and very fast.
Both players came through the same youth and amateur system that now unites European golf and feeds directly into the professional game. The likes of Manassero and Paratore, as well as 20 year old Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick who is also in the field this week, have proven good enough to go from the amateur ranks straight to The European Tour.
Paratore will have to play like Manassero at his best if he is to overcome a quality field led by this week’s defending champion Charl Schwartzel, who is on the hunt for a record fourth Alfred Dunhill title at Leopard Creek, Louis Oosthuizen and Francesco Molinari.
“I am just very excited about playing my first event as a European Tour player,” said Paratore, who will turn 18 on December 14. “There are always going to be some nerves and some doubts but I hope that I can play my usual game and try to make the cut and then see what happens over the weekend. Winning in Italy last week has been a great confidence boost for me before I flew to South Africa.
“Yes, everything is new to me but I am looking forward to experiencing it all. I have spoken a lot about life on Tour to Matteo, the Molinaris and a lot of other Italian pros, and I think I will enjoy the life. I know it will be difficult at some times but we all face challenges and I just have to try and approach mine in the right way.”
The mere reality of thrusting a 17 year old into a world where he is out on his own, travelling the globe and experiencing new cultures, climates and languages on an almost weekly basis is daunting enough, but add to that the burden of expectation and Paratore has a fair amount of pressure on those young shoulders.
There is, however, a school of thought among enough experts – from Tour pros to coaches, caddies, media and officials – to make you believe that once Paratore steps onto the first tee at Leopard Creek, he will have the ability to do shut off the outside world and do what he does best.
Whatever the result this week in the Alfred Dunhill Championship, the young man from Rome is certainly approaching it the right way.
“The right way is to stay positive and focus on the good things,” said Paratore. “It has always been my dream to play on The European Tour and I never thought I would be playing on Tour before my 18th birthday, so that is positive.
“Then, you look at the players in the field this week and you see Schwarztel and Oosthuizen at the top of the list and realise you are playing against Major champions, the best in the world. That is another positive.
“I am also playing well so there is so much to look forward to. I hope I can play well and really enjoy the week.”
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