Another week, another fine performance from Matteo Manassero, the Italian teenager who finished third in the Omega European Masters to continue his meteoric rise through golf’s ranks.
The 17 year old finished five shots behind Spaniard Miguel Angel Jiménez and two back from his compatriot Edoardo Molinari in Crans-sur-Sierre, virtually securing his European Tour card for 2011 by rising to 89th in The Race to Dubai.
With €255,383, he has earned enough money to have unlimited invites for the rest of the season, and is in the field for this week’s KLM Open.
“I should now be a full Member for the first time on Tour and that was my goal,” said Manassero. “I will play my first full season next year. I have opened up many doors that I wanted to open but didn’t think I would open them so quickly.”
Manassero shot to prominence when he won the Silver Medal at The 2009 Open Championship, a few weeks after he became the youngest - and first Italian - winner of the Amateur Championship, beating Englishman Sam Hutsby in the final.
Paired with the legendary Tom Watson and Sergio Garcia, who also became a star while still a teenager, in the first two rounds at Turnberry, Manassero carded 71 and 70. Suddenly everyone was talking about an audaciously talented 16 year old amateur from Verona.
Even Watson was. “He has a passion for the game,” said the American. “That's what I look for in a young golfer. Technique can be added if necessary but, if they don't have that passion, then I am concerned. Matteo has it."
After finishing an astonishing tied 13th at Turnberry, the world was at Manassero’s feet. In April he arrived at the Masters Tournament, an event he had dreamed of playing since he was four years old.
While many high profile professionals succumbed to Augusta National, Manassero, then still an amateur, calmly went about his business, finishing a highly commendable tied 36th and becoming the youngest player to make the cut. It was also the best performance by a European amateur in The Matsers Tournament for 73 years.
A month later he joined the paid ranks, and his professional debut came, fittingly, at the BMW Italian Open, where he finished tied 29th. Indeed, he has yet to miss a cut in the nine European Tour and four Challenge Tour events in which he has played this season.
Inevitably, comparisons have been drawn with past greats who reached the upper echelons of the game at an early age. Manassero is the second youngest European Tour Member in history, after the illustrious Seve Ballesteros – who, ironically, is the Italian’s idol.
Having been introduced to the game by his Uncle Dino as a four year old, Manassero was playing off a handicap of eight by the time he was ten, and met Ballesteros one day beside a practice green. He handed over a wedge and invited Manassero to have a go, and when the youngster crisply chipped his ball inside Ballesteros’ own efforts, the great Spaniard walked away with a smile, astonished at his talent.
Manassero, an ardent AC Milan supporter, has not only shown he can cope with testing situations on the golf course. Last October he addressed the International Olympic Committee as part of golf's delegation before the vote on whether the sport should become part of the Games. He spoke in English, too. His maturity is staggering.
He would be forgiven for finding it strange spending week after week in the company of his often much older fellow professionals when most boys his age are still in school.
“Sometimes, when I think about it, it can be a little odd, but mainly I’m just one of the guys like anyone else,” he said.
It helps when he has such fine examples to follow in fellow Italians Edoardo and Francesco Molinari, the brothers who have both enjoyed spectacular seasons on The European Tour, culminating with them cementing their places in Colin Montgomerie’s European Team for The 2010 Ryder Cup.
“It’s very good to have two top players in the world and Ryder Cup players that are close to you, come from the same country, and introduce you to that life. It was lucky for me. I will always respect them,” said Manassero.
“We are doing quite well. I hope that more young Italians will take up golf. We hope that obviously that many, many more guys will come through.”
Just as Manassero has been helped by the Molinaris, for those young players in Italy, you would struggle to find a better example to look up to than Manassero.