In the second part of our celebration of Matteo Manassero’s 18th birthday, EuropeanTour.com focuses on the influences behind one of the game’s most exciting young talents and what the future holds for the Italian.
It is a safe bet that most 18 year olds with €288,845 burning a hole in their pocket would be heading straight for the nearest sports car showroom. Not Matteo Manassero.
The Italian’s grounded maturity has been his hallmark since he burst onto the golfing landscape as a 16 year old in The 2009 Open Championship, finishing as the leading amateur before going on to become the youngest European Tour champion in last year’s CASTELLÓ MASTERS Costa Azahar.
Manassero celebrated his coming of age on Tuesday, two days after capturing his second European Tour title in the Maybank Malaysian Open, but the teenager is not one for flashiness or big celebrations, instead choosing to mark the occasion with close family and friends in Verona. He even managed to resist the temptation to blow his winner’s cheque on a special treat to mark becoming a man.
“There is a law in Italy that doesn’t allow you to get a car with a big engine for a few more years yet,” he said. “You can just get a small one. I’ll have a little car and be safe.”
Such a sensible outlook on life has manifested itself in a nerveless manner on the course, never more evident than on Sunday in Kuala Lumpur when Manassero calmly came through a field that included World Number One Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy to give himself a birthday present that outshone any gleaming fast car.
Holding off the challenge of McIlroy in particular was special for the teenager, given that he and the Northern Irishman have become close since Manassero became the second youngest player to join The European Tour last year.
The pair are rapidly becoming the poster boys for European golf’s new generation of young stars, with McIlroy’s success as a fearless teenager in many ways offering a blueprint for the emergence of the new ‘kid’ on the block.
“Rory and I talk a lot and we are good friends but we don’t talk about golf so much,” said Manassero. “We’re just good friends. He’s obviously been a great inspiration. He also started so young and he’s a great player but most of the inspiration for me is seeing so many young guys playing well. We all want to show that even young players can compete on this Tour.
“Maybe golf is becoming more of an athletic sport – we’re all going to the gym and preparing better to compete at every single tournament. Maybe that’s why young players are doing well. Young guys see that even turning professional at 17 is possible. Some people think it’s young but if you are ready, you are ready.”
Indeed Manassero was extremely young when his parents gave him his first club and he first showed the potential that was later spotted and nurtured by his coach and long-term mentor, former European Tour professional Alberto Binaghi.
“I first started playing when I was three years old,” he recalled. “I never stopped after that. I never wanted to. It was always my dream to become a professional.
“My parents encouraged me to start playing and from then on, when I was asking to go to the course they always took me and never said no.
“They helped me grow as a person and a golfer. They never put any pressure on me, which happens a lot with kids now and doesn’t help. They brought me up really well in every sense, as a person and as a golfer.
“My parents wanted me to focus on school too though. That’s very important in Italy – everyone has to finish their school which is why I’m still doing my exams. I’m still having private tuition when I’m at home, just to finish high school. Last year I took quite a few exams to finish and now I’ve got two years privately taking some more.
“Alberto has been really helpful as well. He brought me up since I was 12 and first starting in the game. He changed my swing a little bit and helped me become a much better player. He is very experienced and most importantly he is a really nice guy. I get on well with him and we can have a joke. I can stay with him for a long time and I never get bored, which is important for a golf coach. He made the difference in my golf game.”
In addition to the parenting he received growing up and the influence of Binaghi, Manassero believes having strong role models have also helped shape a maturity which belies his tender years.
“I grew up playing sports and having idols,” he said. “This brought me to maturity early. When I was growing up my idol was Seve (Ballesteros). I was a big fan of him. It meant a lot becoming the second youngest member of The European Tour after him and then becoming the youngest winner. I could never compare myself to him but he has always been my idol.
“I thought Seve was the kind of player I wanted to be. The crowd would cheer for him and he was different from everyone else. He is a great person and a symbol of what a person should be. He sent me a letter after I won in Spain. That was special.”
Now a role model himself, Manassero is equally aware of the responsibilities that come with being in the public spotlight and he is keen now to not let anyone down.
“It is really important to do your bit and sign autographs, especially for the kids,” he said. “They support you and may be dreaming to one day be like you. It takes two seconds to make their day. After that they will be very happy.
“It is something I think every player should do. I’ve just been a kid and I was four, five, six years old when I was watching the Italian Open and asking players for their autograph and some would say no. So I know how the kids feel. I think it is good to give them a photo or autograph.”
Perhaps Manassero’s maturity was best illustrated, however, not by his victories but by how he conducted himself as a representative for golf’s Olympic bid, when he addressed the International Olympic Committee and a global audience, pushing for the game’s inclusion in the 2016 games.
“Speaking at the Olympic bid was not easy,” he confessed. “It was very difficult and I was very nervous. You speak in front of a lot of people and I’d never done that before.
“It was a very critical moment too. It was something different and I was tense. You are speaking on behalf of everyone. It’s probably the most nervous I’ve been – more nervous than I am on the course because it is different. On the course you just play. A speech is so different.”
With the Olympics bid proving a successful one, Manassero could easily be one of the stars of the Rio games in five years time, when he’ll be a relative golfing veteran at 23 years old. By then who knows what he will have achieved in the game.
His victory in Malaysia moved him to World Number 33 – a remarkable accomplishment after just 11 months as a professional and 28 European Tour events. Last October, shortly before capturing his maiden title, he was also asked to be part of the European set-up at The Ryder Cup, pointing to a future career in golf’s premier team competition which he admits is a target of his.
“The Ryder Cup was special,” he smiled. “It gave me a lot of ambition to go on to compete in The Ryder Cup. It was just fantastic, something really, really different from everything else.
“My main goal this year was to comfortably get into the top 50 so I can get into every major next year. We’ll see what happens next year. You never know – I’ll try to get into the Ryder Cup Team but there are so many great players on The European Tour. It was great to see the Molinaris play and seethe atmosphere there was. That is definitely something I’d look forward to. It completes a golfer’s career.”
- Read the third and final part of our Matteo Manassero 18th birthday celebrations on europeantour.com tomorrow.