After stepping away briefly from playing the sport he loves and restructuring his game, in this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car Matteo Manassero reveals how he recovered his confidence and winning mentality as he prepares to return to the DP World Tour.
As I look ahead to returning to the DP World Tour for the first time since I lost my card at the end of 2018, I reflect on the journey I have been on with pride. I wouldn’t say I have done everything again from scratch because what I achieved as a young player is always with me, but I needed patience and to go through all the steps.
The toughest period was when I stepped away from golf in 2019 for a few months. I literally couldn’t play anymore. Golf had become too heavy on me. That was a tough realisation. I had always played golf in a free and joyful way, but I knew I had to rebuild myself. Part of that was playing some events on the Alps Tour. At the time I felt that was where I needed to be to restructure my game.
I couldn't restructure everything while playing at the top of European golf. It wasn’t realistic to expect that while competing at the Italian Open or the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, tournaments that mean so much to me. I needed to go down the levels and really have time to build my game up again and to have consistency and trust in my approach, not something that would come every now and then. That was always the idea, at least.
While it was mentally challenging, I knew I didn’t want to give up on those feelings I had created before. I also had people that allowed me to keep on working and gave me enthusiasm to work. It took time and I guess I had good resilience.
Everything paid off with weeks like Copenhagen and Rome this season. With both of those victories on the European Challenge Tour I felt as good as I’ve ever felt at a golf tournament.
There is often something that doesn’t satisfy us 100 percent with our game and that moment came the week prior to my victory in Denmark. I felt I was playing poorly. But I managed to get a full day’s work with my coach Søren Hansen in Copenhagen. With his support, I had a plan for my swing that week. It wasn't always perfect, but I was very clear on what I had to do and day after day that gave me a little bit more confidence and it developed my game really nicely throughout the week. Starting from that Monday, I built nice feelings and over the weekend I was playing really good golf. The key was seeing Søren and creating a plan which I stuck to on every shot.
I started with Søren at the end of last year and it has been going really well. We have a good relationship and understanding, and his support and the work we have done together has definitely played a role in my good year.
I wouldn't say there is anything specific technically that has made me improve. I have been more consistent tee to green this year, although I had a few weeks where I didn't feel good at all. My putting has also improved a lot. I think that enabled my game to be under less stress and obviously made me capitalise on the chances that I had in the two tournaments that I ended up winning.
My wife Francesca was my caddie for both of my victories this year. She was a big help both weeks, putting me in the right frame of mind, offering me the right perspective on the situation and not getting too involved in shot selection. Put simply, she was just there for me. You smile together, you laugh, you talk and there is more to just being extremely intense and focused on the outcome of every shot, which at least for me can become a little bit too much. Those factors helped me perform, made me bring out my A-game in difficult circumstances.
She isn’t going to become a full-time caddie for me. It just wouldn’t be the right balance for us, but there are certainly things I have learned that I need from a caddie going forward that I probably wouldn’t have considered before. I’ve realised that having someone alongside me who keeps me in a relaxed mindset is massive for the flow and freedom of my game.
Winning in Copenhagen was special because I had been through a really, really tough journey. It came on the tenth anniversary of my win at the BMW PGA Championship in 2013, and also brought me closer to my main goal, which was to come back to the DP World Tour.
A couple of months later, I took the title at the Italian Challenge Open. I had never won a tournament of that level on home soil, and to win in front of home crowds meant a lot to me. I always wanted to do that and somehow, I never felt that I could bring my A-game to tournaments at home. I had only played well at the Italian Open on the DP World Tour once and that was years ago. So being able to do that made me realise that I was finally mentally in the right spot.
Now, being 30 years old, I handle things in a different way to when I was a four-time winner on the DP World Tour at 20. I understand and appreciate aspects of life in a more mature way. I'm a very different person to ten years ago. I see golf in a different way. Sometimes I don't even remember what I used to do back then. What really is helpful for me right now is the structure I have created, the team I have around me. They are making me perform well right now and they are the ones that are going to be there to try and help me take another step forward and another step forward because it could be never-ending.
The Matteo that was 18 years old is gone. While it may have appeared I was forever at ease on the golf course in those early years of success as a professional, that was not the case. I know what it feels being stressed or being afraid about something that could potentially happen on a golf course.
While it’s still me, I need to find my best performance in a different way. I felt when I managed to make that switch in mindset it was big for me because then I was able to start improving, moving forward and not looking backwards.
Making progress doesn't come from trying to recreate what I did ten years ago. So, I think I will enjoy next season in some ways more than I did when I was on the DP World Tour years ago.
But before then I have the Rolex Challenge Tour Grand Final supported by The R&A in Mallorca to focus on this week. After a couple of years of progress in the right direction, it is the cherry on the pie of the season really.
To come into the Rolex Grand Final in this position has been coming from earlier than just this year. At the end of the season, a few of us are able to enjoy the week without being extremely stressed like some other guys who are maybe battling to get their card.
While I am really looking forward to playing in Mallorca, I want to finish as high as possible because it's still a reasonable goal to try to win the Challenge Tour’s Road to Mallorca Rankings. That would be a great achievement. We are competitive golfers, so anytime we put the ball on the tee we try to have something to look forward to and be driven from. It doesn't just depend on me because some guys ahead of me have played amazingly this season and are in a better position, but why not go and give it a shot?
I think this year Italian golf has been rewarded for a few dry years on the Challenge Tour. I felt that something was coming, and I guess it just needed one of us to click to trigger the others in a way. Lorenzo Scalise has been playing well for a few years, it just needed that last push and this year he got it. Andrea Pavan is a really experienced player and since he got back on the Challenge Tour we all felt that he would've been up there in title contention on many, many occasions - and he has. And, of course, Francesco Laporta has been on the DP World Tour too. At the beginning of the year, he was playing a little bit on both Tours, but then when he focused on the Challenge Tour he put his foot on the throttle. It will be nice to be back with six or seven fellow Italian players next year and we're all looking forward to that. The Challenge Tour is really, really tough so I think what we've done this year, winning five tournaments in total as Italians is a great achievement.