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The Highs And Incredible Lows of Matteo Manassero

By: | Mon 11 Mar 2024

As DP World Tour titles go, the Jonsson Workwear Open is hardly the most prestigious. But try telling that to Matteo Manassero, the Italian golfer who ended a near 11-year drought to finally land his fifth success.

For Manassero, this was like winning a major. After everything he has been through, it is difficult to imagine his emotions after securing a tearjerking victory in South Africa.

He summed it up thus: "It has been a crazy journey over the last couple of years, I knew I was getting on the right track but then you never know when this happens.

"Even coming down the 18th with a good score, you still have to do some more. Golf is a really difficult game but I'm so incredibly happy to be here holding this (trophy) right now."

Not yet 31, he has been through some incredible highs and some soul-destroying lows during his career.

He first started hitting a golf ball as a toddler with plastic clubs, and it wasn’t long before he began to show a natural aptitude for the game. He learnt how to play at Gardagolf Country Club in Solano under the tutelage of club pro Franco Maestroni. 

Manassero was a world-class amateur golfer. He won The Amateur Championship when he was just 16 years old, for goodness sake. The youngest ever winner of that ancient title. And it earned him places in the field for both The Masters and The Open, and he took to it like a duck to water.

Stilll aged 16, he teed it up in the 2009 Open at Turnberry. I followed him for two rounds as he partnered Tom Watson and Sergio Garcia. The big story that week was Watson’s unlikely bid to become the oldest champion in Open history. Manassero said that Watson was one of his heroes. He was also in awe of Garcia, then at the peak of his powers. Incredibly, Manassero not only made the cut finished the tournament in a tie for 13th place. Had it not been for Watson’s agonising playoff loss, I guarantee that Manassero’s performance would have been the one that grabbed the headlines that week.

What struck me watching the youngster over those first two days was that although he did not hit the ball terribly far, his iron play was magnificent and he was one of the best putters I had ever seen. He also had a strategic brain that was way beyond his years. We will return to this later.

On December 30, 2009, Manassero topped the amateur world rankings, a position he held for 18 weeks. 

Not content with what he achieved at The Open, he broke another record in April 2010 when he became the youngest player to make the cut at The Masters, where he finished in a tie for 36th place - the best performance by a European amateur for 73 years.

Unsurprisingly, he wasted little time in turning professional and quickly became the youngest winner in European Tour history with victory in the 2010 Castello Masters at 17 years and 188 days and was named rookie of the year.

In 2011 Manassero secured his second win at the Malaysian Open at the age of 17 years and 363 days, making him first and second on the list of youngest DP World Tour winners.

After winning the Singapore Open in 2012 he became the first teenager to win three times. He also collected a second place at the Andalucia Open and had five more top 10 finishes.

In 2013, Manassero won the biggest tournament of his career, the BMW PGA Championship, with a birdie at the fourth extra hole of a playoff against Simon Khan and Marc Warren, becoming the youngest-ever winner of this tournament. With the win Manassero gained the right to play in the 2013 US Open and entered the top 30 of the world rankings.  He also managed to further improve his final Order of Merit position with an 11th place.

All this at the age of 20. He had the world in his hands, a future Ryder Cup player for sure. And it was only going to be a matter of time before he started to seriously contend in the majors.

Only, that never happened. It is eight years since he last played in a major.

He managed just one top-10 finish in 2014 and missed 16 cuts in 22 starts in 2015. The writing was on the wall. 

Manassero felt outmuscled by most of his rivals so decided the time had come to start working out and to make some swing changes in an attempt to add some yards. He is not the first golfer to try this and fail, and he will not be the last. The Italian’s problem was that although he had been one of the shorter hitters on tour he struggled to find enough fairways and as he tried to hit the ball harder he missed even more fairways. But there was always that magical putting stroke to fall back on. Inevitably, he out so much pressure on himself on and around the greens that his putting stroke also failed him.

In 2016 he made 27 starts and missed 15 cuts. There was a brief highlight when he finished third at the Scottish Open. He struggled on but the real low point came in 2019. Manassero started 19 tournaments. He made one cut and earned less than 7,000 euros. It was a far cry from 2012 and 2013, when he earned three million euros in prize money alone.

He lost his playing privileges and even took a break from the game for a while. It would have been easy to walk away for good but Manassero never stopped believing. And in 2020 he won his first professional event in seven years at the Toscana Open on the Alps Tour. 

He headed back to the Challenge Tour in 2023, won twice and regained his DP World Tour card for the 2023-24 season. 

He said last year: “In late 2018, I started afresh. I couldn’t play any more, really. I was scared of where the ball was going. I had no control of it. It got to the point where you can’t face that sort of pressure; it’s too much. I wouldn’t necessarily say there was a low point, but the feeling I was experiencing meant there was nothing to enjoy. As a young player, of course, I would never have believed I could have reached that point. For such a long time, I had never experienced failure.” 

And even before his win at Glendower, there were encouraging signs. He finished tied fifth at the South African Open in December. But nothing will mean more to him than his success this past weekend.

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Tags: Matteo Manassero european tour dp world tour

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