BERNARD Gallacher has congratulated Matteo Manassero for claiming his record as the youngest-ever PGA champion – but says the Italian is unlikely to hold it for more than 40 years.
Since winning the prestigious event in 1969 aged 20 years and 97 days, Gallacher had proudly held a place in the record books until Manassero beat him by 60 days with his play-off victory at Wentworth on Sunday.
On the one hand, it was a disappointment for the Scot to lose his mantle but, on the other, he admitted it had fallen to a worthy successor in the man from Verona, who now has four European Tour titles to his name.
“I’m over in Spain on holiday at the moment and, to be honest, it wasn’t until some friends mentioned it that I realised the significance of Matteo’s win,” Gallacher told The Scotsman. “It’s disappointing that I’m no longer the youngest PGA champion, of course it is, but that victory in 1969 still means a lot to me as it was my first as a professional.
“I only got into the event as it was around the time the rules for it were being changed, because in the old days you had to be a member of the PGA for a long time to get into it.
“When you turn professional, you are never quite sure if you’re going to handle the pressure in the paid ranks but I held my nerve pretty well when the chips were down.
“I was level with Guy Wolstenholme, who was playing in the group behind, and knew that I could put pressure on him by making a four at the last. I must have as he bogeyed it.
“I remember it all vividly and it is probably the most important win I had in my career. I got £1,000, which was quite a lot of money then, but it shows how the game has changed that Matteo picked up a cheque for around £670,000.” Gallacher first saw Manassero at the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry, where the Amateur champion at the time was paired with Tom Watson.
Watson was the big story that week as he came within a whisker of landing a sixth Claret Jug at the age of 59, but Manassero still made a lasting impression.
“Matteo is a really nice player and a nice guy, too,” added the Ryder Cup-winning captain and former Wentworth professional. “He’s not a power-hitter. He plots his way around in the mould of a player like Luke Donald, rather than the likes of Tiger Woods and Bubba Watson beating courses into submission.
“He’s got a nice tidy game and I think people can relate to that. He had a good amateur record before turning professional and I think that is important. As Matteo has shown, you’ve got to believe you can win straight away as a professional. What’s the point of turning professional if that’s not the case? I followed his match at Turnberry in the 2009 Open. He was overshadowed by Tom Watson then, as everyone else in the field was, as he became the only story in town that week. But I could see that Matteo didn’t hit many bad shots.
“That, coupled with him having a good golfing brain, are his attributes and strengths. His latest win is good for Italian golf but also for the European Tour.
“Will he hold on to his record as long as I did? I sincerely hope he does as winning the PGA Championship at his age is a tremendous feat, especially as it is now the European Tour’s flagship event.
“However, there’s a chance that someone might come along in the not too distant future and takes it away from him as well as most players seem to mature much quicker these days.”
Manassero’s weekend win has earned him an exemption for next month’s US Open at Merion along with both Paul Lawrie and Martin Laird.
The trio were among 26 additional players to earn spots in the season’s second major, with Lawrie and Laird’s coming from being in the world’s top 60.