Matteo Manassero 'making progress' after spectacular loss of form

Life is good again for Matteo Manassero. Even before we’d sat down for a chat in the cosy clubhouse at T-Golf & Country Club, near Palma, it was clear to see.

Tom Watson celebrates holing a birdie putt with Matteo Manassero during the second round of the 2009 Open at Turnberry. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.
Tom Watson celebrates holing a birdie putt with Matteo Manassero during the second round of the 2009 Open at Turnberry. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.

On the walk from the 18th green to the recorder’s hut, having just completed his opening round in the Rolex Challenge Tour Grand Final, the Italian had a distinct bounce in his step and wore the warmest of smiles.

The one you might remember from when he won the Silver Medal for leading amateur, tying for 13th, in the 2009 Open at Turnberry, where he played with Tom Watson in the opening two rounds.

Or, as a professional, when he became the youngest-ever winner on the European Tour at just 17 in the Castello Masters then created history again, this time at Bernard Gallacher’s expense, by becoming the youngest BMW PGA champion at 20.

Matteo Manassero, who was just 20 at the time, celebrates after winning the2013 BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. Picture: Warren Little/Getty Images.

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The latter was Manassero’s fourth tour triumph. He was 25th in the world at one point and, with all due respect to Francesco Molinari, looked the best bet to become Italy’s first major winner. He was even being hailed as the new Seve Ballesteros.

Golf, though, can be a fickle game. Manassero had plummeted to 1,705th in the global standings last season, having lost his main tour card at the end of 2018 and barely having a Challenge Tour status at the start of this year.

It’s a long way back when you hit rock bottom, but, after pressing the reset button, the Verona resident is getting there. He’s back up to 421st in the world rankings and feeling encouraged about being among just 45 players to make it to Challenge Tour’s season-ending event on the Balearic Island.

Manassero needs to win on Sunday to be back on the European Tour for the 2022 campaign. That would be a bonus after getting into this week’s event with a first top-fove finish of the season a fortnight ago.

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Matteo Manassero kisses the trophy after winning the Amateur Championship at Formby in 2009. Picture: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images.

At just 28, he’s feeling quietly confident that he can make up for lost time in recent years if he can eventually secure a seat back at the top table.

“I am really happy,” he told me, having chuckled when I reminded him of our previous attendance together at a Challenge Tour event, which was the 2010 Scottish Challenge in Aviemore and, even in late June, he seemed shocked how cold it felt that week.

“In late 2019, 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 on you, it’s too much.

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“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; it was only good apart from maybe one bad round of golf every now and again or one bad tournament.

“I was achieving everything I was dreaming to achieve. It was like a big take off for me and it all happened very quickly, but then you have to learn a lot of things to stay on tour and be competitive for many years as it is hard out here.”

It all seemed to start to go wrong after seeming to think he needed to change things. It was widely felt, for instance, that he tinkered with his technique to try and add some length off the tee.

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“Yes, of course,” he replied to being asked if felt he’d made mistakes. “I tried to find something more, probably in the wrong aspects at the time. I was just riding along the wave basically and probably one mistake was not to look at the bigger picture and start working to understand each of the things that I am understanding now.

“I have worked quite a lot in a lot of aspects to feel good out on the golf course and obviously with golf being a big part of my life, it also reflects on life and I am happy with myself in general.”

A small army of of people would be happy to see Manassero, who was just 16 when he won the Amateur Championship at Formby, back on the main tour. “That’s a nice thing to know,” he said, smiling, but I think people have to understand how difficult it is.

“You don’t just get a European Tour card because your name is Matteo Manassero. There are 45 guys here this week and 43 of them have done better than me this year and only 20 will end up getting a card.

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“It’s nice that people support me and would like me to do well, but obviously you don’t understand how tough it is until you are living in it and that’s important for everybody to know because then you can appreciate the good times even more.

“It’s not so much a case of trying to feed off them anymore. I’m just proud of those achievements. I probably only fed off them for a couple of years, something like that. Those achievements are going to be with me my whole life, but it doesn’t affect my game directly right now.”

His main goal for the next year or so? “It’s easy,” he said. “I want to win again in my fresh start as I really see it being that. I know how hard that is, but I see myself making progress and, with more work and doing a few more things, I feel confident I can start to be pushing to do that.”

Manassero isn’t the first player and won’t be the last to discover that nothing can ever be taken for granted in golf. It’s pleasing to see that he is, indeed, enjoying the game again and the former golden boy of European golf is hoping future generations can learn from his mistakes.

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“I just think the focus needs to be put on the process and on the attitude, the things you can really control,” he said. “It’s so easy to put the focus on the results and the goals are always: I want to be on tour, I want to be in the top 50, the top 20, the top whatever.

“But the focus needs to be on the process of the work day-by-day and then let’s see where you get in the end, see if you have improved, how you feel on the golf course. You can then assess that and work from that and at least you can fulfil your potential.

“Look, there are better players than others. Some are more skilled. But, if you players work the way I am suggesting, I think they will have a much better time on the golf course, in life either on tour or whatever.

“It only gets really frustrating when the main focus is on results as they are not really under your control, in my opinion.”

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