In 2010, 16-year-old Matteo Manassero of Italy became the youngest golfer to make the cut at The Masters. He turned pro shortly after and became the youngest player to win a European Tour event, and then went on to win three more titles by the age of 20. Then his game cooled. Now 24, Manassero, currently ranked No. 327 in the world, is looking to climb back up the rankings and put on a good show for his fans at home in this week’s Italian Open. This conversation has been edited and condensed.
Following a successful start as a professional, you hit a rough patch. How did you get past that?
I’m happy to achieve the things I did. I’m proud of it. But that’s the past. It was difficult for that year and a half that I didn’t play well because I couldn’t see myself improving or feeling better on the course. It was a struggle — it felt like a big backpack on my shoulders. It’s not difficult now that I know the right direction to get back to that standard of golf.
That is something you learn by getting older and experiencing some good and bad things. It’s just getting more mature that’s helped me. It’s a process. I’ve done well before and I want to do well again. Except now, I know I can.
What are you doing differently now?
I’ve learned that you have to balance your private life and work life. You need to relax — the right relaxation that gets you fresh for when you need to work and compete. That’s something I didn’t know in the beginning as a very young athlete. I was just out there and all I wanted to do was compete. I didn’t look at other things. There is more to life than competing. Now, I realize that’s very important as a person and athlete.
During my difficult time it was hard to find the right balance and mind-set. Relaxing the right way is key. You need to get to training sessions and tournaments fresh and ready to go. You need to have your mind free and you need to be willing to do it properly. I’m working on the right things with my coach and my team. My mind-set is in the right place. It’s not just one thing that clicks — it’s a lot of things.
As a young man, have you looked up to any players, past or present?
Seve Ballesteros has always been my idol. I look up to his determination and self-confidence on the golf course. You can be born with some talent, others you have to work on. I like Jordan Spieth. It is so nice to see how he is out on the golf course. I know Jordan and played with him a few times as an amateur. He’s a nice guy. But you see him on the golf course and he has this anger and will to perform well. I like Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson — they’re great — but watching Jordan inspires me.
What is the state of Italian golf these days?
Right now we are at a crucial point. There are so many great events to increase the interest in Italian golf. We have the exposure to the sport. Now, we could use more public courses and affordable places to play. Or small courses for better accessibility. We also need to grow and give kids a chance to play and study at the same time, like the U.S. does. That can be a bit hard. We could use more schools and programs — that’s the way forward. The talent is there considering the numbers playing golf. It’s moving in the right direction.
How is it to play in your home country in front of your fans?
It’s always extra special. It brings something different. It’s not pressure. You just feel a little bit more responsibility than you do during a regular event. This year is a really big event and they’ve done a great job to get golf in Italy where it is now. Whether it’s a million or seven million fans. It’s just really special with home fans. They’re amazing — very passionate and supportive.
What are you working on to prepare for the Italian Open? Do you have an attack strategy?
I feel good and I’m playing well. My game feels solid and like it can be replicated under pressure. And that makes me feel relaxed. I’ve been working on my putting and making sure my rhythm is always the same. I had the tendency to get a little too quick. I’ve been struggling with that. I’m also working on my natural fade on the ball left to right. But the basics are there.
Published at Sat, 07 Oct 2017 17:52:09 +0000