AUGUSTA, Ga. – A few days from now, Matteo Manassero will be back in high school.
This weekend, though, golfing fans are getting a glimpse of a possible future champion.
The 16-year-old is the youngest player ever to make the cut at the Masters, and the first amateur to do so since 1999. He won’t finish in the top 15, as he did at last year’s British Open. But his 73 on Saturday put him at 4 over for the tournament, and his composure on the game’s biggest stage has made quite an impression.
“My game makes me more comfortable and assured of my abilities,” Manassero said.
So much so that he has no worries about turning professional next month. He plans to play the Italian Open in Turin the first week of May, go to St. Andrew’s for the British Open and play six other tournaments – he gets seven exemptions, not counting the British – in hopes of earning his European Tour card.
If he doesn’t, he’ll play on the Challenge Tour, Europe’s second tier, and go through qualifying school.
“I’m comfortable playing with these guys and I’m playing OK,” Manassero said. “I think I’m ready.”
He became the youngest winner in the 124-year history of the British Amateur last summer, then earned a spot at Turnberry by tying for 25th at the Italian Open. While Tom Watson delighted fans by turning back the clock, Manassero made them loook ahead, tying for 12th.
“Maybe at the British last year sometimes. Because it was my first major championship,” Manassero said, referring to where he was more nervous, Turnberry or Augusta National. “Here it’s the second, and the British Open obviously helped me with this.”
Indeed, the Masters – and everything that goes with it – hasn’t flustered Manassero a bit.
After playing the front nine at 2 under Saturday, he looked like he might make a move up the leaderboard. But he started missing greens, and couldn’t get birdie putts to drop.
A three-putt from 35 feet on 16 led to a bogey, and he followed it up with another on 17 after his approach shot landed in the frontside bunker. He didn’t like his shot out of there, either, taking a swipe at the sand after his ball hit the green and came to a dead stop 20 feet from the hole. He had the right distance on his par putt, but it was a little too far to the right.
He quickly regrouped, finishing his round with a par.
“Sometimes when you’re not playing good and the stage is big (and) you have to do a big thing and you’re not playing good, you get nervous,” he said. “But you have to try to stay, just to stay more calm.”
He’s been equally poised off the course. He turned down the offer of a translator, saying he was happy to do interviews in English. While he has his wide-eyed moments, he’s not overwhelmed.
Nor is he cocky.
“I always want to stay levelheaded since that’s the education that my parents gave me. So my parents help me, also, in this period to stay more level as I can,” said Manassero, whose parents and grandfather are with him this week. “But, you know, I dream for something like the Masters.”
Manassero started playing golf when he was 3, and it was clear early on he was a rare talent. But he hasn’t been some sheltered phenom. He played soccer growing up, too – his favorite team is AC Milan – and still goes to a traditional high school. (After he turns pro, he’ll do his last two years through homeschooling or online classes.) About a dozen of his friends made the trip to see him play at Augusta National.
“I dreamed about being here,” Manassero said. “But I never expected that I had the possibility to play here in these events at 16.”