With Seve in his heart Manassero on golfs fast track
And even when Seve Ballesteros was in town.
“It was special for me,” Manassero said Tuesday, recalling the time his hero came to Garda Golf Country Club in Italy. “I used to watch him on TV, and when I saw him that day in real life, it was great. Everything about him was different. That’s why I liked him so much.”
Before long, they were chipping together. Manassero said it was a “funny” moment, then explained later what he meant.
“I holed a chip,” he said. “That’s why it was so fun.”
Even at such an early age, the kid proved to be a quick study.
Alberto Binaghi, a former European Tour player who now coaches him, remembers when Manassero was barely big enough to hold a golf club and already was looking for some competition.
“He would want to have a putting or a chipping contest with you, and he would stand over the putt like this,” Binaghi said, stopping to crouch and narrow his eyes to demonstrate how Manassero was determined to make everything. “He wanted to beat you.”
That much about him hasn’t changed.
Manassero is the youngest player ever at The Players Championship, and there’s a reason for that.
When he won the Malaysian Open last month against a field that included Rory McIlroy and the last two major champions (Martin Kaymer and Charl Schwartzel), he became the first player in European Tour history to win twice before turning 18. He celebrated his 18th birthday two days later.
It was the only the latest record to fall.
Manassero was the youngest to win the British Amateur as a 16-year-old in 2009. That got him into the British Open at Turnberry, where he played the first two rounds with Tom Watson and wound up tied for 13th, the youngest low amateur at golf’s oldest championship. Then he became the youngest to make the cut at the Masters at age 16 when he tied for 39th last year.
The connection he felt with Ballesteros remains strong.
Manassero was playing the Spanish Open last week when Ballesteros died Saturday of a cancerous brain tumor. The Spanish great wrote to Manassero when he won the Castello Open in Spain last fall. Ballesteros had such an influence on Manassero that the Italian teenager is known to wear bright green pants, as his idol once did.
“It’s been two sad years,” Manassero said. “He fought for a long time against this thing. With his big heart and his disposition to fight all the time, he’s been able to go against it. But it was going to happen. It was a sad day in Spain. We lost one of the best, a guy who changed the game. His personality was different from the others. In some ways, he changed golf because he played a different game.”
If there are any similarities between Manassero and Ballesteros, it is there appearance – dark and handsome, an engaging smile. Despite so much success so early in his career, Manassero is playful and unfailingly polite.
Their games couldn’t be more different.
Manassero lacks power off the tee, and always has. He is working to add more length, not so much by changing his swing but by strengthening a body that has yet to fill out. But it comes with some advantages. Even when he was old enough to play at his home club of Garda Golf, getting to the green in two shots was never easy. As accurate as he was off the tee, he couldn’t reach some greens in regulation and had to figure out how to get his par.
“When I was very young and not so powerful, you have to do it that way to make par, by making up-and-downs from 50 yards,” he said. Then pausing to smile, he added, “I always hated making bogeys.”
Manassero broke into the top 50 with his win at Malaysia and is at No. 33 in the world this week. He is assured of playing the U.S. Open and British Open, along with the PGA Championship.
“This is not a 17-year-old or 18-year-old person thinking,” Alvaro Quiros said. “He’s more mature than the rest of us. It shows that if you are sensible and smart, you can succeed. He is so mature. Matteo is a 35-year-old in the body of an 18-year-old.”
Luke Donald had not played with him until the third round at the Match Play Championship, which Donald won on his way to winning the World Golf Championship.
“For 17, extremely impressive,” Donald said. “He’s way ahead of where I was when I was 17. A great talent and a good kid, too.”
He is part of the youth movement, and the youngest of that group, as always.
Manassero started early and has been devouring everything about golf for most of his life. He remembers the most important advice Watson gave him during their two rounds at Turnberry.
“He just said to me, ‘Keep playing like this, and keep your hunger for this game,”’ Manassero said. “I love this game. I love to compete. I always watch on TV when guys are leading tournaments, wanting to be in that position.”
Despite all his early success, Manassero doesn’t appear to be in a big hurry.
For one thing, he still doesn’t know how to drive. Manassero said in Italy, he has to wait until he’s 18 before he can even take driving lessons. That will occupy part of his time this summer.
“You have to have patience in this game,” he said. “I always try to do my best, all the time. But I have to learn so much. It’s all been really fast and really good for the moment. But to make the big step, in these events, takes longer time.”
That’s one thing he has on his side.
Twitter spat turns into fundraising opportunity
Country music star Jake Owen, along with Brandt Snedeker, has turned a spat on Twitter into a fundraising campaign that will support Snedeker’s foundation.
On Thursday, Owen was criticized during the opening round of the Web.com Tour’s Nashville Golf Open, which benefits the Snedeker Foundation, for his poor play after opening with an 86.
In response, Snedeker and country singer Chris Young pledged $5,000 for every birdie that Owen makes on Friday in a campaign called NGO Birdies for Kids.
Although Owen, who is playing the event on a sponsor exemption, doesn’t tee off for Round 2 in Nashville until 2 p.m. (CT), the campaign has already generated interest, with NBC Sports/Golf Channel analyst Peter Jacobsen along with Web.com Tour player Zac Blair both pledging $100 for every birdie Owen makes.
Noren so impressed by Rory: 'I'm about to quit golf'
Alex Noren won the BMW PGA Championship last year, one of his nine career European Tour victories.
He opened his title defense at Wentworth Club in 68-69 and is tied for fourth through two rounds. Unfortunately, he's five back of leader Rory McIlroy. And after playing the first two days alongside McIlroy, Noren, currently ranked 19th in the world, doesn't seem to like his chances of back-to-back wins.
McIlroy opened in 67 and then shot a bogey-free 65 in second round, which included pars on the pair of par-5 finishing holes. Noren walked away left in awe.
"That's the best round I've ever seen," Noren said. "I'm about to quit golf, I think."
Check out the full interview below:
Bubba gets to drive dream car: K.I.T.T. from 'Knight Rider'
Bubba Watson is a known car aficionado.
He purchased the original General Lee from the 1980’s TV show “Dukes of Hazzard” – later saying he was going to paint over the Confederate flag on the vehicle’s roof.
He also auctioned off his 1939 Cadillac LaSalle C-Hawk custom roadster and raised $410,000 for Birdies for the Brave.
He showed off images of his off-road Jeep two years ago.
And he even bought a car dealership near his hometown of Milton, Fla.
While recently appearing on the TV show “Jay Leno’s Garage,” the former “Tonight Show” host surprised Watson with another one of his dream cars: K.I.T.T.
The 1982 Pontiac Trans Am was made famous in the ‘80s action show “Knight Rider.”
Though, Bubba didn’t get to keep this one, he did get to drive it.
Cut Line: USGA readies for Shinnecock 'mulligan'
In this week’s Memorial weekend edition, the European team adheres to the Ryder Cup secret formula, the USGA readies for the ultimate mulligan at next month’s U.S. Open and a bizarre finish at the Florida Mid-Am mystifies the Rules of Golf.
Cart golf. When the U.S. side announced the creation of a Ryder Cup task force following the American loss at Gleneagles in 2014, some Europeans privately – and publicly – snickered.
The idea that the secret sauce could be found in a meeting room did stretch the bounds of reason, yet two years later the U.S. team emerged as winners at Hazeltine National and suddenly the idea of a task force, which is now called a committee, didn’t seem so silly.
To Europe’s credit, they’ve always accomplished this cohesion organically, pulling together their collective knowledge with surprising ease, like this week when European captain Thomas Bjorn rounded out his vice captain crew.
Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harrington and Luke Donald (a group that has a combined 47-40-13 record in the matches) were all given golf cart keys and will join Robert Karlsson as vice captains this year in Paris.
Perhaps it took the Americans a little longer to figure out, but Bjorn knows it’s continuity that wins Ryder Cups.
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
The USGA’s mulligan. The U.S. Open is less than a month away and with it one of the most anticipated returns in recent major championship history.
The last time the national championship was played at Shinnecock Hills was in 2004 and things didn’t go well, particularly on Sunday when play had to be stopped to water some greens that officials deemed had become unplayable. This week USGA executive director Mike Davis was asked about the association’s last trip to the Hamptons and, to his credit, he didn’t attempt to reinvent history.
“Looking back at 2004, and at parts of that magnificent day with Retief (Goosen) and Phil Mickelson coming down to the end, there are parts that we learned from,” Davis said. “I’m happy we got a mulligan this time. We probably made a bogey last time, maybe a double bogey.”
Put another way, players headed to next month’s championship should look forward to what promises to be a Bounce Back Open.
Tweet of the week:
If u get friend zoned on live tv after winning a tourney, u pretty much need to do some not appropriate for all viewers type stuff after ur next W to get rid of that stigma #JustSaying— max homa (@maxhoma23) May 21, 2018
Homa joined a chorus of comments following Aaron Wise’s victory on Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson, which included an awkward moment when his girlfriend, Reagan Trussell, backed away as Wise was going in for a kiss.
“No hard feelings at all,” Wise clarified this week. “We love each other a ton and we're great. It was a funny moment that I think we'll always be able to look back at, but that's all it really was.”
Strength of field. The European Tour gathers this week in England for the circuit’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, and like the PGA Tour’s marquee stop, The Players, the event appears headed for a new spot on the calendar next year.
As the PGA Tour inches closer to announcing the 2018-19 schedule, which will feature countless new twists and turns including the PGA Championship’s move to May and The Players shift back to March, it also seems likely the makeover will impact the European Tour schedule.
Although the BMW PGA currently draws a solid field, with this week’s event sporting a higher strength of field than the Fort Worth Invitational on the PGA Tour, it’s likely officials won’t want to play the event a week after the PGA Championship (which is scheduled for May 16-19 next year).
In fact, it’s been rumored that the European Tour could move all eight of its Rolex Series events, which are billed as “unmissable sporting occasions,” out of the FedExCup season window, which will end on Aug. 25 next year.
Although the focus has been on how the new PGA Tour schedule will impact the U.S. sports calendar, the impact of the dramatic makeover stretches will beyond the Lower 48.
Rules of engagement. For a game that at times seems to struggle with too much small print and antiquated rules, it’s hard to understand how things played out earlier this month at the Florida Mid-Amateur Championship.
In a story first reported by GolfChannel.com, Jeff Golden claimed he was assaulted on May 13 by Brandon Hibbs – the caddie for his opponent, Marc Dull, in the championship’s final match. Golden told police that Hibbs struck him because of a rules dispute earlier in the round. Hibbs denied any involvement, and police found no evidence of an attack.
The incident occurred during a weather delay and Golden conceded the match to Dull after the altercation, although he wrote in a post on Twitter this week that he was disappointed with the Florida State Golf Association’s decision to accept his concession.
“The FSGA has one job, and that’s to follow the Rules of Golf,” Golden wrote. “Unfortunately, there’s no rule for an inebriated ‘ex-caddie’ punching a player in a match-play rain delay with no witnesses.”
Because of the conflicting statements, it’s still not clear what exactly happened that day at Coral Creek Club, but the No. 1 rule in golf – protecting the competition and the competitors – seems to have fallen well short.