Matteo Manassero confident he can live up to his reputation at US Open

It would be unwise to underestimate Matteo Manassero.

At 20 years old his achievements offer abundant proof of that. Even before the young Italian claimed the PGA Championship last month, Manassero had become the first teenager to win three times on the European Tour. He was the youngest winner of a Tour event – at 17 years and 188 days – and youngest, not to mention the first Italian, winner of the Amateur Championship in 2009.

For good measure, he became the youngest winner of the Open's silver medal a few months later and the youngest player to make the cut at the Masters the following April.

Manassero's recent Wentworth triumph – the youngest victor of the European Tour's flagship event – continued a remarkable run of four wins in four years as a professional. Manassero does not turn 21 until April but is rated 26th in the world rankings and is the early leader of the European Tour's Race to Dubai standings.

So what next? Manassero will arrive at Merion for the second major of the year, the US Open, believing he can achieve further greatness. "I will think that way," he says. "I have earned the right to play there so, when I tee up, I will think that way and think about playing my best.

"I will try to stay around the top of the leaderboard. That is the idea but it is a major championship; all the top players are there, it will be tough. It is not easy to be at your best in just four tournaments. It is very difficult, but that is why they are majors.

"I have never been to Merion before but I know there is an opening stretch of five or six holes that you just have to get through before some chances arrive. There will be extreme conditions – the US Open course always plays very difficult."

Manassero already has a broader focus. Along with the emerging Dane Thorbjorn Olesen he is likely to launch a youthful push to be a part of Europe's Ryder Cup team for the defence of the trophy at Gleneagles in 2014. That is a challenge, like so many, that Manassero embraces.

"It would be amazing to be there next year," he admits. "It won't be easy but it is possible and I will try my best. This is the biggest event on my mind right now, more than majors, because the Ryder Cup is up to me."

In Manassero's homeland football is, and will always be, king. Manassero regards it as an "honour" that he, along with the Molinari brothers, have emerged as flag bearers in another sport. Not that Manassero has any problem with Italy's national passion, since he references that when contemplating a dream four-ball. "I would say Marco van Basten, I'm a huge AC Milan fan and he was my favourite player. I've met him and he's a really nice guy," Manassero says. "I'd also like to meet and play with Michael Jordan, who is a good golfer. I don't play much basketball, but I do like to watch it. It has to be another sportsman to make up the team and I'll take Novak Djokovic.

"That would be an easier question if it was just golfers; I would choose Seve Ballesteros, Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods. I know Andriy Shevchenko as well now. I had never met him when he lived in Italy but during the week of Wentworth he came to watch. He is a great guy. For me, it has been nice to grow up and be part of a sport that is not as big. That causes less problems."

In physical terms, there has been definite growth. Manassero spends much of his off-season playing and practising in the ideal climate of Abu Dhabi and last winter he focused on improving his athleticism. The Italian has always retained a formidable short game but lagged behind in driving distance. At Wentworth he was not at all fazed by the playing of the par-5 18th as the playoff hole; an impressive change of tactic at the fourth time of asking (driver off the tee rather than three wood) allowed him to outsmart Simon Khan and take home the £666,500 first prize.

Had he not turned to professional golf, Manassero could have been juggling figures of another kind. "I was OK in school, but I always missed a lot because I was playing so much," he says. "But if I'd stuck at it I imagine that I'd be doing something financial or economical. Finance always attracted me, even though maths was always a bit of a love-hate relationship. I would have tried playing football, but I don't think I'd have made it."

Ballesteros has been hailed as Manassero's golfing hero, but he isn't alone. "One guy that really inspired me was Michael Jordan," Manassero says. "I wouldn't say that he inspired me as a sportsman, but I love going back and watching videos of him, especially how he conducts himself in interviews. He always seemed to be very careful about the words that he used and thought about everything differently to anybody else.

"I would say Tiger also. He is so strong mentally that he must be in the top three in that category, of all sportsmen, in the history of sport.

"The earliest golfing memories that I have are of the Italian Open when I was about six years of age. Watching that event is how I really got started in the game. Seve played, as did Bernhard Langer, José María Olazábal and Costantino Rocca. But I watched everybody – they all looked amazing to me. I wanted to be just like them."

Mission accomplished on that front. All that is missing is the major and Ryder Cup glory which, inevitably, will arrive for the brightest young talent in Europe.

Powered by article was written by Ewan Murray, for The Observer on Saturday 8th June 2013 23.06 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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