A few weeks ago, at the Dunhill Links Championship, Matteo Manassero found himself sitting the wrong side of the cut-line with only a handful of holes to play. It had been about 47 holes of one step forward, one step back, with a tough front nine at St. Andrews eventually pushing him over par and largely out of the tournament.
But what did any of this matter? With his tour card for next year already secure and his reputation as one of golf’s most promising young talents very much on the up (not on the up enough according to some people!), he could be forgiven for cruising his way to a missed cut.
It was then, however, that something rather impressive happened: a birdie; then another; and another. A very pedestrian round suddenly became a very good one and Manassero found himself lurking just outside the top thirty. He would, naturally, go on to shoot a final-round sixty-nine and draw the mirage of Dubai’s season-ending cash bonanza into sharper focus with a cheque for a little over €35,000.
A relatively trivial footnote in a season containing its fair share of luminous highlights– an impressive finish at The Masters, last week’s win in Spain, a third-place finish at the glorious Crans Sur-Sierre– this inconspicuous rally nonetheless captures something of the essence of Matteo Manassero’s approach to the game. Review the hard data of his brief eighteen months in the public eye and you’ll notice that he doesn’t really do missed cuts. Just one, in fact, blots an otherwise impeccable professional record.
That sort of consistency would be impressive in its own right, regardless of the source, but that it should come from a seventeen-year-old who, in addition to his obvious lack of professional experience, is giving up somewhere in the region of twenty yards off the tee to his playing partners, makes it something genuinely phenomenal. It points, above all, to a ruthless instinct for scoring.
It’s not by chance that his two highest European Tour finishes have come on short, tight courses; these are the venues where a primacy is placed upon accuracy and finesse, where the Italian’s technically perfect short-game becomes an offensive weapon rather than a means of just staying in touch.
Yes, his stylish roll through the ball might look a little reminiscent of a certain legendary Spaniard, but that sort of comparison really doesn’t reflect the extent to which his game is already approaching the finished article. He may lack a few miles-per-hour of clubhead speed, but his ball-striking, pitching and (that rarest of talents) ability to will the ball into the hole are aready very firmly in place. He’s less “the next [insert name of European golfer here]” than he is “the current Matteo Manassero.”