From the greens of Augusta to the green of the Emerald Isle and on to golfing glory? Why not?

Italy’s Matteo Manassero will make his professional debut in the BMW Italian Open in Turin in three weeks’ time and it appears certain that the 16-year old Italian superstar will be invited by the European Tour to take part in the 3 Irish Open at Killarney from July 29 to August 1.

Manassero has a habit of making history in his short career. In 2009, at the age of 16, he became the youngest ever winner of the Amateur Championship at Formby.

The win qualified him for last year’s Open at Turnberry where, playing alongside Tom Watson and Sergio García in the first two rounds, he made the cut and won the silver medal as leading amateur, eventually clinching a remarkable share of 13th place.

Now he has made history at Augusta by becoming the youngest player to make the cut since Bobby Cole in 1967. At 16 years, 11 months and 22 days he did it with nearly two years to spare, rounding off a memorable week by rolling in a five foot birdie putt to add a 72 to previous rounds of 71, 76 and 73 for a four over par total. 

Asked if he like to play like Watson, a hero this week, when he is 60, Manassero smiled and said: “I would be fine with that, yes.  Today I think I played really good.  I can’t play much better than this.  Maybe left on a few birdie chances out on the course. I made two bogeys on the last, but I finished with a good birdie; that’s a good memory.”

Rory McIlroy also turned professional as a teenager and when Manassero asked him for advice, the young Ulsterman was supportive.

“He said if I’m feeling ready, then there is no problem in trying to do that,” the handsome young Italian said as he prepared to join the 2010 champion in the Butler Cabin. “I mean, playing on a course like this obviously makes you understand that you can play on every course.”

He was the first amateur to play all four rounds at Augusta since Garcia in 1999 and Ireland would be a fitting scenario for the young man from Verona to earn enough cash on invitations to avoid a trip to Qualifying School.

After all, a 19 year old Spanish amateur by the name of José María Olazábal was given a chance to toughen himself up for the professional game when he was invited to play in the 1985 Carroll’s Irish Open at Royal Dublin.

The future, two-time Masters champion was the only amateur in the field. But not only did he make a lasting impression on Irish fans by finishing tied for 34th with the great Lee Trevino, he never forgot the gesture and went on to become one of the event’s greatest supporters.

In 1999 Garcia won his first maiden professional title on the European Tour when he claim ed the Murphy’s Irish Open at Druids Glen in just his sixth start as a professional. If Manassero wins this year, he will become the youngest winner in the history of the European Tour.

He’s a fearless competitor and when he England’s amateur great Peter McEvoy saw him in action when he was a mere 13 year old, he suggested: “Europe may have found its new Seve.”

For a country with just 100,000 registered golfers from a population of 57 million (the GUI has over 300,000 ), he could also be the player who finally triggers a golfing explosion in Italy. 

“It’s not easy to play golf when you’re a kid in Italy,” said Alberto Binaghi, who serves as both Manassero’s caddie and Italy’s national amateur coach. “All the golf courses are very far from the city. We still need to get golf in the schools.”

There were no fewer than three Italians in the Masters field with Manassero joining the Molinari brothers Francesco and Edoardo. Francesco also made the cut but Edoardo, regarded as the better of the brothers, reckons that the teenager could achieve great things in the game.

“Matteo is such a nice kid, very down to earth, and he has the talent to become Italy’s best-ever player,” Edoardo said. “His only weakness is he lacks some distance off the tee but he will get stronger. Give him three years he will be one of the best on tour.”

Three time Masters champion Nick Faldo went even further.

“Just coming to the Masters would be a thrill when you are 16, never mind playing in it,” Faldo said as Manassero finished out. “Just let him mature for five or 10 years. Boy I think he is going to be great.”


Brian Keogh
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