Exclusive interview: European Tour star Matteo Manassero
Everything Matteo Manassero has achieved so far in his short but brilliant career is punctuated by the word youngest.
The youngest winner of the Amateur Championship in 2009, the youngest winner of the Silver Medal at the Open shortly after, the youngest player to make the cut at Augusta in 2010, the youngest winner in European Tour history at the 2010 Castelló Masters.
Then, last May, to trump the lot he became the youngest winner of the PGA Championship when he beat Simon Khan and Marc Warren in a play-off at Wentworth.
In between he became the first (and, yes, the youngest) teenager to win three European Tour events when he sealed victory in Singapore.
He is yet to turn 21.
How exciting was it to win back the Seve Trophy after a gap of 13 years?
Yeah, finally we got it back! We improved a record that we definitely needed to improve. It was a great week. I think it’s a wonderful event and I hope they will keep it going, because, you know, every 20 players, each player says it’s a beautiful week.
We all have a lot of fun and even the crowd had a lot of fun. Everybody could feel the atmosphere is of a really nice event. It’s competitive but it’s not extremely competitive because we know each other and we play all the time, but it’s a great preparation for every team event and of course, a focus towards Ryder Cup. I have participated in two and I lost one and it wasn’t nice, so I definitely wanted to get it this time.
How do you think it compares with the Presidents Cup?
I think that’s what the organisers should focus towards. If they can find a way to have some more players playing in the Seve Trophy, then it could become an event like the Presidents Cup really, because the players that we have in Europe are obviously as good as the players that were in the Presidents Cup.
So I think it’s an event that should be almost like that. I wouldn’t say as much as that, because everything that happens in America is so huge but we should have something similar because Great Britain and Ireland and Continental Europe, for how well we do in the Ryder Cup, we deserve a preparation for the Ryder Cup that is almost as big as what they get.
Did you watch much of it as a team?
I was watching it a little bit, not so much, because in the end we were coming back late and we didn’t have much spare time, but it was fun to watch.
Have you spoken to Paul McGinley about qualifying for the Ryder Cup?
I think all of the players at the Seve Trophy sat down with him and had a little bit of a chat. He’s a very direct guy, he wants a direct relationship between the players and captain, so I think he’s got in his mind the 50 players, 40 players, that could qualify and he’s going directly to everyone and speaking because that is his way.
And I thought he was really nice with me, just coming and saying, look, you know, obviously you’re playing well and everything, so just keep it going and it would be great if you make it in the team.
He’s a very straightforward captain, and that’s what I personally like.
What would make up your ideal captain, somebody who is hands on or somebody who does things from a distance?
I don’t know about the rest of the players but I like somebody that comes to you and says, ‘look, you’re a possibility, so if you keep going like this, you’ve got your chances’.
It made me feel good. It made me feel like he’s just watching every single player, and he was at the Seve Trophy the whole week, and he definitely took some notes. He seemed to be enjoying being there and watching all of us playing in the Ryder Cup format. So he did speak to me. It was just a nice, normal chat, nothing really special and nothing that put me under extra pressure. It just made me understand that he’s watching us.
It is still very early in your career but did you learn any lessons two years ago in trying to make the team?
Well, I think to qualify you just have to play well. I mean, you can play whatever you want; if you play the two main tours and you play well in one of them you’re going to qualify, and that’s about it. I’m thinking on my schedule for the next year, but nothing is really set yet.
I didn’t think I made many mistakes the last time, so definitely something similar, and then I have to play better.
You know, that’s it. It’s not that I didn’t qualify because I made mistakes on schedule so it was fine for me.
What is your earliest Ryder Cup memory?
That was Valderrama in 1997 and I remember watching Costantino Rocca in his match against Tiger, I was four at the time.
The Italian players tell you many things but they tell you also that words don’t really explain what it is, the buzz from the crowds and the emotions that you feel yourself.
I played in the Junior Ryder Cup in 2008 so I went to those matches and I went to Celtic Manor. I was surprised at the scale of it and the level of shouting, it is so different to anything else. But I guess you have to play with all that and get used to it. Being a rookie is not easy and then you realise things and that’s when you start to get a little bit calmer.
Players like Westwood and Mickelson won’t have the anxiety that a rookie will have.
I read the papers but I‘m not the sort of guy who reads stories about themselves. But I have Twitter and it is very easy to see what people think about you there! Did you get the chance to meet your great idol Seve?
I met Seve when I was really young and he was playing in the Italian Open. I then met him in other Italian Opens and shook hands with him a few times. He was my number one hero.
To play in the Seve Trophy was great. This was my second Seve Trophy and you felt that he really wanted the tournament to happen and to keep going and it will always be special. Our captain Jose Maria Olazabal always gets quite emotional when he talks about Seve.
Being so successful at such an early age means you have to deal with some huge expectations. How do you deal with that?
My expectations are the ones that I care about, I am doing well so people want me to do even better and that’s normal. There are many goals that I haven’t achieved so we all want the same thing.
There will always be ups and downs and people increase those ups and downs but it is important to try and maintain that flat frame of mind, don’t get too excited or too low.
Do you read articles about yourself?
I read the papers but I‘m not the sort of guy who reads stories about themselves. But I have Twitter and it is very easy to see what people think about you there!
People think you can’t putt and then you hole a 20-foot putt and you are the greatest putter in the world so it is all quite changeable.
My expectations and goals are the most important thing. I am making it sound easy but sometimes it isn’t that easy to do and you can get distracted by what people say.
What makes up your ideal partner in a team event?
I like someone who chats and I like to have some distractions between shots. I played with Nicolas Colsaerts in my first Seve Trophy and it was fun, we are too different in our games for the foursomes but the fourballs was great.
You excel in every stat other than driving distance. How much does that concern you?
Day after day we are seeing that it is a physical thing. I am working on that to perform at its best and I have improved that. I have lost 10 kilos so I have become a better athlete.
What I am thinking is that if you have something in your nature it is hard to change it. The only thing you can do is become stronger and move the club faster and hit the ball further. I am never going to become a long hitter, I am never going to try to do so.
My strength is to be in the right place all the time and that’s what I will focus on and try and gain 10 yards on the driver. I have picked up an extra club’s distance with the irons which is fine, I now just need another 10 yards with the driver to be along the average distance on tour.
Putting wise you are generally right up there, can you reveal your secret?
I make it very easy for myself. I try to have a comfortable set-up so I stand quite close to the ball. I feel that I am aiming in the right spot and I think about the pace but don’t think too much about the pace as that comes over the course of the week.
All I think is to make the ball start in the right direction for the first foot. If the greens are perfect or not all you can do is to make the ball start straight.
As a kid I used to feel the putter and didn’t think about anything, then I started to think a lot about technique, now I am back to thinking about a few simple thoughts and the rest is about feel.
Everyone can hit a putt a foot straight and, if you can’t, after two hours on the putting green, you can. Then you just take dead aim and hit the putt straight. Brandt Snedeker is the kind of putter who you should watch.