Bryson DeChambeau’s performance in the US Open swamped the recent golf headlines and any space that was left was grabbed by Georgia Hall and her first victory on the LPGA Tour in the US. But had you drilled deeper into the golf news at that time one item might have caught your attention and brought you a great deal of pleasure. Matteo Manassero had won the Toscana Alps Open in Italy.
Imagine this conversation between Mr Know-it-All (Mr K-i-A) and Mr Know-not-very-Much (Mr K-nv-M).
Mr K-nv-M: “Manassero?” (in the manner of one who vaguely remembers the name but can’t quite place him)
Mr K-i-A: “Yes.”
Mr K-nv-M: “Matteo Manassero? The Italian golfer?”
Mr K-i-A: “The very same.”
Mr K-nv-M: “Wasn’t he really good once?”
Mr K-i-A: “Yes. Two months past his 16th birthday he became the youngest winner of the Amateur and at the 2010 Masters he became the youngest to make the cut. He turned pro soon after and in 2013, after three European Tour victories he was the youngest winner of the BMW-PGA. He achieved those four victories on the European Tour by the time he was 20.”
Mr K-nv-M: “Oh, he had slipped so far from my memory that I thought he had retired. His first victory for how long?”
Mr K-i-A: “Seven years and hundreds of tournaments. Perhaps winning so much so soon came too easily to him because as fast as he had risen the world rankings, he descended them. Ranked 25th in the world in 2013, he was down to 1,705th before his win at the Toscana. Now he is back to 920th.”
Mr K-nv-M: “Wow. Welcome back Matteo.”
We know that you can tell a man by the cut of his jib. PG Wodehouse taught us that. You can also determine the measure of a man by the company he keeps and the esteem in which his peers hold him. By that last yardstick, Manassero is exceptional. He might be the most popular Italian since Sophia Loren.
Here is Pablo Larrazábal on hearing about Manassero’s victory. “To see MM win a trophy again makes today one of the best Saturdays in a long, long time,” tweeted the Spaniard, 37, who has five victories on the European Tour.
Tony Johnstone, who is now a golf commentator on television and won the 1992 Volvo PGA Championship on the European Tour 21 years before Manassero, responded to Larrazábal’s tweet: “Well said amigo. The start of better things for a top guy.”
And this from a golf enthusiast, whose exclamation key on his keyboard may have been slightly overworked: “Made my week that!!! Well done Manny!!! Keep grinding and rising my man. Look forward to watching you play again soon.!!!”
The thing about Manassero is that he has entranced people wherever he goes. He has something of the gracious conversational habits of Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth. “I interviewed him on his first year at the Masters and what struck me was how poised he was,” said John Steinbreder, a colleague of mine on GGP. “Later I played in a pro-am with him. I know the Irish have the gift of the gab but I love the sense of conviviality that Italians have. I have followed Matteo from that day to this. I always root for him.”
Saturday 19 September 2020 will be a day that Manassero will never forget and his legion of fans won’t forget it either.
Another reason for this outpouring of congratulations for the Italian is that we all love a comeback. In golf terms this means a player who has achieved dizzy success at an early age, when no short downhill putt is too difficult to hole, that turns to despair when every short downhill putt is a nightmare. Then, inch by inch, this player claws his way back towards triumph once again. Winning on the Alps Tour was nothing like so big as winning the BMW-PGA in 2013 but Manassero might feel it is even bigger. The total purse for the Alps Open was €40,000. But it meant a million euros to Manassero. It made him realise he could win again when he must have doubted he ever would and that should give him an injection of confidence.
Not every golfer has the longevity and consistency of Phil Mickelson, who remained in the world’s top 50 golfers for 25 years in a row. Look at the fight back by Lee Westwood, who was fourth in the world rankings in March 2001 but had fallen to 266th in May 2003. In May 2011 he became world No 1. Or Tiger Woods who won his 14th major championship while walking on a broken femur in his left leg, endured huge personal and physical difficulties, tried to return to golf only to find that his chipping was so bad it was thought he had the yips. Then came last April, the Masters and his 15th major championship. Defeating his rivals at Augusta was as nothing compared to the enormity of overcoming all that had gone wrong in the previous few years.
So we like comebacks. They are inspirational. We hail the golfers who have made them. We admire them for their fortitude because while their early triumphs are down to their skill, their later ones are more mental than physical. Mind over matter and all that.
A few years ago, Jim Nugent, the publisher of GGP, played in a pro-am at Wentworth with Manassero. Insofar as you can hear a smile in a person’s voice down a transatlantic telephone line, there was a smile in Nugent’s voice at the memory of that day.
“He was clearly struggling with his game and had a two-way miss going on,” Nugent said. “Yet he was so unpretentious and charming and well-spoken. He had such youthful exuberance. He was fun to be with. I have played in pro-ams with bigger named players and sometimes they give off an air of being put upon at having to play with a rank amateur. There was none of that with Matteo. It was a day I will always remember.”
Manassero’s victory by one stroke in Italy was nothing like DeChambeau’s runaway triumph in the US Open a day later. Saturday 19 September 2020 will be a day that Manassero will never forget and his legion of fans won’t forget it either. They hope it will be the start of a comeback that might bring renewed and lasting success. If it is, they will know that such success will represent a greater triumph than anything that had gone before.