If you had to pick the heir to his throne as Europe’s brightest hope, Italian Matteo Mannasero would be top of many people’s list. Having burst onto the scene as a 16-year-old amateur at the 2009 Open playing alongside Tom Watson and finishing in 13th place, for many he embodied the swashbuckling spirit of Seve Ballesteros.
In the years since turning pro the 21-year-old has collected four professional titles including the European tour’s biggest tournament, the BMW PGA in May 2013, and this week finds himself reflecting on a top 20 finish in the Open championship having looked a possible winner at certain stages of the weekend.
“I started really well, I couldn’t have had a better start,” he admits. “In the final round, I just couldn’t get it going.”
The Italian declares The Open to be his favourite tournament on the calendar.
“The Open is the event in which I feel the crowds are the most knowledgeable,” he says. “The stands, the atmosphere, they cheer every player no matter where he’s from or if he’s playing well, and that’s fantastic. For that reason and for the atmosphere that the links creates, it’s just the best.”
On the subject of McIlroy, it’s clear Manassero is happy to see the Ulsterman, five years his senior, fulfilling his potential.
“Of course he inspires me and I am so happy that he is doing so well. I have a different game but he tells me that if I keep working, in a few years I might win the claret jug as well.”
The way Rory has developed in his early Twenties, the years the Italian still has in front of him, must be of particular encouragement.
“He’s a natural talent but he’s also learned a lot. You can see he handles his nerves incredibly well now and that comes from experience, just from being in those situations and doing things wrong.”
When talking to Manassero, it’s easy to forget he’s still only the equivalent age of a University undergraduate. But the professional golf tour with all its travel, time alone and mental demands, has a way of making people grow up fast.
Mannasero is clearly aware enough to realise the pitfalls of getting sucked in at such a young age.
“That’s why I know that I have to take my time and do things in my life that I like and to relax as well.”
What does he miss most when he’s away on tour? Aside from his iPad, on which he couldn’t do without and has just finished watching House of Cards, the answer is clear. Coffee.
“The Italian way of everything. Waking up having an espresso. Very small things but they make the difference. The coffee’s not great on tour,” he laughs.
Right now it’s three weeks back at home back in Italy before heading to the US for the PGA.
“Just being home with my friends, my family. I don’t want to be glamorous and do special things, I’m not like that. Just being at home, put the clubs aside for a few days otherwise it becomes too stressful. You’re not going to make 30 like that.”
You get they feeling that by the time Manassero hits 30, he’ll just be getting started.
Matteo Manassero is a Ralph Lauren RLX Golf Ambassador. Polo Ralph Lauren is a Patron & Official Outfitter of The Open Championship.