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Young Gun Control: Handle with Care

Not least because of the sad unravelling of Tiger’s life, people tend to worry when they hear of the vast sums of money being pocketed by the latest crop of bright young things.

Rory McIlroy, 21 last Tuesday, bagged £761,999 for his resounding win at Quail Hollow, while the 18-year-old Ryo Ishikawa simultaneously took the £167,716 first prize in the Crowns championship in Japan. And then, last Wednesday, that newly-turned 17-year-old, Matteo Manassero, teed up in the Italian Open with a string of sponsorships which could net him millions over the next few years.

Thrilling stuff short term but how will these players cope with fame and fortune?

With Woods on their books, IMG would not begin to pretend that they have all the answers. All they can safely say is that they have 50 years of experience. “You handle them with care but there’s no one way of doing it,” said Guy Kinnings, IMG’s director of golf in Europe. “Each player is different from the next – Ryo in Japan is different from Oliver Fisher in England – and Fisher is different from Matteo.

In Matteo’s case, Kinnings feels confident that they have a young man who is extraordinarily mature for his 17 years.

“We’re going to take things step by step,” said Kinnings. “This year, he’ll be utilising  the seven European Tour invitations he’s allowed in a bid to win his playing privileges – and we’ll see how it goes. He’ll maybe enter a couple of Challenge Tour events – or their equivalent – as well, but what we’re not going to do is to have him flying everywhere.”

Where Kinnings could not be more certain of his ground is in emphasising the importance of good family input. “Just look,” he advises, “at the number of top players with great parents in the background.”

He cited McIlroy’s father and mother who at one point had four jobs between them in order to finance Rory’s winter excursions to a tots’ tour in Florida. Though their son was an obvious star-in-the-making, these parents never let Rory’s early promise go to his head or theirs. From IMG’s own stable, Kinnings cites Rupert and Kay Fisher, parents of Oliver.

“The Fishers are endlessly supportive and know not to panic when things aren’t going according to plan,” he said.

The latter was a reference to the 2009 season in which Oliver went from being within a whisker of winning a tournament to losing his card. He planned to play a regular diet of Challenge Tour events this year but, after a main-tour start in Kenya where he finished third, he made the most of an invitation to Madeira. Second there, he earned himself a start in the Volvo China Open, where he finished seventh. That performance in turn gave him an entree to the Ballantine’s where he was fourth. 

Rupert Fisher, who has now taken a step away after caddying for Oliver over his first three years, suspects that it was more important for him to be around in his son’s third year than at any other time: “Oliver had someone to talk to, someone to argue with, if you like. He could let off steam.”

There was an inkling at The Masters that Matteo’s father will have the same sixth sense. On Thursday, the lad was going well enough until it came to the eighth, where he hooked behind one of those massive pines. Matteo’s father was among the handful of people in the vicinity. Totally unostentatiously, he went up and had a brief look at the shot as it would be seen by his son. That done, he disappeared into thin air long before Matteo was even close.

A further reason behind Matteo’s speedy progress has to be down to the wider family of Italian golf. As applied to Sergio Garcia in Spain, he was able to lace his amateur career with a useful peppering of professional events.

Garcia, of course, can join the list of those who have benefited from having a father who kept precisely the right kind of watchful eye over him in his early days on tour. Today, there has been something of a role reversal as Garcia has dipped into his millions to send his father on the Senior circuit.

There was an equally strong bond between Tiger and his late father, though, other than in a golfing context, Earl Woods’ ploy of making his son out to be a cut above the rest was hardly the best of longer-term strategies. 

Yet regardless of what has gone wrong in Tiger’s life, he can draw comfort from the fact that he has helped to create a far saner environment for the generation he has done so much to inspire – the McIlroys, the Fishers, the Danny Lees, the Ryo Ishikawas and the Matteo Manasseros. As Rory so graciously stated after his win at Quail Hollow, “Tiger was the guy that all of us looked up to. He was the guy we turned on our TVs for, the guy who made us practise.”

The rivalry among this exciting new breed should be enough in itself to keep all feet firmly anchored to ground.

None of them can afford to get carried away.


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