That Matteo Manassero, the 17-year-old Italian who won the amateur medal at this year’s Masters, can be a bit doleful makes him more fun to watch rather than less. At last week’s Scottish Hydro Challenge, his first European Challenge Tour event, he arrived on a rain-speckled eighth tee at Spey Valley with a loud sneeze followed by assorted splutters. “This Scottish weather isn’t doing me any good,” he muttered.
There are no mobile scoreboards for the early rounds on the Challenge Tour and, in the circumstances, it made sense to wait for a quiet moment to ask his caddie how he was scoring. As it transpired, he was 5 under. The sun came out for the back nine but then there was something else for Matteo to be sad about. The putts weren’t dropping and he finished at 4 under.
Almost certainly, his mood would not have been helped by what happened at Sunningdale at the start of last week. Though he began the European Final Open Qualifier with a 64, he had a second-round 71 to miss out by one on this year’s 150th Anniversary championship at St. Andrews.
As Alberto Binaghi, his coach, would note, Matteo had been unlucky on two counts. As recently as 2008, a top-15 finish in the Open, which is what Matteo had last year, would have been enough to guarantee a place in the next instalment. Last year, though, the number of those winning automatic berths was cut from 15 to 10.
Like everyone else, R&A personnel will probably be crossing their fingers that their 2009 Amateur champion gets into the field at the eleventh hour by being the leading player, not otherwise exempt, in the first five and ties of either of the French Open or the Barclays Scottish Open.
Manassero did for the Scottish Hydro Challenge what Tiger Woods used to do when he first appeared at the Dubai Desert Classic. Even if he was not exactly bursting with good cheer early on, he lit and lifted the tournament.
There are not very many people in the Highlands but plenty seized the chance to see the young man with his no-nonsense approach and wonderfully fluent swing. Crocodiles of schoolchildren came from local primary schools, with a little lad by name of Cameron heading for home with a golf ball given to him by the Italian teenager. He was going to use it after school and, no, he was not afraid of losing it. “Of course I won’t lose it,” he said. “I will keep it on the fairway.”
Among the three tournaments – two European Tour and one Challenge Tour – Matteo has played since switching to the professional ranks, he has still been attending school back in Verona. He will finish his last two years of schooling with a tutor or on-line.
Thus far, he would seem to have played relatively little as against players like Rory McIlroy and Ryo Ishikawa. Where their schoolteachers turned the proverbial blind eye to missed lessons, Manassero was allowed no such leeway. His term-time golf was restricted to weekends and a couple of afternoons a week. Two other afternoons were devoted to physical fitness.
It doesn’t always follow that more practice leads to better results but, in Manassero’s case, there is the feeling that we have as yet had nothing more than a glimpse of what is to come.
If Condoleezza Rice, the 66th Secretary of State, has indeed accepted chairmanship of the Nominating Committee of the USGA, she is presumably a president in the making. Presidents of the USGA are usually made members of the R&A, though that did not happen in the case of the first woman to hold that office, Judy Bell. The latter was given a handsome piece of jewelry instead.
Will the same apply if and when Rice achieves the top office?
On the grounds that the R&A would not want to do something for her that they did not do for Bell, you would have to assume that it will. Again, the amended Equal Opportunities Act, which comes into force in October, is such that single-sex clubs, men’s or women’s, have to be what they say they are.
Once women are through the door in a men’s club, or men through the door in a women’s club, equality apparently has to apply at every level – playing opportunities, use of clubhouse facilities, the lot.
There are plenty of golfers who spend most of their time under the radar but the 46-year-old Colin Montgomerie is not among them. In fact, you have to suspect that he could not find the necessary wavelengths if he tried. The last two weeks has been typical of how, one way or another, our Ryder Cup captain is never out of the headlines.
One week he was looming large in the tabloids for having an affair – and the next he was up in lights for being among the leaders of the Open qualifiers at Sunningdale. Even in connection with the latter feat he made waves beyond the norm. Having left himself on the borderline after a 1-under-par 69, his afternoon tally was tear-away 62. Small wonder that his fellow players were left scratching their heads in mingled amusement and disbelief.
The hope is that the Scot succeeds in sorting out his marriage and that a light-hearted and much-publicized crack from David Howell, his old Ryder Cup colleague, never becomes reality. It was shortly after Montgomerie had first started courting Gaynor Knowles that Howell was advised by Monty that she was worth 15 million.
“Well,” returned Howell, “she’ll be worth 30 by the time she’s finished with you.