All eyes will be on Matteo when he plays in his national Open

ROME: Italian Matteo Manassero (pic) , golf’s teenage hot prospect who became the youngest to play the US Masters, will bring the sport back to the forefront of his country’s consciousness when he makes his pro debut next month.

Matteo’s bow at his national Open will bring a wave of optimism to Italy’s burgeoning golf scene – and surely a red glow to the faces of some short-sighted members of local clubs who tried to keep him off their course as a tiny tot.

“I started when I was three and on some courses they wouldn’t let me play because they said I was too little,” Matteo, who turned 17 on Monday, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

“They wouldn’t accept that a child could play. So my parents had to argue at times with some people at golf courses so I could.”

During a landmark week, Matteo sparked “Matteo-mania” at Augusta earlier this month when he became the youngest competitor at the season’s opening major and made the cut for the weekend before finishing with a four-over total of 292.

His father said nurturing a golfing prodigy was not always easy in Verona in the 1990s.

“There was one club in particular where I realised that a child’s presence wasn’t welcome and eventually we left,” Roberto Manassero told Reuters.

“In the end we found another club. Now things have improved, but at the time it was really complicated to find somewhere open to children.”

Matteo said he developed a passion for the sport by studying his father’s golf videos when he was a toddler.

That early education paid off as he qualified for the Masters after becoming the youngest player to win the British amateur championship when aged 16 last year.

After the stir he created in Augusta, as a golfer and as a teenage heartthrob, Matteo will turn professional at the Italian Open in two weeks.

While prospective girlfriends will be disappointed he does not intend to hook up with anyone until “I become a full-time golfer”, as a competitor he is already shaping up as one of the most exciting talents to emerge from Europe in many years.

What amazed golf fans was the way in which he kept a cool head while competing alongside seasoned pros.

“It’s something I mask well but the pressure is there,” he said. “You are nervous in such an important tournament, otherwise it would mean you don’t care at all about what you’re doing. I probably hide it well.

“I don’t fear the expectations people may have of me,” he said, adding that his short-term aim is to gain his card for the European Tour.

“If I manage to achieve my goals great, if I don’t I’ll be the first not to make a drama out of it and keep playing and training.

“In the long term I want to win some tournaments on the European Tour. A major is a dream. If you manage to win on the European Tour, it’s possible things will go right for you during the week of a major.”

While Matteo is rapidly having to adjust to life under the spotlight whenever he walks out of his parents’ house, behind closed doors he is determined to maintain a low-key life.

“I have my friends at school and in my city Verona but I don’t go out much at night,” he said.

“I prefer to go home and be tranquil. I’ve returned to normality, school and training. Nothing has changed in my family, nor with my dearest friends. I’m still my old self.”

His father agreed, saying: “He hasn’t altered a jot.” — Reuters

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