Matteo Manassero interview: Getting into the swing of things in Abu Dhabi
Matteo Manassero signifies everything that is good with the royal and ancient sport.
The Italian is already a world record holder at the age of 18, having won the Castello Masters in Spain last year at the age of 17 years and 188 days.
Mature far beyond his years, Manassero’s boyish looks and charms, added to his extremely down-to-earth personality, makes him a fan favourite and a dream pitchman for companies.
No wonder Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) have chosen him as their global brand ambassador. The two-time European Tour champion was in the capital recently and Sport360°'s Joy Chakravarty spoke to him about things on and off the golf course...
Before you head off for the home stretch as far as the golf season is concerned, you were here in Abu Dhabi at the Formula One. How was the experience?
It was just awesome. I have always been very interested in Formula One and the opportunity to get up close with the cars and the drivers whom I have admired so much over the years was too much to pass.
I enjoyed the race, but I also greatly enjoyed Ferrari World. And that is the thing about Abu Dhabi. There is something for everyone over here. You have some great golf courses, but then you also have cultural activities like the museums and other sporting activities.
Have you always been a big Formula One fan?
Yeah, I always watch it. My dad is really into the sport. I started watching the races along with him and that was the time when Michael Schumacher was dominating and winning everything.
It’s even more exciting now with so many young guys like Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton doing so well. But if you ask me, my favourite is Fernando Alonso. I like his personality, and I love the way he battles.
Being Italian, are you wildly passionate about cars?
I think I am. I love cars. I love their shapes. My favourite cars are BMWs. It doesn’t compare with Ferraris and the other fast cars, but I like the way they look. It is a great car to drive in the cities and outside, very comfortable.
I have a BMW X3, which is driven by my mum as I am yet to get my driving licence, which I have applied for. Once I get it, I am really looking forward to driving myself.
So, which car are you going to buy when you get the licence?
Honestly, I haven’t thought about it as yet. There are some very fast cars out there and I’d love to get my hands on a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. But there are restrictions in Italy and I can only drive cars under a specific engine size for the first couple of years after getting the licence.
So, I don’t really know which car I am going to buy right now, but I am sure I will get my inspiration whenever I am ready to buy.
Coming back to your golf – 2011 must have seemed pretty average for you especially after the Malaysian Open victory in April?
Well, I started 2011 much in the same way as I ended 2010 – going up and up. But after the victory in Malaysia, I did have a couple of chances in Italy and Wentworth, but I could not finish it well. After that, I have not had any good results.
I think this happens in any sphere of life. When you reach a certain height, you feel like pushing yourself even harder. That was my problem. Instead of trying to settle down, relax and enjoy my new status, I started trying too hard.
My own expectations were putting too much pressure on me. That was my worst mistake, because technically, I know I am a better golfer now.
How is 2012 looking for you? Are you starting the season in Abu Dhabi again?
Actually, I am not, which is a shame because I loved coming here this year and practising for a week before the tournament in gorgeous weather. But this year, I am playing the Volvo Champions event in South Africa and then coming here for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
I am really looking forward to the Abu Dhabi tournament. I have always made the cut here but haven’t done very well. It would be just amazing to win the tournament considering the association that I now have with the ADTA.
And what are the plans for Christmas and New Year? How do you relax?
I don’t need to stay on the sofa for 20 hours to relax. I just need to see the right people and I get relaxed automatically. I am going to be back in Italy after the Australian Masters.
I will practise a bit in some place like Sicily, but I will spend most time with my girlfriend, who is studying in a university and watch a lot of football with friends and family.
Ah, football. I always wondered what motivated you to pick up golf when everyone around you in Italy must be talking and playing football?
I was quite a good football player when I was young, but I had to make a choice between football and golf because as a student, I only had the weekends for practice.
I am glad I chose golf. I don’t know why I did that. Maybe, because golf was coming more easily to me than football. And also, somewhere in my subconscious was the feeling that the environment around football can be pretty bad.
I think golf is a more pure sport. Having said that, I still remain a big fan of football and AC Milan is the team I follow. As for players, Ibrahimovic is my favourite, but I think Messi is the greatest football player in the world.
You say that but it is also believed that it can be a cut-throat world in the professional Tours. You have completed more than a year as a pro. How has the experience been?
I have loved every moment of it and I have faced no problems. All my experiences have been very pleasant. Of course, I think my early success did help in gaining acceptance from the players, staff, fans and organisers.
One other reason could be the presence of the Molinari brothers on the Tour as top players when I started. That really helped because not only did they introduce me to new friends, they also helped me around new golf courses and new cities. Both Francesco and Edoardo have been fantastic to me.
Was there a golfer you idolised while growing up?
Seve...always Seve. I just loved watching him. Although, when I picked up golf over football, I was just seven or eight and Seve was not that big an influence in my decision-making process. It was just that I loved to play golf more. It was only a little later that I understood what a great player Seve was.
Finally, what are your immediate aims for 2012, and perhaps slightly long-term ones until the end of 2015?
My immediate aim is to get back into the top-50 in the world rankings. I would like to keep improving my game, and maybe win again. I want to play relaxed golf – just let golf come easy to me.
Long term, I am sticking to the European Tour for the time being, even though I will play the seven or eight tournaments in the US. I’d love to make it to the European Ryder Cup team. I’d love to win Majors.
And why not? I am sure Keegan Bradley never thought he would win the PGA Championship in his first year on the main Tour. The possibilities are endless.