Matteo Manassero: Mixing science with natural talent

Joy Chakravarty 15:59 08/05/2014
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Bright future: Manassero was in Abu Dhabi this month for the HSBC Golf Business Forum.

At an age when most children would be trying to graduate out of college, Matteo Manassero – who turned 21 last month – has the world at his feet.

Ever since he caught the eye walking the fairways of Turnberry alongside Tom Watson in the 2009 Open, where he finished tied-13th as an amateur, Manassero’s career graph has consistently moved in the right direction.

The global ambassador for Golf in Abu Dhabi became the youngest winner on the European Tour when he won the 2010 Castellon Masters.

While in his teens, Manassero won two more titles before securing the biggest win of his career last year at the BMW PGA Championship, Europe’s flagship event.

On the eve of defending his title, Manassero was in Abu Dhabi to take part in HSBC Golf Business Forum, and spoke to Joy Chakravarty on various issues, including his recent move to his own home…

At the HSBC Golf Business Forum, you spoke on how golf is becoming so scientific, with the players relying on an amazing array of data to improve their game. So, what are you – a scientist, or an artist?

I’d much rather be recognised as an artist. It’s a topic we discuss a lot. It’s almost as if the data is bringing the talent out of us athletes.

I think the biggest development for us golfers is the TrackMan, this little radar box which tells you everything about the ball flight and the club speed, launch angle etc. So, when you think you have all the right numbers, you should be playing well.

But I have noticed I have played some of my best golf when I have done everything almost subconsciously. Your mindset plays a huge role in golf. I have better TrackMan numbers now, so I am a better player now.

But when I played besides Tom in Turnberry, I wasn’t even thinking of these things. I had a smile on my face, and I was enjoying the challenge of playing on such a grand stage.

And if you look at it, I have never done better at The Open than that week as an amateur in 2009.

You mentioned mindset…but I think you are one of the few top golfers not working with a sport psychologist?

That’s right. There have been a few times on the golf course where I felt I wasn’t thinking right. My mental frame was not right. But I have a guy back home with whom I talk a lot. He has been a sportsman himself.

More than a psychologist, I feel I need a person who can just talk to me and to whom I can open up to and express myself. But I don’t think I need somebody who tells me to breathe four times and all that.

It’s hard to explain, but I want somebody who can bring out the natural me. As I said, some of the best golf I played was when I was an amateur. I was thinking differently then. I was fearless. But I have matured now. I am thinking a lot differently. I can’t go back to those days.

A year ago when we met, you said the priority was to increase your distance off the tee and for that, you wanted to bulk up and work out more in the gym?

It’s really important for the golfers today to work out, and especially, develop the big muscles that are used in the game and ones that give you stability. You need to be strong in golf, but not overtly strong. You have got to be strong in your core, and strong in your grounding. That’s what I work upon.

When I am not playing tournaments, I am at the gym almost every day. I don’t do too much weight, more stability and flexibility and some cardio. I did a lot of cardio to lose weight, but there is a flip side to it.

Before losing weight, I felt I was a lot more stable. I was heavier, which was the way I was born. I wasn’t born like this. So sometimes, it is a bit difficult to get hold of this body. I am 10 kilos lighter now, and I feel things were easier before when I was much more compact and grounded. I am getting a bit out of coordination, especially when I am trying harder, and it will take me some time to get used to this.

Why did you decide to lose weight?

I think this early in my career, I needed to get stronger and fitter so that I am better equipped to handle the demands in the coming years. I just needed to become a better athlete.

Have you changed your diet too? What are your eating habits like?

Not really, but I pay a lot of attention to what I eat. I like to have days when I can eat whatever I feel like, but I normally don’t eat sugar. There are some things like egg and milk that I don’t digest too well, so I avoid them.

For a golfer, I think it is very important to be careful with what you eat before a round. You don’t want it to be too heavy, and yet sufficient enough to give you enough energy. Obviously, I take care that I balance my proteins and carbs.

So, apart from the weight, what else has changed for you in the last one year?

Well…I moved out of my parent’s house and I now have my own place. It’s not common for Italian guys to move out of their parent’s house when they are 20. It’s a cultural thing for us. The new house is just in between Como and Milan. It’s perfect for me. It’s 20km from Milan. The airport is 30 minutes. My coach Alberto Binaghi has an academy there.

Apart from that, I have matured a lot. Touring and playing on such competitive tours does that to you. But to be honest, even if I win a Major, I don’t want my life to change. I want to keep it the way it is.

You were the youngest to make the Masters cut at 17, until Guan Tianlang broke that record, aged 14. Lydia Ko won at such a young age. How low can it go?

It’s almost impossible to tell, but physically, there is a limit. You can find some extremely physically and mentally talented guys at 14, but below that, I feel it would be a challenge to be competitive. Strength will surely be a big issue for them.

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