Manassero makes British Am history

Matteo Manassero of Italy poses with the trophy after his 4&3 win during The Amateur Championship Final.

FORMBY, England – Pencil Matteo Manassero’s name into the record books.

The 16-year-old from Verona in Northern Italy holds two distinctions in British Amateur Championship history. He is the youngest ever winner of the British Amateur Championship, and the first Italian to win the championship in its 124-year history.

Manassero defeated England’s Sam Hutsby, 4 and 3, in the 36-hole final Saturday to smash Bobby Cole’s 43-year-old record as youngest winner. Manassero is nearly two years younger than the Cole, who was 18 years, 1 month when he won at Carnoustie in 1966. England’s John Beharrell was also 18 years, 1 month when he triumphed at Troon 10 years earlier. However, Cole was a day younger.

Manassero now takes his place in this year’s British Open Championship at Turnberry and will play at next year’s Masters. He will also receive an invite to this year’s Scottish Open at Loch Lomond.

“I never can imagine this happening,” Manassero said. “It’s unbelievable.

Three up at lunchtime after winning the last three holes of the morning session, Manassero’s game plan was simply to shut Hutsby out over the afternoon session. He did that pretty well when he raced to a 6-up lead after 25 holes.

Hutsby managed to reduce the deficit to five holes with an outrageous break on the par-5 eighth hole. His approach shot looked headed for the trees, but the ball somehow came out to the side of the green into the rough about 20 feet from the hole. He hit a poor chip shot that looked to be heading 25 feet away, but it hit the edge of the hole and finished 12 feet from the flag.

Hutsby holed that putt for birdie to win the hole, but lost the 12th hole when he made double bogey after needing two shots to get out of a greenside bunker. However, successive birdies at 13 and 14 gave him hope until he bogeyed the 15th to leave Manassero with a short putt for the match.

“I think my start to the second round today was more important than the final three holes this morning,” Manassero said. “That gave me a good lead.”

The teenager punched the air when he won and turned to caddie Alberto Binaghi, the Italian team coach. Binaghi attempted to replicate Costantino Rocca’s lifting of Colin Montgomerie in the 1997 Ryder Cup but only managed to swing his young charge off his feet.

Binaghi caddied for Manassero the last few rounds, and looked to be calling the shots at times. Binaghi spent nearly 20 years trying to make it as a European Tour pro with little success, but he’s as seasoned as they come.

“I needed him,” Manassero said. “He helped me a lot. He was good with the choice of clubs and keeping me calm.”

It’s no doubt that Manassero will go on to better things than both Beharrell and Cole. Beharrell remained a lifetime amateur, eventually becoming R&A captain. Cole won as a professional in South Africa and twice on the PGA Tour.

Unlike some previous British Amateur champions, Manassero looks like the real deal.

The boy from Verona, Northern Italy, may have been four years younger than Hutsby but he didn’t look it. He had experience beyond his years. Think a young Seve Ballesteros.

The comparison is apropos. Manassero says Seve is his idol. He met the five-time major champion at his home club of Garda Golf & Country Club and even spent time chipping with the Spanish maestro. Manassero was only 4 years old at the time.

Although he’s not as good a golfer as Seve was when he was 16, Manassero carries himself with a the same sort of confidence as the legendary Spaniard. He also has the same innate charisma, a flashing smile and handsome looks that should make him popular when he turns professional.

The estimated gallery of 1,000 following the final were unanimous: A star might have been born this week at Formby.

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