Notes: Time for another teenage major winner?

Matteo Manassero

Matteo Manassero

We aren’t too far away from our next teenage major champion. The past few years points to the possibility of a teenager picking up major silverware in the not-too-distant future.

Tom Morris Jr. and John McDermott remain the only teenage major winners. Young Tom won three of his four Open Championships in his teens, his first at 17 years, five months and three days. McDermott was 19 years, 10 months and 18 days when he won the 1911 U.S. Open. Tiger Woods is the youngest major winner since McDermott. Woods was 21 years, three months and 15 days when he won the 1997 Masters.

Given the talent emerging on the world stage, it won’t surprise me if a teenager bags one of the tournaments that really matter in the next few years.

Matteo Manassero’s victory in last week’s Maybank Malaysian Open was his second European Tour victory before age 18! Manassero is part of a vanguard of youngsters who have slotted into the professional game with ease. Ryo Ishikawa, Danny Lee, Seung-yul Noh and Rory McIlroy are others who have excelled as teenagers in the pro game.

Elite amateurs get such good coaching these days, have access to first-class practice facilities and get funding to play around the world that it’s not surprising so many make easy transitions to the pro game.

Don’t be surprised if we see a major winner in the next few years who isn’t old enough to celebrate victory with an alcoholic beverage.

• • •

Great to see Michael Campbell making cuts again. The 2005 U.S. Open champion has been missing in action the past few years but seems to be finding a way out of his funk. Campbell has now made four of his past five European cuts after a spell of just three in 28 tournaments. If anyone thinks winning a major is a steppingstone to more success, then Campbell is a salutary lesson.

• • •

I wish I could bring good news about Englishmen Nick Dougherty, Oliver Fisher and Matt Haines.

I can’t.

Dougherty, a three-time European Tour winner, has not made a cut this year. In fact, he hasn’t come close. He was once viewed as a challenger to Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald and Justin Rose as the world’s leading Englishman. While they’ve moved up another level, Dougherty has gone backward.

I remember the days when Fisher was talked about in the same sentence as McIlroy, as in which one was going to be a bigger star. No debate now. McIlroy has left Fisher in his wake.

I first saw Fisher when he was 14, and he looked good enough then to play professionally. He is on his third coach since turning pro. He started out with Chris Jenkins, moved to Denis Pugh and is now with Pete Cowen. Pugh and Cowen are excellent coaches, but maybe it’s time Ollie picked up the phone and called Jenkins.

As for Haines, I watched him a lot in amateur golf and can’t figure why he hasn’t made the transition to the pro game. He is a former winner of the Lytham Trophy, Spanish and Portuguese Amateur Championships. He finished second on last year’s Challenge Tour. I didn’t expect him to win this year, but I did expect him to do well. He hasn’t. He is yet to make a cut this year.

All three prove that amateur success is no guarantee of similar success in the pro game.

• • •

Look for this year’s Open Championship to be about as fast and running as it gets. Royal St. George’s right now is playing hard and bouncy because of a lack of rain. Unless we get lots of wet stuff between now and July, tee shots are going to be pinging off the hardest fairways to hit on the Open rota. Just as well, the R&A has widened the fairways on the first, 17th and 18th holes.

• • •

This year’s 72 Club didn’t quite go to plan. I finished ninth out of the 21 starters. Mind you, the emphasis wasn’t really on winning, but proving a point. That is, that 18 holes doesn’t have to take five hours.

I played my first 36 holes in just 5 hours and 40 minutes. I teed off at 7:20 a.m. with the assistant pro at Littlestone and we finished at 1. My afternoon round was slightly longer because I had to play a three-ball at the back of the field after my original partner called off sick. Still, we played the last 36 holes in 6 hours, 20 minutes.

That’s 12 hours for 72 holes, walking and carrying a bag and counting every stroke. Think about that next time you think you’re a fast player.

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