Trip to Q-School an unwelcome first for Matteo Manassero

NEW DELHI, INDIA - MARCH 09: Matteo Manassero of Italy watches a shot during the first round of the Hero Indian Open at Dlf Golf and Country Club on March 9, 2017 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images) Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Trip to Q-School an unwelcome first for Matteo Manassero

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Trip to Q-School an unwelcome first for Matteo Manassero

Matteo Manassero is experiencing something new this week in his short, illustrious career as a European Tour professional: He’s attending Qualifying School for the first time.

The 25-year-old Italian takes his place with 156 players from 28 countries chasing one of 25 cards for the 2019 European Tour. He finished 122nd on this year’s money list after the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, six spots short of keeping his card. Six rounds of sheer stress at Lumine Golf Club in Tarragona, Spain will tell if he’s still got the right stuff to take on Europe’s best.

“It’s not an easy tournament to prepare for, obviously you’ve got to be very patient and you know that it’s going to be a long tournament, but my game is in good shape,” Manassero said.

“I think the approach this week should still be about winning. Of course, it’s different than four rounds, because with it being six rounds you know that you’re going to get one or maybe two rounds where you’re not going to be in perfect shape, so you’ve got to battle even more.”

His game might be in a good place, but Qualifying School isn’t a good place to be for a four-time European Tour winner. Manassero victory in the 2013 BMW PGA Championship earned him a five-year exemption, which ran out this year.

Manassero skipped Q-School his rookie year by winning the 2010 Castello Masters, becoming the youngest European Tour winner at age 17 years and 188 days. It wasn’t the first time he’d set a record for precociousness. Victory in the 2009 British Amateur as a 16-year-old made him that tournament’s youngest champion. He went on to another youthful record at the 2010 Masters, becoming the youngest player to make the 72-hole cut.

As he’ll discover, Q-School plays no favorites, tour winner or not. All he has to do is look around him. There are plenty of former winners in the field, and one of them even played in a Ryder Cup.

Former Augusta State player Oliver Wilson joins Manassero. Wilson, who’s making his fourth Q-School visit, played in the 2008 Ryder Cup. He reached a career high of ninth on the money list the following year, then his game went downhill. He lost his card in 2011 but got his career back on track by winning the 2014 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. He lost his card again at the end of 2016 and has played mainly on the European Challenge Tour the last two seasons. He just missed out on graduating to the 2019 Tour through the Challenge Tour this year, finishing 17th on the money list, two places short of graduation.

Four Q-School visits isn’t excessive. Former University of Tennessee player Ross McGowan is making his eighth trip. He was successful last year, only to finish 210th on this year’s money list to book a return trip.

Q-School is almost an annual pilgrimage for players such as McGowan. Twenty of the 33 players who earned cards at last year’s school are back this year. Only seven of those 33 grads managed to keep their cards for next year by finishing in the top 116 on the money list.

If Manassero earns a card, he’ll find himself playing in bottom-of-the-food-chain events worth about 30 percent of the total prize money on offer next year. It’ll come as a shock to the affable young man from Verona who has grown accustomed to playing in big-money events the past few years.

There’s one easy solution for Manassero: Play better. Problem is, given how low the purses are for Q-School minnows, even those who play well find it difficult to earn enough money to keep their cards. Talk about survival of the fittest. Gwk

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