Blog 72 - Matteo Manessero; the next Seve?

Magnificent Manessero Becomes Youngest Winner in European Tour History
It happened when I was five years old and, yes, I remember it like it was 34 years ago (hazy, but still floating around in the old medulla oblongata somewhere). 19-year-old Seve Ballesteros came to the final hole at Royal Birkdale in the 1976 (had you worked that out?) Open Championship needing a birdie to tie Jack Nicklaus for second, six shots behind a rampant Johnny Miller. Short and left of the green in two, the flambouyant teen squeezed a cheeky little chip-and-run up between two greenside bunkers that had no business being bisected - and surely not on the last hole of a major championship, then knocked in the resulting putt. Thus was born the legend of Seve Ballesteros - one I reread often and will never grow tired of.
Yesterday, Italy's Matteo Manessero won his first European Tour event at the age of 17 years and 188 days - two years younger than Ballesteros was when he won his first European Tour title - the Dutch Open - a month after the '76 Open Championship.
So could Manessero be the next Seve?


Could Matteo...
Of course not. There could never be another Ballesteros; a one-of-a-kind, never-to-be-repeated, not-to-be-imitated phenomenon, a sublime mix of flair and genius that shone so brightly it often made other great players of his day look somewhat pedestrian. And besides, Manessero may be Italian, but he appears to surpress the raging Latino (because the Italian language emerged from ancient Latin, Italians are considered Latinos in Europe) within a lot more successfully than Ballesteros ever could.
Indeed, the two appear very different animals. It's early days, of course, but Manessero is not a quarter the exhibitionist Ballesteros was. Compared with the often fiery Spaniard, Manessero seems mild-mannered, far less prone to emotional outbursts and certainly not one to get entangled in a long-running disputes with the game's officials (like Ballesteros did when he and then PGA Tour commissioner, Deane Beman, argued over the number of events foreigners were obliged to play in the US in order to retain membership of the tour).
Manessero surely possesses a deep passion for the game (Tom Watson made it very clear he had the passion necessary to turn a very, very good player into a great one after the two were paired together for the first two rounds at last year's Open Championship at Turnberry), but whereas Ballesteros's covered the entire length of both his sleeves, Manessero's is concealed behind a pleasant, calm nature that is immediately at odds with Seve's brusque demeanor.
And their approaches to the game seem to lie at either end of the plodder/swashbuckler scale. Okay, Manessero may not be quite as deliberate as Bernhard Langer, for example, but he does go after birdies using the conventional route, via the fairway. Ballesteros often found no use for the fairway whatsoever.
...ever be as good as Seve?
At the Castelló Masters in Castellon, Spain, Manessero hit 64.3% of the fairways (fifth best) and averaged 'only' 287.3 yards off the tee (68th) which seems like plenty but was actually 43 yards behind the week's longest hitter, Ricardo Gonzalez. In his pomp, Seve's stats were usually the complete reverse, not so much 'short' and straight as long and wild. If's stats went back 30 years, you'd see that Ballesteros was among the longest hitters of his day, but also one of its least accurate. The site's stats for Seve only go back as far as 1998, however, so its impossible to make a direct and terribly meaningful comparison between him and Manessero, but it is significant perhaps that even as Ballesteros got shorter and shorter off the tee, he was still woefully inaccurate. Between 1998 and 2001, he hit a little over 40% of fairways - that says something about the sort of player he was.
It's likely, given their distinct styles, the Italian's career will not be as exciting to follow or document as Ballesteros's was, and he'll surely never match Seve's 91 professional wins worldwide. But who's to say young Matteo won't reach, even surpass, the Spaniard's five major championship titles?
And, on another note entirely, is it not utterly absurd that, with Manessero winning so young, 19-year-old Seung Yul Noh on one European and two Asian Tour wins already and Ryo Ishikawa on eight Japan Tour titles before his 20th birthday, the likes of Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Aaron Baddeley, Jason Day, and Molinari the Younger already seem like veterans?


Conditions like this don't just happen by accident.
Last week, I had a fascinating conversation with Scott McBeath, Lake Padden's head superintendent, about how he prepares the course for winter. Work begins at the start of October when the tees, fairways and greens are punched. McBeath uses a smaller tine than other courses as he needs to get the putting surfaces back up to normal speed as quickly as possible, not just because LP is a municipal but because October is actually a very busy month for men's club tournaments (speaking of which, the final event on the club calendar - the Memorial - is this coming Saturday). "We add calcium, potassium, and organic products to the soil to help stimulate microbial activity prior to the temperature falling," he says. "These products are still available in spring when the temperature rises again."
This time of year is also used to clear brush around the perimeter of the course in order to make leaf clean-up easier.
Sprinklers are still used while the soil is soft enough to dig, but not so wet as to make the work any more miserable than it already is. "Cart paths and bunker edges are trimmed  before the rains come, because once it gets too wet we can't take maintenance vehicles on to the course, obviously. We basically do as much project work as we can before the really bad weather arrives."
By the start of November, the pump station is shut down and all irrigation mainlines and laterals evacuated in case the temperature falls below freezing. Pink Snow Mold, which causes unsightly patches of off-color turf, is always a concern, and preventing/eradicating it this year will be harder than ever as one of the main weapons in the fight against it - an organochlorine called pentachloronitrobenzene (happily shortened to PCNB) was taken off the shelves by the Environmental Protection Agency in August. "We would normally apply the PCNB at the beginning of December," says McBeath. "But that option isn't available this year. It's going to be tricky, but we'll experiment to find another product that works."
If you thought McBeath, and Bellingham's other superintendents, twiddled their thumbs all winter waiting for spring to return, rest assured they are hard at it doing everything humanly, mechanically, physically (and, to a lesser degree, chemically) possible to keep our courses playable.


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