RIO DE JANEIRO – For golfer Matteo Manassero, the Rio 2016 Olympic Games offer a much-needed light at the end of a long tunnel.
The Italian was once the talent to follow. At the age of 17 years and 188 days he became the youngest winner of a European Tour event, claiming the 2010 Castello Masters. Within two years he was the first teenager in history to win three times on the European Tour and the month after his 20th birthday he added this biggest title yet by winning the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, UK.
By the middle of 2013, Manassero was the 25th best golfer in the world and life was, as he admits, “easy”. The following two years were not so simple.
An attempt to tinker with his swing spiralled into poor form, mental strife and a dramatic tumble down the golfing ladder. By April this year the 23-year-old was ranked a dispiriting 893rd in the world and the Rio Games seemed well out of reach.
“It was tough. Some moments I played really badly and I didn’t feel I would play better. I was lost within myself,” Manassero said at the Olympic Golf Course on Saturday.
Plenty of advice was on offer for such a promising young golfer, perhaps a little too much so.
“I got a lot of advice, some great advice but it wasn’t helping. I had to really question myself; it was affecting everything,” he said.
“I stopped at the beginning of this year for three weeks, a month. I started to get answers for myself. I had to really go deep, it wasn’t just golf.”
A resurgent summer followed and three top 15 finishes on the European tour since June, including joint-third at the Scottish Open, sent the Italian surging towards a place at the Olympic Games.
“I am playing better. I feel much better, like a different person, and now I am part of the biggest event in sport,” he said.
Now ranked 344th in the world, Manassero is still a long way short of the standards he set in his earlier peak, but a good week in Rio is suddenly not out of the question.