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  • Alistair Tait

Golf experience often means diddley

Padraig Harrington probably didn’t have Matteo Manassero in mind went he went deep into the philosophical corners of this game of golf ahead of the 103rd PGA Championship, but the Italian can relate to Harrington’s wise counsel.

So can those of us who (supposedly) only play this game for fun.

Harrington is one of the more interesting players to talk to in an age when many of our top stars often open their mouths and say practically nothing. So it pays to listen when the current European Ryder Cup captain talks.

Manassero should be all ears.

Here’s what Harrington had to say about how experience of Kiawah Island in winning the 1997 World Cup with Paul McGinley should help his efforts to win his fourth major to go with the 2008 PGA Championship, and the 2007 and 2008 Open Championships.

“People often ask in a general term about experience,” he said. “Well, as you gain experience, you lose innocence. I suppose if you drew a graph, there's a crossing point of equilibrium where you have some experience and a certain amount of innocence and enthusiasm. As you get a little bit older and you get all this experience, on paper people might think you get better with experience but, as I said, you've seen a few things that you know in your game that you probably never wanted to see, so you kind of lose that little bit of, I suppose, innocence. It's not everything it's cracked up to be to have experience.”

Manassero has no doubt concluded that with his tumble down the world order. There was a time when the affable Italian would have expected to be teeing it at Kiawah. Instead, he’s playing in this week’s Dormy Open on the European Challenge Tour. The good news for Manassero fans is that his opening 64 gave him the first round lead.

That 8-under-par score is his lowest since the 2012 Scottish Open. No wonder Manassero was surprised by this blast from the past.

“To be honest when we practiced I didn’t see scores like that coming but it was one of those days in which things went the right direction,” Manassero said.
“In golf, there is always a new day in a good and a bad way, so I’ll just keep my focus and do my own things.”

Unfortunately, there have too many bad days for the 2009 Amateur champion and former world amateur number one. Remember, Manassero is a four-time European Tour winner, including the 2013 BMW PGA Championship, Europe’s biggest regular tournament.

From a high of 25th on the Official World Golf Ranking in July 2013, the man from Verona has tumbled to 598th. That’s an improvement on his 916th ranking at the start of the year, and from his position at 1,705th after last year’s Euram Bank Open on the European Challenge Tour. Mind you, it’s difficult to picks up world ranking points playing on Europe’s junior circuit and the Alps Tour.

Manassero’s experience of playing at the highest level hasn’t cut much ice so far among those striving to join the European Tour’s gravy train. Too bad he lost the innocence with which he joined the European Tour in 2010, when he became the second youngest European Tour member after his idol Seve Ballesteros. By the time he won the 2012 Barclays Singapore Open, Manassero had become the first teenager to win three European Tour titles.

That heady week at Wentworth followed before the loss of innocence kicked in. Seems strange to think he’s trying to "roll back the clock," according to the European Tour, at the age of 28. Hopefully he’s still young enough to find his way back to Europe’s upper deck.

And us? Many is the golfer who’s wished to return to the days when they took up the game, when the mental scars of too many bad shots, too many poor rounds, weren’t lurking in the back of our heads to cause that wee golfing gnaff sitting on our right shoulders to whisper: “It won’t last” when we start the first five holes level par. Or to say: “You shanked last time you had this length of pitch shot.”

Harrington’s right: experience often means diddly squat!

#JustSaying: “Golf, like measles, should be caught young, for, if postponed to riper years, the results may be serious.” P.G. Woodhouse

Photograph by Getty Images courtesy of the European Tour

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