There is a photo at the home of Matteo Manassero’s parents that shows him on the practice putting green at Gardagolf Country Club in northern Italy, where he learned the game.
He’s 4 years old, dressed smartly like a golfer in all red, and perhaps that’s why the Italian Ryder Cup hero Costantino Rocca, shortly after finishing a distant fifth to Tiger Woods at the 1997 Masters, picked Manassero out of a crowd and challenged the young golfer to a five-hole putting contest on the eve of the Italian Open.
In 2003, when the tournament returned to Gardagolf, Manassero was there. “I used to collect bibs from caddies on the 18th,” he said in an email, “getting loads of players’ golf balls.” Mathias Gronberg of Sweden won that event by two strokes, the last time Italy’s national championship visited this scenic country club lined by cypress and olive trees with panoramic views of Lake Garda.
Beginning Thursday, after a 15-year absence, Gardagolf plays host to the 75th Italian Open, which should be in line for a permanent home once the venue for the 2022 Ryder Cup is completed in Rome. The national open has shifted from a fall to a spring date during the start of the…