Teen golfing phenoms, they grow up so fast these days.
Two years ago, Matteo Manassero, then 16, made his Open debut at Turnberry and emerged as one of Europe's most captivating stars. The Italian teenager kicked off the major by playing with five-time claret jug winner Tom Watson in the first two rounds.
The two reunited on the 18th green during the awards ceremony when Manassero became the youngest recipient of the Silver Medal for low-amateur honors after finishing tied for 13th. A month earlier, Manassero had won the British Amateur Championship.
"It feels good to be back at the Open," said Manassero, 18, on Wednesday at the driving range. "It feels really different from two years ago. I know many people now, and I'm friends with some of the other players. It's more comfortable.
"I’m professional this time. It’s a good opportunity in many ways, including jumping in the world rankings. While in '09, it was just a brilliant experience. I didn't expect much, but now there's higher expectations and more on the line."
Manassero is looking forward to the challenge of battling Royal St. George's, especially in blustery conditions -- though it was so windy during his practice round on Tuesday with Francesco and Edoardo Molinari that he walked in after nine holes.
"It’s good to have it windy as it is," said Manassero, who played in the Boys British Amateur Championship at Royal St George's in '09. "I’ve played a lot of links golf back in my amateur days. It suits me well because I don’t hit the ball very far, but I don’t put too much spin on the ball.
"Of course, when you’re playing links golf, a lot depends on chance.You don’t really know what’s going to happen, but if you play well, it usually turns out good. I'm playing pretty well, so we'll see what's going to happen."
It's not often Manassero isn't accompanied by at least one Molinari brother during his practice rounds. Edoardo and Francesco have taken the fellow Italian under their wing.
"Yeah, I’m like their little brother in a way," Manassero said. "They introduce me to this life, which is tough to get into, and they’ve done a great job. I’ll always be appreciative of it."
But Manassero, who already has two European Tour titles under his belt, is adept enough to find his own way around.
"Matteo is very mature," Edoardo said after their practice round late Wednesday afternoon. "He learns very quickly. Anything you tell him, he just gets it and makes it work for him. A lot of times on the course he asks, 'How do you play this hole?' Then, you see him play it exactly the way you tell him and he makes birdie most of the time.
"Matteo is now expert enough, he knows his way around and he’s playing well, so hopefully he’ll have a good week."
Photo: Matteo Manassero during a practice round on Wednesday. Toby Melville/Reuters
Another hazard of the hazards
It might be a shrewd move for pros to pack eye drops in their golf bags this week at Royal St. George's. With gusts of up to 25 miles per hour and bunkers galore, players never know when they'll end up with a mouthful (or eyeful) of sand. Just ask Edoardo Molinari.
During his practice round on Wednesday, Molinari's tee ball on the par-3 16th found the back left greenside bunker. He was attempting the shot when a gust blew the sand back into his face.
His swing coach Denis Pugh deadpanned, "I don't think that's what you want to do. The sand in the face thing is really a rookie error. You haven't been on Tour that long, huh?"
The gallery of roughly 30 people erupted with laughter. A wincing Molinari was less amused, trying to rid the sand from his eyes and grabbing a towel from his caddie to wipe his face.
When asked about the incident, Molinari played it cool.
"My coach was explaining to me how to hit the shot," he said behind the 18th green. "The sand came into my face because it was playing into the wind, so we moved to the other bunker. It was fine."
Tour veteran Frazar makes Open debut
After 15 years as a professional golfer, Harrison Frazar can finally say he's played in a British Open.
Frazar penned a first-person column in Sports Illustrated in March, revealing the angst of battling injuries and missing his family while on the road. He wondered if it was time for him to step away from professional golf.
Three months later, Frazar, who turns 40 at the end of the month, found himself in the winner's circle at the Fed Ex St. Jude Classic after holding off Robert Karlsson in a playoff. The check for just over $1 million helped him earn a trip to Royal St. George's, finishing in the top two of the mini-money list on the PGA Tour.
"Winning in Memphis, it was about more than just winning," said Frazar after a practice round for the Open on Tuesday. "It was about knowing I could compete in that arena if I play well.
"There was confidence. There was some real good stuff that came out of it. Hopefully that will buoy me though and improve the attitude and make me want to work harder."
Flying across the pond to Sandwich has been a thrill.
"This is awesome," he said. "It’s a treat. I wish I would have been able to play many more, and hopefully I’ll get to many more after this."
Frazar admitted to needing more practice on the links-style Royal St. George's.
"It was my first time playing the course, Gary Woodland's first and Ryan Palmer’s first," said Frazar. "The three of us were a little wide-eyed out there today.
"Obviously Justin Leonard has played in many of them. He’s played the Open here twice before, so he could show us where to go. He was kind of our own little local caddie."