x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

A breath of fresh air for golf

McIlroy, Ishikawa and Mannasero are leaders of the pack as the young brigade make their presence felt after a winter of discontent.

Ryo Ishikawa on his way to a 12-under-par 58 and victory in The Crowns tournament in Japan.
Ryo Ishikawa on his way to a 12-under-par 58 and victory in The Crowns tournament in Japan.

After a winter of discontent with the old guard, we have had a spring week of plenty of hope, dominated by golf's exciting young guns, and the future of the game suddenly looks brighter. In Japan, the 18-year-old Ryo Ishikawa shot 58 to win on the Japanese Tour, the lowest round ever recorded on any of the world's major tours.

Rory McIlroy was two days short of his 21st birthday when he won in style by shooting a course record 62 in the final round on his way to his first PGA Tour victory, at the Quail Hollow Championship on one of the most demanding courses on tour. By doing so he chased down and overtook Phil Mickelson and Angel Cabrera, the last two Masters champions, who had no answer to McIlroy's brilliance. Most importantly he did not attack the flags on the 17th and 18th hole, something he would have done in the past. This ability to judge when to attack is something that has previously been missing in his game.

And so on to Italy where one of the world's future golfing superstars is making his professional debut today at the Italian Open on the European Tour. Matteo Manassero, 17, also played in the Italian Open last year as an amateur and came 25th, but had his big breakthrough less than two months later, when he became the youngest player to win the British Amateur Championship. He was also only the third player ever, (myself included in 1983, and Warren Bladon in 1996) to qualify as a medallist in the 36-hole stroke play to then go forward and win the Championship.

He really showed his talent at the British Open at Turnberry last year, when he finished an astonishing 13th. This year he became the youngest player ever to tee it up at the Masters. He was just 16 years old at the time and he also set a new record for the youngest player to make the cut. Finishing 36th was quite an achievement when he had never before seen undulations or the speed of greens like those at Augusta National.

Manassero has gained a vast amount of information necessary to succeed on tour, mainly as he is coached by Alberto Binaghi, the former European Tour player who is a member of the Italian Golf Federation coaching staff. Binaghi has also caddied for him over the past year, including in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, where he finished 31st. He is entering a world which is bursting with young talent but he has the potential to challenge them all.

This week the top 50 players in the world rankings are exempt to play in the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Edoardo Molinari, the 36th- ranked player in the world, has chosen to compete in his national championship in Italy instead, along with a few other European Tour players. Most of the players who have made this decision are hovering between 40th and 50th in the world rankings as it is so important to stay in the top 50 in order to stay exempt for all the majors and championship events. Perhaps they feel it is easier to gain ranking points in Italy rather than competing against the world's best in Florida.

But Francesco Molinari, 27, who with his older brother Edoardo was Italy's World Cup-winning pair, has chosen to head for Florida for the richest tournament of the year, a US$9.5 million (Dh34.8m) purse with $1.71m to the winner). The TPC Sawgrass course is famous for its 17th hole, the par three island green surrounded by water. It is easy to hit in a practice round, but come Sunday afternoon, in the heat of battle, it is the most pressurised shot in golf and by far the most exciting to watch for the spectators.

With Henrik Stenson winning here last year and Sergio Garcia the year before, the Europeans will want to make it three in a row. But Mickelson is in tremendous form and with the world number one ranking in his sights he could spoil the European party. Meanwhile, it is pleasing to see so many young players coming through, like a breath of fresh air, to a game that seemed punch-drunk with the Tiger Woods debacle. The future belongs to the young and in golf, the young are here now, and in force.

Former European and US Tour player Philip Parkin (www.philparkin.com) is a member of the TV golf commentary team for the BBC in the UK and Golf Channel in the US. @Email:sports@thenational.ae