PALM HARBOR — They have taken different paths to the first tee of today's Transitions Championship. Matteo Manassero, a 17-year-old Italian, decided to turn professional last May and joined the European Tour. Peter Uihlein, a 21-year-old from Bradenton, decided to postpone a professional career for a college education.
This is the first time they have been in the same field. It will likely not be the last.
Manassero burst into the golf world when he won the British Amateur in 2009 as a 16-year-old. That same year he finished tied for 13th at the British Open. And last April he became the youngest player to ever make the cut at the Masters. He was a week shy of his 17th birthday.
In May, Manassero made the easy decision to turn pro in time for the Italian Open. His decision was justified in October when he won the Castello Masters in Spain. He is the youngest ever to win a European Tour event.
But before all this success, Manassero was thinking about staying an amateur.
"There was a thought," Manassero said. "I wasn't immediately thinking about turning professional before playing well in the British Open. Then I thought I was turning professional. That was the right decision.
"Before that I was thinking about coming (to the United States) and playing some college golf, which I think is a great preparation for professional life."
Which is exactly what Uihlein chose to do.
Like Manassero, he grew up in a golfing family. His father, Wally, is chief executive officer of Acushnet, a parent company of Titleist. He attended the Pendleton School, a college prep school in Bradenton run by IMG Academies.
His stellar junior career included a win in an American Junior Golf Association tournament on Innisbrook's Copperhead Course (site of this weekend's event) and a New Year's Invitational win in 2009 at St. Petersburg Country Club.
But Uihlein spurned turning pro to attend Oklahoma State. He is one of the Cowboys' top players, and he won the 2010 U.S. Amateur championship. That earned him a spot in the Masters, where he will be paired with last year's champ, Phil Mickelson.
"I never thought about turning pro," said Uihlein, a junior economics major. "(Former Oklahoma State player) Rickie (Fowler), he's the exception. For me personally, I feel like I'm doing the right thing: going to school for four years and playing it out from there.
"Life is not really a sprint, it's a marathon. That's the thing that I had to focus on most."
Manassero and Uihlein have different focuses this week. Manassero is currently 55th in the Official World Golf Rankings. He needs to be in the top 50 after next week's Arnold Palmer Invitational or he will not qualify for the Masters.
He isn't sure if he can win the Transitions Championship, but he needs a good finish to keep his Masters hopes alive. He will also play in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
"My expectations, I'm not thinking about much," Manassero said. "I'm thinking about having a good week, and I'm focused on getting in the Masters. Four good scores here are going to help a lot."
Uihlein doesn't have to worry about the Masters because he is already in. This week is all about tweaking his game and having fun.
"I just want to see where I match up and what I need to work on," Uihlein said. "I feel like my game is pretty good coming in. I'm just going to try to have some fun and enjoy it and really not have that many expectations.''
The expectations are down the road for Uihlein. For Manassero, the expectations are already high. His challenge is to keep up with older, stronger players. But he has been doing that since he was 10 years old.
"I'm getting longer (off the tee),'' Manassero said. "When I turned professional last year, I wasn't quite ready on that sense. I'm getting much better now. I've done some very good training, and I feel that I'm gaining some yardage and some power in my swing. I will never be a long hitter. I just want to gain some yardage that will definitely help me."
Manassero says he is having fun in his first year as a professional, despite the fact that he isn't able to obtain an Italian driver's license until he turns 18. His father, Roberto, is in town this week to drive him around. But when he turns 18 in April, Manassero knows one of the first things he will do.
"I'm going to buy a BMW," he said.
Uihlein is old enough to do what he wants, and right now he's right where he wants to be.
"I love it in Stillwater," Uihlein said. "I'd stay there more than four years if I could.''