Impeccable Immelman

2008-06-20 15:27

London - Trevor Immelman has joined the elite list of Masters champions, becoming only the second South African to win the event after Gary Player. It was nothing less than he deserved after leading the tournament from start to finish.

When Trevor Immelman sunk his putt on the 18th hole at Augusta last month, he sucked in a large breath of air, held it for a split second and released. It was relief, instantly followed by elation. But there was still that split second of, you could see it in his eyes, 'phew, thank goodness it's all over'. You can't really blame the man. After a victorious end to his year in 2007, in which he signed off by winning the Nedbank Challenge at Sun City, 2008 was looking bigger and brighter. Immelman aimed to continue the success by participating in the SAA Open, but on the morning before the Open teed-off, the future Masters winner woke up with a gripping pain in his rib cage.

"It felt like a tweaked muscle," he said at the time, 'but I played in the event's pro-am with the aid of pain killers.' On the morning of the tournament his chest was so sore that he couldn't take a deep breath. 'I wanted to play, so I gave it a shot.' A few holes in Immelman was forced to withdraw. A few days later he was lying in a hospital bed. X-rays revealed that the pain was being caused by a benign tumour sitting underneath his rib cage. 'You kind of go from being bullet-proof to lying in a hospital bed wondering if things are going to go your way,' he told PGATOUR.com.

Things did go his way. After a successful op, and just four months later, Immelman was being crowned champion at golf's pinnacle golf course. After saying this: 'It was some pretty scary stuff. I was in hospital for a while and it took a couple of days to get the results back, so that was pretty hair-raising', it must have been nothing less than sweet relief to utter this so soon after: 'to win a major while Tiger's playing, and he's told us he's playing at his peak, it's an achievement'.

Immelman's path to glory has been an expectant one. The Somerset West native was born into golf: his father Johan, before moving to the United States, was the commissioner of South Africa's Sunshine Tour. In 1998 he won the US Amateur Public Links before turning pro in 1999 (interestingly, he's the first former winner of the Public Links to win a Major. His playing partner in the final round of the Masters, Brandt Snedeker, was a previous Links winner in 2004). He collected four wins on the European Tour (including back-to-back victories at the South African Open - the first person to do this since Gary Player), before breaking his duck on the PGA Tour in 2006 when he won the Cialis Western Open. In the same year he was named as the PGA Rookie of the Year

Swinging Success

Immelman's success at the Masters thrust him into a week of headlines, interviews and tours around the United States. He took in the sights of New York with his wife, Carminita. It was the first time the two had visited the Big Apple. Courtside tickets and a dressing-room visit at a Boston Celtics vs New York Knicks basketball followed, while he also appeared on the notorious The Late Show with David Letterman. 'It's been a crazy time for me,' he acknowledged. 'It's been really exciting for my family and to experience everything that's gone with the victory' it was fantastic.'

The ultra-modest Immelman also wined and dined with a host of television celebrities, most notably Sopranos star Vincent Pastore and Oscar-nominated actor Chazz Palminteri. It's a far cry from the Sunshine Tour. Especially when your phone is ringing off the hook and on the other end golf legends like Tiger Woods, Greg Norman, Ernie Els and Nick Price (to name just a few) are clamouring to offer their congratulations. It was friend and mentor Gary Player, though, that kept Immelman focussed on the final round of his most impressive victory to date. 'He was on at me all week, telling me to believe in myself. He also told me to keep my head still on putts,' said Immelman to the BBC. 'I think the cool part is that these guys all realise what it takes. We all work so hard and everyone appreciates it when a regular guy wins. We all put in so many hours, they know what it means.'

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