Monday, April 14, 2008

We salute Trevor Immelman, a true champion

Trevor Immelman has made all of South Africans proud and we salute a true champion for his courage, temperament and nerves of steel.

Lorne Rubenstein wrote in his column titled “Immelman masters one challenge after another” that the South African has established himself as on of the worlds finest young players.

The full column follows:

Last December, Trevor Immelman won the Nedbank Golf Challenge, a tournament many of his fellow South Africans call “Africa’s major.”

Yesterday, he won the Masters, one of the world’s four majors.

From the Nedbank Golf Challenge to the Masters in four months: Surely everybody will now realize that Immelman, 28, is one of the game’s finest young players.

His win yesterday didn’t come without high anxiety, something he’s faced before. Call it nerves, or simply the fright that can overcome any player for whom much has been promised but who had yet to deliver in the biggest tournaments.

It was early evening, and Immelman was on the 16th tee with a five-stroke lead over Tiger Woods, who had finished his round, and Brandt Snedeker, with whom Immelman was playing. Sure thing for the green jacket, right?

Not quite. Immelman dunked his tee shot into the water to the left of the hole, which was cut on the side nearest the drink, and double-bogeyed the hole. The swing betrayed anxiety. He’d felt it before at Africa’s major.

Immelman had watched each of the Nedbank events since their inception in 1981. This time, he’d been invited as a last-minute replacement for Sergio Garcia and held a two-stroke lead over Justin Rose with three holes to play. But Immelman lost his lead when he bogeyed the 16th and 17th holes against Rose’s pars. He then bogeyed the final hole, where he fluffed a chip shot. But Rose double-bogeyed the hole, and Immelman won.

“It just shows you what nerves can do,” Immelman said.

Immelman didn’t appear that nervous yesterday, but, of course, he was. He’d started the final round with a two-stroke lead over Snedeker, three over Steve Flesch, four over Paul Casey and six over Tiger Woods. Immelman pushed his opening tee shot and bogeyed the hole. Nerves? Immelman had prepared for this challenge and opportunity. He started to play when he was 5.

His father, Johan, the outgoing commissioner of the South African Tour, put in a practice bunker and green at the family home in Cape Town. Immelman followed in the footsteps of other elite golfers born on the African continent, most notably Gary Player and Nick Price. He admired both, and they him.

Immelman had been ranked as high as 13th in the world in 2006, when he won the PGA Tour’s Cialis Western Open, and was 29th when he came to the Masters. At 28, he’d fought a few battles, on and off the course.

For one thing, he was criticized as an amateur for being cocky.

Many people didn’t feel he deserved the two-year PGA Tour exemption he received after Player, the International team captain, named him to his side for the 2005 Presidents Cup. But Immelman’s rise in the world rankings along with his elegant, controlled swing won most critics over.

Immelman studied the game closely. He’d always believed he would reach the heights, he would justify his promise, he would become the golfer he knew he could be and that others who knew the game sensed he could be.

Obstacles presented themselves. There were his much-chronicled medical problems. He picked up a stomach parasite at last year’s Masters and lost 25 pounds. He didn’t play for a month.

Then, 10 days after winning the Nedbank, Immelman withdrew from the South African Airways Open because he felt pain in his rib cage and had difficulty breathing. A week later, surgeons removed a golf-ball-sized benign tumour from his diaphragm. Immelman took eight weeks off to recover.

He completed his recovery yesterday. Immelman took a three-stroke lead to the 17th hole and managed a par after finding the bunker in front of the green. He drove into a deep divot on the 18th fairway - the final challenge - but got down to business and poured through the ball with his lower body moving first and his arms and clubhead trailing. He was in the strike zone and found the green.

Immelman walked onto the green to a warm reception. His parents and his wife, Carminita, and their infant son were waiting behind the green. Minutes later, he was wearing the green jacket in recognition of winning the Masters.

Immelman had mastered one challenge after another. He deserved to be exactly where he was. He could well be there again.Immelman had mastered one challenge after another. He deserved to be exactly where he was. He could well be there again.


No comments: