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14 Apr 2008 07:10
Sporting heroes inspire others to become sporting heroes, as new Masters champion Trevor Immelman testified following his two-stroke win over Tiger Woods on Sunday.
As a young boy growing up in Cape Town, Immelman looked up to the legendary Gary Player, and it was the three-times Masters champion who was still inspiring his young compatriot as he headed for his date with destiny.
Having missed the cut in his record 51st appearance in the tournament, Player left Augusta for a business trip to the Middle East but not before leaving a voice mail for a player he has known since he was a five-year-old boy.
“It gave me goosebumps because ... he told me that he believed in me and I need to believe in myself,” he said.
“And he told me I’ve got to keep my head a little quieter when I putt.
Immelman has dealt with plenty of adversity of late.
It was a minor miracle that he was even playing in the Masters, having undergone a major operation just 15 weeks ago to remove a golf-ball sized benign tumour from his diaphragm.
He was hugely relieved when tests showed the growth was non-cancerous, but still had to undergo an extensive operation that involved cutting open his back, probing between his ribs and slicing through a muscle to remove the tumour.
That left the 2006 USPGA Rookie of the Year bedridden with thoughts of glory at Augusta National a million miles away.
“I was just so out of it at the time that you could have shot me in the leg and I wouldn’t have known about it,” he said. “One minute, the week before, I’m winning a golf tournament and the next week I’m lying in a hospital bed, and you just realise that it just can get taken away so fast.”
On his return to the tour, he failed to make a single cut in the first three stroke-play tournaments he played in, but what he called the “mystique and magic” of the Masters proved to be a powerful and potent therapist.
Immelman was tied for the lead with England’s Justin Rose after the first round, then he led by one from Brandt Snedeker at the halfway stage and doubled that to two over the same player after the third round.
With a cold, swirling wind making pars had to come by, and Tiger Woods in hot pursuit, Immelman stood firm and he had a three-foot birdie putt for a five-stroke lead on the seventh.
But with nerves starting to jangle, he missed that and followed with an alarming bogey six at the next.
Another bogey looked to be beckoning after a poor approach shot to the ninth, but he got down in two on the huge treacherous green and set off for the 10th and the three holes of Amen Corner with a renewed spring in his step.
He was never seriously threatened again despite an understandably nervy finish.
Golf was always in Immelman’s blood.
He began playing the game at age five, following in the footsteps of his golf-teaching brother Mark, who is nine years older. His father, Johan, is the commissioner of the Sunshine Tour in South Africa.
Inspired by the exploits of Player, Immelman was a scratch golfer by the age of 12.
He joined the European PGA Tour in 1999 and since then has mainly played in the shadow of South African greats Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, with five major title wins between them.
Now they are three, and it’s the youthful Immelman who has time on his side.
“I’ve always dreamed about winning majors and deep down I always thought I was good enough,” he said. “But I’m not going to sit back and go, OK, that’s me, I’m done. I’m going to keep working hard and trying to make the most of what I’ve been given.”—Sapa-AFP
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