Immelman feels at ease at Birkdale

After taking longer than expected to grapple with the repercussions of his surprise US Masters victory in April, South African Trevor Immelman has high hopes for this week’s British Open.

The dapper 28-year-old played the par-70 Royal Birkdale layout for the first time on Sunday and is thrilled to be back at the tournament he cherishes above all others.

”I’ve always said this is my favourite tournament,” Immelman told reporters on a sun-drenched afternoon on north-west English coast.

”I love the history and the tradition behind the Open championship so I’ve put in a lot of effort and hard work preparing for this. Hopefully I can find some form this week.”

Although Birkdale is widely regarded as one of the fairest courses on the championship rota, the South African world number 15 has prepared for a challenging week.

”It’s very difficult,” he said of the 7 173-yard layout. ”The main thing this week is you had better drive the ball straight. If you don’t, there’s no way you are going to contend. Once you have hit the fairway, it’s fair from there.”

Immelman was surprised by the lush condition of Birkdale’s rough, following recent rain.

”The course is a lot greener than what I am used to playing at Open championships,” he said. ”The rough is long and it’s juicy and green, it’s not wispy like it can be.

”It becomes tricky when you can’t quite see where you need to finish the ball on the blind shots. That’s where you going to have to be pretty committed.”

Unforeseen problem
A major and unforeseen problem for Immelman over the last three months has been his time management away from the course following his first major victory.

He readily admits he initially struggled to cope with all the demands heaped upon him due to his raised profile. His golf suffered and he missed the cut in his first two PGA Tour starts after triumphing at Augusta National.

”It was something I was definitely was not used to,” he said. ”You prepare your whole life for what is going to happen on the course but nobody ever really prepares you for what could happen if you manage to pull something like that off.

”It caught me out of the blue and was something I didn’t handle very well. I would say it took about six or seven weeks before it started easing off a little bit.”

Always meticulous in his course management and golfing attire, Immelman sought out several leading players for their advice on handling his hectic schedule after the Masters.

”I’ve spoken to guys like Zach Johnson and Retief [Goosen] and Nick Faldo and Ernie [Els], just trying to figure out how they went about it,” he said.

”Since the Masters, just going to hit a few balls is probably going to take me 15 minutes to get to the range and 15 minutes to get back to the clubhouse so those are things I’ve had to start figuring in that I never had to.

”You’ve got to formulate the strategy which works for you so that you can give enough time to the fans and to the media and still be able to prepare yourself properly. I think I am getting better at it. l have had to learn really quickly.”

The 137th British Open starts on Thursday. – Reuters

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