Enjoying the view after winning Masters
All because he did something extraordinary.
Not since Seve Ballesteros in 1980 had a player put his name atop the leaderboard after the first round and stay there over four days at Augusta National, a course where Immelman correctly noted that there’s “a disaster around every corner.” He became the first South African to win the Masters since Gary Player, his idol and inspiration, 30 years earlier.
And he joined Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk, David Duval and Vijay Singh as the players to win a major by three shots in the last 10 years.
“That’s pretty hefty company,” Immelman said. “It will take some time before that sinks in.”
Until his Masters victory, Immelman said his greatest golfing achievement had been winning the Nedbank Challenge four months ago in South Africa, an event he regards one notch below the majors.
That celebration wasn’t quite like this one.
Immelman wasn’t getting a whirlwind tour of New York, rather he was in a hospital listening to doctors explain that the pain he felt in his rib cage turned out to be a tumor in his diaphragm. Within a week, he was having his back cut open to remove the lump, and only later did he learn it was benign.
“Since I was a young boy, very deep down I felt I was good enough to win a major,” Immelman said. “As crazy a game as golf is, you go through periods where you doubt yourself. After the surgery, I pretty much had to start at Level 1 again and build my game up again. It was unbelievable timing to find my form last week.”
“Unless you’re Tiger Woods,” he added, “you don’t know how often that opportunity presents itself.”
The opportunity arrived Sunday, and Immelman seized it — just as Zach Johnson did at the Masters a year ago, just as Angel Cabrera did at Oakmont, Michael Campbell at Pinehurst No. 2, Rich Beem at Hazeltine.
All won majors with Woods lurking on the back nine.
“I don’t think it’s ever easy to win a major in any era,” Immelman said. “As you say, I’m playing in Tiger Woods’ era. This guy is frightening in what he gets done and how he gets it done and the ease in which he gets it done. To win a major while he’s playing — and he’s playing at his peak — it’s a hell of an achievement.”
The trick will be getting grounded once he comes down from the Empire State Building.
Only three major champions over the last 10 years — Shaun Micheel, Ben Curtis and Lee Janzen — won nothing else but a major. Immelman might not have been anyone’s pick at Augusta National, but he was part of a B-list group of favorites along the lines of a Justin Rose, Paul Casey, Stewart Cink or Adam Scott.
That’s not to suggest Immelman is going to win the Grand Slam.
Even he was the first to concede that.