Masters champion Immelman on the mend
It’s not that he doesn’t have time to scroll through the pages until he finds his name at No. 269. Immelman has lost the better part of two years with a left wrist injury, and these are the consequences. He accepts that.
He just has trouble recognizing that guy so far down the list.
Of all the major champions from the last five seasons, all but Immelman remain in the top 60 in the world.
“Really, in the last 18 months, that hasn’t been me playing,” he said. “I don’t mean that in an arrogant sense. I know what I’m capable of when I’m feeling good and feeling strong. I’m going to give myself a full season, and then see how that pans out.”
For the first time in two years, Immelman wakes up without feeling a pounding sensation in his left wrist. He has been working diligently on the practice range at Lake Nona for a new season. It feels like a new beginning, complete with an equipment deal soon to be announced.
“I’m excited,” he said. “Everything is right on track. I’m looking forward to a full season again. It’s been a few years.”
The last time Immelman felt this good about his health was in 2008, and it featured a masterful performance.
The 30-year-old South African was so dominant at Augusta National that he built a six-shot lead on the back nine and went on to win the Masters by three shots over Tiger Woods. One of the lasting images was Immelman striking a muscleman pose on the 18th green.
Such strength has not come easily since then.
Immelman already has dealt with a few health scares even before slipping on the green jacket. He lost 25 pounds from a stomach parasite in 2007. Later that year, doctors had to slice open his back to remove a tumor from inside his rib cage, and only after the operation did they learn it was benign.
The most recent scar doesn’t look like that big of a deal. Immelman rolled up a winter coat on a cold day in Orlando, then brushed back some hair to show a tiny scar from his wrist surgery last December.
So small, yet so much trouble.
He first noticed a twinge in his left wrist toward the end of 2008, and it got so bad the following year he had to withdraw from the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship. He thought the rest would help, but the few times he tried to play, he didn’t finish higher than 50th if he made the cut.
“The final straw was in Las Vegas last year,” he said. “I played a Tuesday practice round, and I was in so much pain that I went back to the hotel and said to (wife) Carminita, ‘I don’t think I can muscle through this.”
He withdrew from the tournament, flew to New York and had surgery a short time later. Immelman was in a cast for three weeks, and it was three months before he had enough strength to even grip a putter.
It was an exercise in patience in so many other ways.
Immelman is the opposite of another Masters champion – Phil Mickelson – in that he does everything left-handed except playing golf and playing the guitar. He had to learn simply chores like brushing his teeth with his right hand.
Swing coach David Leadbetter says the strength in his wrist is about 95 percent, and the desire is as strong as ever.
“I think he’s in a good place,” Leadbetter said. “I fully expect him to really get it back. It wasn’t a shock he won Augusta because he’s been a very, very good player for a long time. Since that time, people say, ‘Geez, what happened to him? He dropped off the face of the earth.’ Not quite. Certain injuries can derail a player.
“The good thing is he’s young enough, and experienced enough, that he’s looking at a new dawn, so to speak.”
Immelman plans to start his new season at the Bob Hope Classic. The only change might be travel, for while he is loyal to the European Tour, the new minimum requirement of 13 tournaments might be tough on him because of his status. Having fallen so far in the ranking, Immelman is not in the World Golf Championships that count toward both tours.
About the only good that came out of his injury was time at home.
His wife recently gave birth to a daughter, and Immelman has had a blast with his 4-year-old son, Jacob. The boy loves sports and loves to fish. Immelman chuckles as he tells stories of Jacob dressing up in his astronaut suit to go to the grocery store and wearing his Dallas Cowboys uniform to church.
“He kept his helmet on the whole time,” Immelman said.
Now, Immelman can only wonder if he did as much damage to his confidence as to his wrist.
His doctors told him that while it was safe to play this year after surgery, he might not trust himself until later in the year, and that proved correct. Immelman doesn’t believe he can find confidence hitting balls on the range or fine-tuning his swing with Leadbetter.
“Confidence only grows when you shoot 65, when you hit 18 greens in regulation, when you get your name on the leaderboard,” he said. “It’s never fun not playing how you know you can play. You see that in aging athletes. The game peels off strictly because of age, but they know how great they are and it’s tough.”
“The relief for me is I’m only 30,” he added. “I truly believe my best golf is still ahead of me.”
Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational
Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.
The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.
Rose leads Indonesian Masters; Snedeker WDs
JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose completed the final two holes of his second round early Saturday for a 3-under 69 and a one-stroke lead at the Indonesian Masters.
Rose, who had a first-round 62, was among a quarter of the field forced off the Royale Jakarta Golf Club course after weather delays on Friday.
The Englishman, who bogeyed his last hole, had a two-round total of 13-under 131.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who completed his 64 on Friday, was in second place.
Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters. He has been affected by a rib-sternum injury for most of the season.
Newsmaker of the Year: No. 2, Donald Trump
Even away from the White House, President Donald Trump generated plenty of headlines this year.
Trump’s first year in office didn’t dim his enthusiasm for the game, as he made splashy appearances at two big events, tweeted about golf to his more than 44 million followers, teed it up with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lexi Thompson, and fired a few eyebrow-raising scores. Logging more than 75 rounds since his inauguration, the 3-handicap has only bolstered his reputation as the best golfing president, particularly after his alleged 73 with Sen. Lindsey Graham.
None of his appearances created a bigger stir than when he attended the U.S. Women’s Open. Despite protests and calls for the USGA to move its premier women’s event from Trump Bedminster – the president reportedly threatened to sue – his weekend there went off without incident, as Trump watched the action and hosted players in his private box near the 15th green.
Despite his controversial rhetoric on a variety of national issues, Trump has remained a staunch supporter of women’s golf, and he became the first sitting president to attend the U.S. Women’s Open.
An honorary chairman of the Presidents Cup, Trump also flew to Liberty National for the biennial team event, where he presented the trophy to the U.S. team and dedicated the victory to the hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.
In late November, amid tweets about the national anthem, Turkey, Egypt and Time Magazine, Trump announced that he was playing a round in South Florida with Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.
Yes, that too became a headline, just like everything else Trump did in 2017.
Playing with the pros
Tiger, DJ and Faxon
President at the Presidents Cup
Purported round of 73 with Lindsey Graham
Cart on the green
Presence and protests at U.S. Women's Open
Trump golf properties
Reportedly fake TIME covers
Trump apologizes for voter-fraud story
Pros comment on the president
Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017
GolfChannel.com is counting down the top 10 Newsmakers of the Year as voted on by Golf Channel’s writers, editors, reporters and producers. Check out the list below, including future release dates. And click here for the full collection of articles.
No. 1: Dec. 18