2008 champ Immelman finally feeling healthy again

By John FeinsteinApril 12, 2013, 9:24 pm

If Fred Couples feels as if he’s found the Fountain of Youth every time he drives down Magnolia Lane then it is probably fair to say that Trevor Immelman feels as if he’s found the Fountain of Health – mental and physical.

“I like everything about this place, starting with the drive in,” Immelman said with a smile late Thursday afternoon. “I’m comfortable here. I haven’t forgotten what it takes to play good golf here. I always come here believing it’s going to happen again.”

Immelman was 28 when he made it happen here in 2008, winning the Masters by three shots over someone named Woods. (Eldrick T. for those scoring at home). He wasn’t just a rising star at that point, he was a star – a major champion. Then injuries intervened – tendinitis in his left wrist and thumb that led to surgery late in 2009 that led to sporadic – and frequently awful – play when he returned.

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Through it all he still managed to make it back to Augusta every year and play reasonably well: he finished T-20 in 2009; T-14 in 2010 and T-15 in 2011. His best finish in the other three majors is a T-12 at the 2011 PGA Championship. Like everyone who has won here, Immelman feels different – special, lucky, relaxed – when he drives down Magnolia Lane.

All of those feelings came back Thursday when he made some putts – a rare occurrence lately – and shot 68, meaning he started the second round two shots out of the lead. Even though he struggled on the back nine Friday morning and shot 75, he was still in contention at 1-under-par 143 going into the weekend.

“He made a couple of putts early and you could see him relax a little,” said Scott Sajitanic, who has caddied for Immelman since last June. “Trevor’s hit the ball well for the last six months now and gotten nothing out of it. For a while, his chipping was just woeful and he’s worked hard to make it better. Now, he’s at the point where it’s a matter of making some putts.”

Sajitanic went to work for Stuart Appleby early in 2010 when Appleby had been struggling with his game. That summer, Appleby shot 59 in the final round of The Greenbrier Classic to win for the first time in more than four years. Sajitanic sees a lot of Appleby circa 2010 in Immelman circa 2013.

“They’re both so analytical,” he said. “They both want to break down every aspect of the golf swing to the point where they tend to start playing swing and stop playing golf. All I keep telling Trevor is ‘chill out, enjoy playing.’ I just try to keep hammering him with that thought. When he does that – the way he did on Thursday – he’s a different player. I have no doubt when he won here he was just playing golf and enjoying it. That’s what he needs to get back to doing.”

Immelman’s victory here was stunning for several reasons, one being that he had only one victory on the PGA Tour. More remarkable, though, was that he had been in a South African hospital wondering if he’d ever play golf or be healthy again four months earlier.

He began to feel severe pain in his rib cage while preparing for a tournament prior to Christmas in 2007 and went to a hospital for tests. A lesion on his lung was discovered that was – ironically enough – the size of a golf ball. The lesion turned out to be benign. Nonetheless, it was a frightening experience especially for someone who had become a father for the first time 18 months earlier. 

It took Immelman eight weeks of treatment and recovery time before he could play golf again. His response was the win at Augusta. But just when he seemed on the verge of becoming an elite player his health intervened again. This time it was his wrist. After playing in pain for several months in 2009, he had surgery. Since then, the game he made look so easy has been very hard.

“I know my results don’t show it (his best finish this year has been a T-38 in Los Angeles) but I have felt as if I’m close to playing well for a while now,” he said. “Being here certainly helps.

“I love the idea that I can come here the rest of my life, that I can go to the Champions Dinner every year, that I have a place here. I feel as if I know the golf course and I know the greens. I honestly believe if I can hang around until Sunday I can handle myself in the heat because I did it here before.”

He smiled. “This (Thursday) is just one round. There’s a long way to go until Sunday.”

That was evident on Friday but Immelman didn’t fall apart completely as he might have in the recent past.

“Honestly, he just needs to wake up happy in the morning,” Sajitanic said. “I feel quietly confident that he’s getting close to that corner he needs to turn. I like to watch him putt here because the greens are so fast you can't be mechanical. You have to feel the ball into the hole. He does that here. When he’s here, golf seems to become fun again.

“I could feel it on the first tee Thursday. Then he made about a 12-footer for par on nine and you could almost feel him loosen up and feel confident. He just needs to do more of that.”

The good news is that Immelman’s wrist is – finally – completely healed. His golf swing has healed too. Now, as with so many good players, he has to find his putting touch. If he can do that this weekend and can climb back onto the leaderboard, it could give him the jump-start he needs.

“I still remember watching this tournament when I was a 6-year-old kid in South Africa,” Immelman said. “It was 1986 – (Jack) Nicklaus’ back-nine 30 to beat all those guys coming down the stretch. I remember thinking way back then, ‘I’d like to play there some day.’

“Then I not only got to play I actually won. Every year at the (Champions) dinner I look around and pinch myself and say, ‘Am I really here?’ I’m sitting at a table with Arnie and Jack and all of these guys who are heroes of mine. It’s amazing.”

Immelman has staked out a place near the far end of the table opposite from where the defending champion and the chairman sit. He usually finds himself sitting with Nick Faldo and Gary Player. On Tuesday he got a brief scare when Player, in mid-story (naturally) appeared to be choking on some food.

Charl Schwartzel jumped up and pounded him on the back and he was OK,” he said. “It was scary for a minute. I was thinking he might need the Heimlich for a minute. The best part, though, was that once he was OK, Gary didn’t miss a beat. He just went back to his story.”

Immelman expects to hear a lot more of those stories in the years to come. In the meantime, he’d like to write a few more of his own on the golf course.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.) 

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Teenager Im wins Web.com season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Web.com Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Web.com Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Web.com Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Web.com Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

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Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.

1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.