In the subsequent weeks he learned from doctors that a parasite was devouring his stomach from the inside out. By the time that got fixed he had lost 22 pounds and was a wraith.
Things got worse.
In December, specialists discovered a tumor on his diaphragm. There was an MRI. Then surgery. Then there was an agonizing two-day wait before the young South African would find out the tumor was benign. He still has the mark from a seven-inch incision they had to carve across his back.
It took a couple of weeks before I could walk again, Immelman said Friday afternoon in Georgia. Once I kind of worked my way through all the morphine they had me on, and started finding my feet again it seemed to come back fairly quickly.
But it was still six weeks before he could practice chips and putts. At first he was, in his words, hitting skulls and duffs.
Slowly, very slowly, the 28-year-old Immelman, currently ranked No. 29 in the world, began finding his way back into tournament golf.
But last week he missed the cut at the Shell Houston Open. Not a good omen.
But when the second round of the Masters Tournament concluded Friday Trevor Immelman had turned a pair of 4-under 68s into a one-shot lead at the worlds most prestigious golf tournament.
He has been especially bullet-proof on the par-4s which he has played in 8 under par. He is even par on the par-3s and par-5s and leads Nashvilles Brandt Snedeker by one shot.
After his round he was asked to compare the high of leading the Masters at the halfway point to the morphine high from the surgery and the post-op.
Well, I felt kind of bulletproof when I was in the hospital, he said with a laugh. But its a little bit degrading when you have other people washing you morning and night.
The first few weeks back on TOUR Immelman was suspicious of every tweak and ache he felt in his body. My mind was wondering, he said. But at this point, I feel normal.
His golf the last two days has been quantum leaps and bounds above normal. And he has the memory of a Saturday 65 at Augusta, fired three years ago, to draw upon as he goes out in the third rounds final group.
Lurking three shots behind is two-time champion Phil Mickelson. Tiger Woods is always a threat with 36 holes remaining.
But weve seen this in sports before many times. A world class athlete loses a loved one or survives a health scare. And once they get past the pain or the loss, they find they have acquired a new perspective.
I realized that it can get taken away from you real fast, Immelman said. I feel like Ive been loaned a talent. and you know, Im going to try and do as well as I can.
Immelman is married and the father of a young son. You want to hang around and be part of his growing up and make sure he becomes a good, upstanding citizen of the world, Immelman said. So you know, for all those reasons, it was scary.
And Trevor Immelman, soft-spoken and likable, wasnt talking about the prospect of winning his first major championship on, arguably, golfs biggest stage.
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