Trevor's Turnaround: Immelman wins the 2008 Masters Tournament

Trevor’s Turnaround: Immelman wins the 2008 Masters Tournament

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After his win, Immelman celebrated with wife Carminita and son Jacob.
Fred Vuich/SI

The sky was nearly black when the brothers reached their seats on the practice green at Augusta
National, awaiting the start of a ceremony that until this moment had existed only in their imaginations.

In the back row sat Mark Immelman, his eyes moist and puffy with emotion, craning his neck
over the Augusta National membership for a better view. In the front row sat his kid brother, Trevor,
who at any moment would rise to his feet and slip into a green jacket like the one they used to see
on television back home in Somerset, South Africa.

They had always spent Masters Sunday that
way, in front of the screen at midnight as Seve made birdie from the trees and Crenshaw curled in putts from all over
and Jack was just being Jack. Now, on this indigo night, four months after a doctor cut into his back and stitched him
together, 28-year-old Trevor Immelman ruled the grounds of the converted nursery, having toughed out a three-shot
victory over Tiger Woods.

Back in December, Immelman could not have imagined that his first major championship would be won on this cool, blustery Sunday.
When he complained of stomach pain in
the days after winning the Nedbank Challenge
in South Africa, doctors discovered
a mass on his diaphragm.

They decided to
remove the growth and perform a biopsy. It
took 48 hours to get back the results, time
that Immelman spent thinking about his
life with his wife, Carminita, and their one-year-
old son, Jacob.

“I realized that it can get
taken away from you real fast,” Immelman
says. “Since we’ve had our first child, you
want to hang around and be part of his
growing up and try and make sure he turns
into an upstanding citizen of the world. For
those reasons, it was all scary.”

The biopsy came back negative, but Immelman
still felt uncertain about his health
and his profession. Whenever he felt a pain,
he wondered if the tumor had returned.

He missed the cut in four of his first eight
starts this year on the PGA Tour, including
in Houston the week before the Masters.
His best finish in stroke play was a tie for
40th place at the CA Championship, and his
World Ranking fell from 19th to 29th.

On Monday of Masters week, Immelman
stood on the practice green with Mark, 37,
his first golf instructor and the coach at Columbus
(Ga.) State University. The brothers
worked on Trevor’s putting, focusing
more on the quality of the stroke than on
the ball dropping in the cup. Mark wasn’t
as concerned about his brother’s overall ballstriking.

Trevor first beat his older brother
head-to-head when Mark was an All-America
at Columbus State, forcing Mark then and
there to reconsider his plans to be a tour pro.

“He was 13,” Mark says. “That’s how I got
into golf instruction. I was like [legendary
teacher] Harvey Penick who saw Sam Snead.
I saw my brother and that was it.”

Even after Trevor opened with a pair of
68s to take a one-shot lead over Brandt Snedeker, something just didn’t
seem right.

How could Immelman — and not Ernie Els
or Retief Goosen — become the first South
African since Gary Player to win the Masters?
How could this young player, whose
stroke had become so suspect several years
ago that he had experimented with a belly
putter, navigate Augusta National’s treacherous
greens on the weekend?

Sure, Player
was telling anyone who would listen that
Immelman had the best swing in golf since
Ben Hogan, but that could just have been
national pride talking.

Two hours before their final-group
pairing on Saturday, Immelman and Snedeker
sat on the first floor of the clubhouse.

Snedeker,
the 2007 Tour rookie of the year
and a Vanderbilt grad, was in the players’
dining room watching the Florida Gators’
spring football game. Immelman, the 2006
Tour rookie of the year, was around the
corner in the lounge, sitting with his sports
psychologist, Bob Rotella.

“You have been given this talent, discipline
and dedication for a reason,” Rotella recalls
telling Immelman. “This is what you spend
your whole life practicing for. Go out there
and cherish it, embrace it and love it. Trust
what you’re doing, stay in the moment, never
mind the scoreboard. Take care of you.”

A little later, after Immelman and Snedeker
had made their way to the course, the
locker room attendants gathered around a
television, studying these faces that belonged
to neither Woods nor Phil Mickelson. They
were most taken with Snedeker, the 27-year-old
Nashville native with the boyish haircut
and broad smile.

“He just has that face that
he could do a milk commercial,” said one.
“When he gets ready to putt, he shakes
his butt,” observed another.

In 2007, at the Buick Invitational at Torrey
Pines, Snedeker had said how cool it
was when Woods had congratulated him
on his round of 61. At the time, Snedeker
said he couldn’t
beat Woods, whether it
was on the course or in a video game, but
at the Masters he was holding his own
against everybody.

He thrived in the first
two rounds while paired with his idol, Tom
Watson, and even impressed the two-time
Masters champion with his imagination
and feel. Snedeker’s family was having a
rollicking time until Brandt bogeyed all
three holes of Amen Corner on Saturday.

“I died a thousand deaths, and they quit
serving beer at four o’clock,” older brother
Haymes said.

Still, Snedeker closed out his third round
with a grin, making birdie on three of his last
five holes. With his 18th-hole birdie he stayed
two shots behind Immelman and secured a
spot in Sunday’s final pairing. On his way to
the clubhouse Snedeker caught a ride with an
Augusta member on the back of a golf cart.
When they zoomed by Steve Flesch, who was
three strokes behind the leader, Snedeker
called out, “Good playing, Lefty.”

“You, too, Hot Rod,” Flesch shot back.

Immelman had a quieter finish on Saturday.
As he left the club, he retrieved a voice
mail message from Player, whom he had first
met when he was five years old.

“It gave me
goose bumps,” Immelman said. “He told me
that he believed in me and I need to believe
in myself. And he told me I’ve got to keep
my head a little quieter when I putt.”

Lurking six shots back was Woods, but
he headed straight to the practice green
after his third-round 68, trying to jumpstart
a cold putting stroke before dark.
Woods said he felt good about
his stroke heading into the
tournament, but for the third
straight year it might have cost him a
green jacket.

In 2006 he said he wanted
to snap his putter over his knee after coming
up short to Mickelson. Last year his
flat stick let him down in his pursuit of
Zach Johnson. On Sunday, with a chance
to apply pressure to Immelman, Woods
kept missing putts to the left, including
a lip-out of a short par putt at the par-3
4th. Woods described the feeling of dragging
his blade through the hitting zone
instead of releasing it freely. The result?
He wasn’t
getting the proper overspin on
his putts, especially on the short attempts.

Still, Woods looked as though he would
make a late charge when he buried a 70-
foot bomb for birdie on number 11, causing
the crowd in the clubhouse to stir anew.
Butch Harmon, Woods’s onetime teacher,
walked over to a computer and studied the names on the leader board.

“Before it’s
over, they’re going to have to deal with
him,” Harmon said, and there was no
doubt whom he was talking about.

Woods drove right into the trees on number
13, but despite a restricted backswing,
he carved a shot off the pine needles, leaving
himself a short iron into the par-5. He
sent his ball past the pin and spun it back
some five feet from the hole. A birdie seemed
inevitable. Instead, Woods missed again,
air-balling the cup left, and Immelman remained
a comfortable five shots ahead.

“I didn’t
putt well all week,” said Woods,
who after winning three times at Augusta
National from 1997 to 2002 has won just
one of the last six Masters.

With Woods’s statement before the
season that winning the Grand Slam was
definitely within reason, it was not far-fetched
to wonder if he already considered
the 2008 campaign a washout. He insisted
he did not.

“You feel deflated because you
lost, but the very next day you’re fired up
about the U.S. Open,” Woods said two days
before the Masters. “Are you frustrated
that you lost? Of course. You don’t ever
want to lose. I don’t understand how you
can like losing. But once this tournament is
over, you start refocusing and getting your
game ready for the next major.”

That would
be the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, where
Woods has won six times as a pro.
Nevertheless, the arc of the golf season has
changed, pivoting on Woods’s errant putter
and the steeliness of a 5′ 9″, 170-pound golfer
with his own warm feelings about Torrey
Pines. It was there, in 1998, that Immelman
won the U.S. Public Links championship,
earning his first trip to the Masters.

“I’ve always dreamed about winning majors,”
Immelman says. “I’m definitely not
going to sit back and go, ‘O.K., I’m done,’
if that’s the answer you’re looking for. I’m
going to keep working hard and trying to
make the most of what I’ve been given.”

At home and on the golf course
in Somerset, Immelman was always
tagging along with his older
brother and his friends, asking questions
and trying not to get left behind. Mark’s
message to him was clear: Keep up or you
don’t play with us. As Trevor made his way
through Augusta’s picturesque layout on
Sunday, Mark said his mind turned to those
moments the brothers shared. But first there
was a title to win.

After a shaky opening
bogey, Immelman birdied the 5th hole, but
he three-putted the 8th for bogey and had
to drop a 20-foot putt from the fringe on
number 11 to save par. Mike
Weir, who has played on two
Presidents Cup teams with
Immelman,
stood beneath the
big oak tree outside the clubhouse,
saying that the South
African had the game to hold
up in gusts of up to 25 miles per
hour, and he was right.

Immelman would tempt the golf gods
with a yanked tee shot into the water
that led to a double bogey on the par-3
16th, but by then most of the danger had
passed. He saved par from a greenside
bunker on 17 to maintain his three-shot
lead, and after peeling a drive down the
middle of the 18th, he let out a sigh.

The Immelman clan had moved to the
walkway behind the green, directly in
front of the scorer’s shack. Mark kept
rubbing his eyes as he stared down the
hill, looking at his baby brother, who
was dressed in a black outfit similar
to the ones that Player made famous.

After an eight-iron from a divot and two
putts, Immelman flexed his muscles and
looked up the walkway. There stood
Carminita and their curly haired boy.

Immelman’s 75, the highest final round
for a Masters champion since Arnold
Palmer shot the same score in 1962, had
been enough to beat the field. Snedeker,
after a 77, buried his face in a towel to
hide his tears.

After the green-jacket ceremony the
Immelmans left the well-worn
practice green and walked into
Butler Cabin. Its back windows,
bathed in yellow light,
looked out onto a sublime
par-3 course shrouded in darkness.
Inside the cabin a new
champion with a new jacket
was lost in a round of hugs.