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Gary Player boosted new Masters Champion Immelman

First lifted by fellow South African Gary Player at the tender age of five, Trevor Immelman fittingly rewarded the support of his boyhood idol by winning his maiden major title at the U.S. Masters.

The 28-year-old Immelman achieved a lifelong dream with a gritty display in gruelling, windy conditions at Augusta National, becoming the first South African to clinch the green jacket since Player himself in 1978.

Player, who has long compared Immelman’s swing with golfing great Ben Hogan, spurred on the young South African with a timely telephone message on the eve of Sunday’s final round.

Immelman duly delivered, after surviving a white-knuckle day of intense pressure and damage limitation when the swirling winds gusted up to 50kph through the towering pines at Augusta National.

“I’ve always dreamed about winning majors and, deep down, I always thought I was good enough,” a relieved but joyful Immelman told reporters after signing off with a three-over-par 75 for a three-stroke victory.

“But at times you obviously doubt yourself because you miss a few cuts and you screw up a few times. You’re just like: ‘Man, maybe I’m not as good, or not good enough.’

“Just to be a major champion, a champion here at the Masters, that’s what I’ve dreamed about since I was a very young man. I’m living proof that if you work hard and believe in yourself, it can happen.”

Immelman, who led the tournament in driving accuracy and was second in greens in regulation, paid tribute to the lifelong support he has received from nine-times major winner Player.

“I first met him when I was five years old at my home club in Somerset West,” he said, referring to his birth place close to Cape Town. “I have a great picture. He picked me up and put me on his shoulders. I have no front teeth.”

That photograph was shown during television coverage of the final round at the Masters, depicting a smiling, gap-toothed Immelman on the shoulders of arguably South Africa’s best-known sportsman.

“I think he realised that, even at a young age, I had so much passion for the game,” Immelman added. “He kept in touch with me, kept writing me notes and kept answering my calls and my letters to him. He was always there for support and advice.

“He’s been kind of like another type of a father for me. To have somebody with that much experience on your side, giving you advice is just incredible, I’m very thankful for that.”

With world number one Tiger Woods now aged 32, Immelman is delighted to be the only player under 30 to have a major title in his trophy cabinet.

“I don’t think it’s ever easy to win a major in any era but I’m playing in Tiger Woods’s era,” the 2006 PGA Tour rookie of the year said.

“The guy boggles my mind. This guy (Woods) is frightening in what he gets done and how he gets it done and the ease in which he gets it done.

“To win 13 majors at the age of 32 is just frightening. It’s just crazy to think how many he’s going to get to.”

For the moment, though, Immelman will savour the memories of clinching his maiden major title and first green jacket.

“The Masters is such a big deal down in South Africa,” he said. “We grow up idolising this event and kids dream about winning it, just as I did.

“Here I am, after missing the cut last week, Masters champion. It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard of.”

April 15, 2008

 




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