'I was hell bent on improving – Tiger was hitting shots your brain could not even fathom'
There was quite a sweet moment as the last few hours of practice were being put in before Abu Dhabi got the European Tour season underway when Trevor Immelman congratulated Lee Westwood on his recent Nedbank win.
You don’t suppose for one second that Westwood would swap all his titles, Ryder Cup heroics and World No. 1 heroics for Immelman’s Green Jacket but it would have saved an awful lot of questions that have come the Englishman’s way in the past 20 years.
For Immelman it is what he will always be known for and why everyone will always relate whatever he’s up to to that week in April 2008. The one-time boy wonder, who remains one of the most friendly and engaging characters in the game, will turn 40 at the end of this year and his career is turning down a different road these days…
What’s the best thing about being a major champion?
The most satisfying thing for me is knowing that your name is in the history books. I have a great appreciation for the history of the game, the traditions, the champions who came before me and will come after me. The fact that my name will be in that list of players that have won the biggest tournaments means a lot to me.
And the worst?
The thing that I grappled with for a while was trying to live up to that. Because I have such a huge appreciation of what it takes to win the biggest events, and for all the guys who have done it and done it over a long period of time, in my own mind, I struggled to live up to that.
When I was a kid, six or seven years old growing up in South Africa, I put people like that on such a pedestal that it was difficult for me to feel that I could live up to that. It’s a double-edged sword, I’m a firm believer that something is great but too much of it and all of a sudden, you’ve got a problem. It’s one of the beauties of life and the journey we are all on trying to figure out our way.
If you were to go back 10 years, what would you do differently?
So many things. One of the biggest mistakes of my career was that when I played well, I didn’t know 100 per cent what I was doing with my technique. Even though I was playing well and hitting the ball the way I wanted, I was trying to take my technique somewhere else instead of understanding why it was working at the time.
I was so hell bent on improving because Tiger was hitting shots that your brain could not even fathom. That’s partly fine but you also have to understand that this is my game, this is how I go about it. What is the low-hanging fruit that I can just continue to get a little bit better?
With me I was trying to move my technique to a place that it didn’t need to go to and, after the wrist surgeries, I just wasn’t quite able to recover. That’s partially because I didn’t actually know what I was doing when I was playing well.
These days players can really knuckle down on what’s going on with the club, ball and how they feel with the swings and understand what they do well and why they can repeat it well. It will be easier for them to find their way back to home base.
When did you begin to consider moving into media work?
It’s very simple… when I started playing awful golf! I love the game so much that there is no way that I’ll just be able to walk away from it, I’ll have to be involved in some way. The combination of being in my mid/late 30s and the passion for the game, I decided that if I wasn’t able to compete, what’s the next best thing to do?
For me, if you can’t compete at the highest level the next best thing was to get into broadcasting and still in some way be a part of the biggest events.
I live in Orlando where the Golf Channel headquarters are and I was very fortunate that a few people there gave me the opportunity to audition and learn the ropes a little bit. It’s just progressed from there and now I’m in my third year of doing some broadcasting and have done pretty much every role that there is.
I get a similar thrill when we are about to go live or on-air to when you’re competing and need to par the last to make the cut or birdie the last to have a chance of winning.
For some reason, it’s that same kind of thrill when I’m doing live TV.
You obviously know what it feels like to be in the player’s situation, does putting that across on TV come easily to you?
In my mind it is second nature, sometimes I struggle to find the right words so that is an area that I need to improve. It’s because you have to think so fast, people may not understand that when you’re on TV doing sports, you have a very short window. You can’t go into a five-minute explanation of what just happened with a shot, you literally have seconds to accurately say what could have happened and what did happen.
If you’re in the tower you’ve also got to give the guy on the ground some time and vice versa. There’s a lot of things in play that the producer must manage in order for the viewers to have a great experience and that is the challenge. I believe that my instinct is correct from the years of playing competitive golf but, in that moment, finding the right words is the challenge.
Many times, I’ll be lying in bed after a broadcast and I will think, oh man, that’s what I should have said! It will come to me and I’ll think, that would have been so much better if I’d have said this.
Is there part of you that’s relieved not to be playing full-time pro golf?
I wouldn’t say that it’s a relief. I’ve worked my butt off since I was a kid, practising and playing. It may sound funny but I sacrificed a lot of personal things to see how good I could get at this game, I’ve given it my all and I’m very comfortable with that.
I was very fortunate to be playing in the Tiger Woods era, I was able to make some money. I could wander off into the sunset without any problem but I’m just one of those guys who needs something to do.
I am analytical and thoughtful, always trying to figure things out and if I was just to be at home all the time, I would drive my wife, kids and myself crazy.
For me to have something there is a good formula for me, that’s why I say relief is maybe not the word. It’s just nice to find another area to focus on.
As athletes, all of us have a window where we are going to be competitive and some guys like Phil Mickelson have this 30 year or even longer window where they can play at the highest level. Some guys only have five or six and you just have to ride that wave.
Interview continues on the next page where Trevor shares his thoughts on The Open and his early days on the Challenge Tour…