By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
WHITE SUPLHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. -- The road back for Trevor Immelman has been a long one.
About 18 months after he won the 2008 Masters, the talented South African had surgery to repair the remnants of a debilitating case of tendinitis in his left wrist. Immelman couldn't even putt for five months and it was another 30 days before he was able to start hitting balls.
Immelman eventually returned to the PGA TOUR in February, 2010 but he is still looking for his first top-10 finish. In fact, his last one came at the 2008 TOUR Championship presented by Coca-Cola -- 48 starts ago.
Judging by the way he played Thursday in the first round of The Greenbrier Classic, though, Immelman's fortunes might be ready to change. He made seven birdies and just one bogey in shooting a 64 that earned him the lead.
"Any time you shoot a number like that it's exciting," Immelman said. "That's why you put all the hard work in."
And for Immelman, that work has been significant and the 2011 season is the first where he has really been completely healed. He has had to repair his game and resurrect his confidence in the wake of the extended recovery.
"Number one is the pain and discomfort," Immelman said. " So
that's the roughest part, because no matter what profession you're
in, whether it be indoors or outdoors, pain is not great.
"And then from an athlete's standpoint, because of the pain, number one, before the surgery I was compensating. All you do at that point is get into bad habits and start playing worse. ...
"So it's just frustration because I know that I got better golf in me. I've proved it to myself. So when you're out there shooting mediocre scores and struggling to make cuts and stuff like that, mentally it's not ideal."
Thursday's round had to be a confidence boost. While he missed five fairways, he still hit 17 of 18 greens. And Immelman had eight one-putt greens among the 28 strokes he took with the flat stick.
Immelman, who missed the cut a year ago, is a big fan of the restoration of The Old White TPC. He thinks the character of the C.B. Macdonald/Seth Raynor design has been maintained while the course has been made more challenging.
"I hit a lot more drivers now than what I did last year, and that's nice," Immelman said. "A lot more medium iron into the par-4s; whereas last year the fairways were really firm and it felt like every hole was a wedge or sand wedge.
"Consequently you really felt the need to make a lot of birdies; whereas this year, I definitely don't see as many birdies out there. You got to hit some good straight drives. … So I think the course is playing fantastically right now."
Immelman, who birdied three of his first six holes on Thursday, feels similarly good about his game. He's made 11 of 16 cuts this year and stands 108th in the FedExCup. Those "old feels" are returning with more regularity and he's more confortable with every round.
"I hope I'm close," Immelman said. "You never know with this
game. It's been a frustrating couple years not being able to
swing the way I want to swing and practice the way I want to
"I've definitely seen signs of improvement. Albeit slow progress, there's been progress. So I just keep trying to remind myself that I'm 31 and I got a long way ahead of me. Just trying to stay patient and keep things going."