Comfort zone for leader
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - Trevor Immelman is starting to find that comfort zone again.
A 31-year-old from Cape Town, South Africa, Immelman has rebounded from several physical setbacks the past few years and could be rounding back into form - the form that enabled him to capture the 2008 Masters title as well as six championships at international events.
Immelman sure looked the part Thursday in the opening round of the PGA Greenbrier Classic, firing a 6-under-par 64 to grab the early lead by himself.
"I hope I'm close [to being back],'' Immelman said. "But you never know in this game.''
Immelman's recent obstacles have included a stomach parasite in 2007 that caused him to lose 25 pounds, and later that year the discovery and removal of a benign tumor inside his rib cage.
But his biggest setback came in 2009 with a left wrist injury that required surgery, an ailment that both nagged and negated his game for much of the year.
"It's been a frustrating couple of years,'' Immelman said Thursday, "not being able to swing the way I want to swing and practice the way I want to practice.
"For the most part this year, I've been able to get back to working on the things I've used to work on back then, and I've definitely seen signs of improvement. Albeit slow progress, but it's progress. I just keep reminding myself I'm 31 and I've got a long way ahead of me. I'm trying to stay patient and keep things going.''
Immelman came into this week 108th in the FedExCup standings and 117th on the PGA Tour money list at just over $500,000.
That's an improvement over the two previous seasons, in which he languished in 156th place (in 2010) and 158th place (in 2009) in FedExCup points and won just over $800,000 combined in those years. Before that, he'd been a force in the FedExCup chase, with finishes of 20th (2008) and 37th (2007).
Immelman recounted some of the low points from 2009-10.
"No. 1 is the pain and discomfort,'' he said, "and that's the roughest no matter what profession you're in, whether it's indoor or outdoors. Pain is not great. And from an athlete's standpoint, because of the pain before the surgery, I was compensating. All you do at that point is get into bad habits, and you actually start playing worse.
"After the surgery, it was five months before I could putt and six months before I could hit. At that point, I was doing the rehab, trying to get the wrist to do what it used to do. It's just frustrating because I know that I've got better golf in me, and I've proved it to myself. So where you're out there shooting mediocre scores and struggling to make cuts and stuff, it's mentally not ideal.''
Immelman's outlook seemed to improve just by arriving at The Greenbrier resort this week.
He was joined by his family - wife Carminita, son Jacob, 5, and daughter Mya, who's nearly 9 months old.
"I've got my whole family here, and that's nice,'' Immelman said. "Everybody's enjoying the facilities. It's probably the last week they'll travel with me because my little guy's starting school in a couple weeks. It's fun. It's great weather and the golf course is fantastic. It's nice to stay here on the facility and go out into the restaurants and the pool. We've been bowling and played arcade games, and my little guy's been fishing.
"I think as a professional golfer, it's always good when you know your family is having fun and preoccupied with stuff to do because you can do what you want to do, and that's always nice to know they're having a good time. I think that's why so many players enjoy coming here with their families.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickr...@wvgazette.com.