On April 13, 2008, Trevor Immelman became the fairy tale lottery winner. With a pair of 68s, he shocked the world, beating Tiger Woods by three strokes to win the Masters, earning the green jacket at fabled Augusta.
His accomplishment almost seems mythological today as Immelman prepares to tee off at 2:31 p.m. Thursday with Jim Renner and Ryo Ishikawa in the 2013 Hotel Fitness Championship. The Sycamore Hills Golf Club tournament is part of the Web.com Tour's playoff format.
Five years ago, Immelman was one of world's best players, and today he's trying to retrain his skills enough to earn a solid reputation as a challenger on the PGA Tour. He overcame surgery to remove a calcified fibrosis tumor on his diaphragm before winning the Masters and has battled tendonitis in his left elbow and wrist ever since.
Because he was basically trying to play with one arm, he has been unable to live up to the promise of his spectacular victory. He fell to No. 294 in the 2011 world rankings, and now, at age 33, he's trying to clear his mind and game of all the baggage. He's the biggest name in the field, and as he puts it, really no one cares.
"Crying or moaning or whatever the response would be is irrelevant,'' he said between work on the driving range and chipping green Tuesday. "I think I'm on the right track to getting back. I think the most important thing about 2013 is I've been healthy all year. I haven't had to think about any injuries once, and I haven't been able to do that in a half decade. That's the main positive I take out of the year. I've been able to get back and ... practice all the shots I think I need to compete.
"So I feel like I'm on the right road. To get back I just have to keep along with this plan and stay patient and keep my mind clear.''
This season he's finished in the top 10 once on the PGA Tour, placing in the top 25 twice. His $360,549 winnings rank 143rd on the tour. He's not in Fort Wayne to try for a tour card or because the $180,000 first-place money means that much. He's here to keep chasing his own resurgence.
So he spends as much time pounding on the driving range, grinding on chips and measuring breaths over putts as anyone on tour. He's torn apart his game and hopes to put it back together with a stronger foundation that can survive the tests and put him back where he wants to go.
"I'm probably starting to become a more consistent putter,'' he said. "That's the thing that has held me back over the past few years because I have come back from the injury, I've had to invest so many more hours in my long game that I probably let the short game slip a little bit. This year I've been able to start making a few gains there.''
If his game has been rebuilt, now he has to rework his confidence. Belief in a weak stroke can be rekindled through hard work, but rekindling confidence after an injury is doubly difficult. Can he trust his swing to hold up in the biggest situations or give him a chance to get back into those situations? He's trying to force himself to believe in the positive possibilities because the negative thoughts may destroy him.
"I feel like I've gotten my game back in shape and now it's just getting out there and believing in what I've done,'' he said, "believing in myself because at the end of the day, no matter how good you are, if you don't believe in your own ability, you're probably not going to go too far. There are two ways to look at it, and you always have to strive to try and find the positive.
"Thankfully, I got hurt three months after winning the biggest tournament in the world. If it had happened before, I may not have had that opportunity. Thankfully, I was healthy and all right and I got that opportunity to win at Augusta and was able to pull it off. I got hurt shortly after. I try and focus on it that way, but sure, sometimes you can get a little frustrated with the way things worked out, but that's also sport, man.''
But Immelman also has a huge advantage over everyone in the field this week. He's actually done what everybody else is only dreaming of attempting. He beat Tiger, he won the world's greatest golf tournament and the green jacket will never be taken away. If he gets another chance, that may be the ultimate confidence boost.
"That's also something I can draw on, and also I'm still only 33,'' he said. "Theoretically, my best stuff should be still ahead of me.''