Trevor Immelman's Game
Blossomed At Perfect Time To Win 1998 U.S. Amateur Public
April 15, 2008
This story was reprinted from the August 1998 issue
of the USGA's Golf Journal magazine.
By Rich Skyzinski
If nothing else, the U.S. Amateur Public Links
Championship played last month in San Diego, Calif., proved
that the daily-fee player in this country is a resilient,
unflappable ol' soul.
Seconds after he stepped onto the tee at the par-3 third
hole during his second-round match, Sal Spallone got a
yardage, grabbed a club, teed up a ball and addressed it.
Before he even had a chance to waggle the club he glanced
at his target and . whoa! What happened to the flag? The
green? For that matter, was the end of the tee out there
somewhere? Spallone had no answers, and as a hand went to
his brow to form a makeshift visor, he peered off the end
of the world, into a fog that had fallen like a curtain,
and no matter how hard he squinted, no matter where he
looked, there was but a sullen, misty, graying doom of
nothing-ness before him. Welcome to the first APL played in
One of the novel attractions of playing golf in and
around San Diego is watching the Navy planes that
frequently zip across the horizon. You can hear them miles
away, when their engine thrusts are but a murmur, and it
takes but seconds for the ear-splitting flyers to appear,
then be gone. When the fog has lowered the ceiling to a
point where you can reach up and touch it, and the ground
trembles from the roar of an aircraft streaking overhead so
low you think you ought to duck for cover, it is, to say
the least, a bit disconcerting. Welcome to the first APL
played at Shea Stadium.
|Masters champion Trevor Immelman
won the 1998 APL title at Torrey Pines, site of this
year's U.S. Open. (USGA Photo Archives)|
As Trevor Immelman and Jason Dufner stepped off the 18th
tee and began the march to the clubhouse, their 36-hole
final nearing the halfway point, the music was barely
audible. But as the par 5 brought them closer and closer to
the clubhouse, Michael Jackson sang louder and annoyingly
louder from the reception on the second floor until
Immelman - "just
- completed the hole and allowed everyone to mercifully
seek refuge. Actually, the music there was nothing compared
to the band performing at the Glider Port, San Diego's
most popular spot for hang gliders, as the finalists
samba'd up the adjacent 12th later that afternoon,
first to Bob Dylan, then the Rolling Stones, then to
something completely indecipherable. Welcome to the first
APL played in concert with Lollapalooza.
Dufner overcame all that and more, even the teenagers
disguised as English soccer fans who hooted and hollered
and purposely interrupted his swing at the par-3 11th that
morning. What he could not overcome was Immelman.
By capping a fog-encompassed week with a 3-and-2 victory
in a fog-delayed final, the 18-year-old South African
planted another flag along his globe-trotting itinerary.
Prior to gaining the final at a weary South Course at
Torrey Pines, he had played in the title match of four
national championships - the '97 U.S. Junior, the South
African, British and New Zealand Amateurs - since April
1997 but one just once (South African).
"Over the past year and a half I've always
seemed to come up one hurdle short," he said, "so
it's unbelievable for me to finally win one. And
definitely worth the wait."
Though his play in the final wasn't his best of the
week, Immelman used to his fullest the advantage presented
to him when Dufner bogeyed and lost the opening two holes,
played as the noon hour approached and the week's
fourth fog delay persisted. Dufner, a senior at Auburn
University who will redshirt the 1998-99 in hopes of a
bang-up finale (the Tigers will host the 2000 NCAA
Championships), birdied four of seven holes starting at the
eighth of the morning round. Yet he gained no ground on his
2-down deficit and in fact won only two of those holes.
"The 17th this morning was critical," Dufner
admitted. "I'd gotten it to 1 down, but I
didn't play that hole very well and lost that, then in
this afternoon's round I didn't get off to a good
start. I was behind from the get-go, and that's tough
against a player as good as he is."
"I don't think there was a turning point,"
offered Immelman. "I was always up, which is nice, to
give myself a little bit of a cushion."
"Dufner had chances to make it a contest, but the
18th hole of the morning round served as a precursor that
it wasn't to be his day. He rolled in a 15-foot birdie,
only to have Immelman make a 10-foot birdie on top of that
to preserve a 2-up edge at the lunch break.
Had golf's forebears decided that golf holes should
be 4Â½ inches in diameter instead of 4Â¼, there's no
telling how different the final might have been. Twice in
the afternoon round Dufner missed putts by the width of a
dimple: at the first, when his nine-footer for par seemed
like a sure thing two revolutions away from the cup; and at
the par-4 10th, when the slightest reverberation -
where's the speeding F-14 when you need it? - would
have caused his eight-foot birdie effort to fall over the
The most painful miss, however, was a three-footer for
birdie at the 33rd hole that closed the door on his fading
hopes. "I'm pretty pleased with the way I
played," he said. "I just wish I could have made
a couple more putt.The one at 15, I just pushed it, right
off the bat. Not a good stroke."
Immelman's future will be molded without college.
Though scholarship offers have come from every major
American program, he has decided to go a different route
than his older brother, Mark, who earned All-America status
at was then Columbus College in Georgia. He'll play
amateur golf for another year, maybe two, and then probably
cast his lot in the professional ranks.
"I just thought for me, I didn't need to go
away from home to mature and grow up," he said.
"I've been doing a lot of traveling since I was 13
and I've had to kind of look after myself. It was a
tough decision because I value education highly, but I
tried to sort out my priorities and golf came up No. 1
every which way I looked at it."
The game Immelman unveiled in mid-week was proof
positive why recruiters were salivating over the prospect
of landing him. After uneventful wins in his first two
matches, 17-hole decisions over 40-year-old Michigan
sporting goods salesman Brad Cruts and 35-year-old Arizonan
Allen French, Immelman played the most unforgettable 10
holes of his life.
That's all he needed to lay a 9-and-8 whipping on
Andrew Komor of New Brighton, Minn. Racking up a margin of
victory surpassing only once in the history of the APL,
Immelman needed less than an hour and 45 minutes to make
seven birdies - only one was conceded - and three pars.
"He's got an unbelievable game," conceded
Komor, a University of Minnesota senior eliminated in the
round of 16 for the second straight year. "He stripes
it off the tee and, boy, is he a good putter."
Immelman was impressive to the point where one would
have thought he'd been roaming around in the fog and
didn't play all the holes. "It's the best golf
I've ever played by a long shot," he admitted.
"I don't have anything scientific to say.This
morning I went out and played really good the front side; I
was three under after the front nine, and then what
happened to me is pretty much what's been happening the
whole year. I'll be a couple under after nine and then
lose my head a little on the back. I've been struggling
to get going.It's just the way I felt, that it was time
for me to go out there and play to my ability."
His fourth victim, Spallone, fell by 6 and 5, giving
Immelman consecutive match-play wins in a total of just 23
holes, another APL best. Despite that incredible play,
Immelman nearly missed out on the opportunity to become the
second successive South African to win the APL.
He and Todd Rose came to the par-5 18th hole of their
semifinal all square with Rose appearing to have the
advantage after Immelman drove into a fairway bunker.
Strategy changed, however, when Immelman laid up short of
the pond fronting the green and Rose's 5-iron from 200
yards faded into the right greenside bunker. But a pair of
birdies - Immelman stuck his 84-yard wedge to 18 inches and
Rose made a three-foot putt for a nice up-and-down - sent
the match to extra holes, where Rose got an unfortunate
break, but not a completely unexpected one, at the
The week before the APL, some 900 junior players
descended on San Diego for the Optimist Junior Worlds, and
among the courses they used were both the North and South
layouts at Torrey Pines. It is difficult enough to prepare
and maintain a course for one championship, but two in
consecutive weeks is an exceptionally demanding assignment.
Rose's drive at the 19th settled deep in a patch of
dense rough (only a matter of feet from other areas that
weren't high enough to cover a player's shoes),
giving the strapping Fresno State junior virtually no
chance to cover the 170 yards to the flagstick. "It
was at least six inches down there," Rose said of his
lie. "I hit it as hard as I could."
After Rose's approach stopped 20 feet short of the
green, Immelman hit his second onto the back fringe. Rose
played an indifferent pitch-and-run to 20 feet, and then
Immelman settled matters for good by chipping in.
"I've played all these matches this week and I
never think a guy is out of the hole," Rose said.
"I always think everybody's going to make their
shot and that was a great shot he hit.I wish I could be
playing tomorrow, but there will be other
That there were, which made for a noteworthy opening
round of match play that included several upsets: medalist
Todd Eckenrode of Corona del Mar, Calif., who lost to
fellow Californian Daniel Arroyo at the 18th green as
nightfall descended; 1996 U.S. Amateur runner-up Steve
Scott, who fell victim to French; and last year's
runner-up, Ryuji Imada, eliminated on a 20-foot birdie putt
at the 18th by Jim Seki Jr., a 17-year-old Hawaiian on a
stopover to the U.S. Junior the following week.
With the North Course's cash register cha-chinging
like clockwork, fog or no fog, that opening round featured
at least one other APL first: four players going down the
first fairway at the same time - two playing a match and
two misguided souls from the North Course looking for
wayward tee shots.
It all made for some interesting talk in the grill room.
Did you hit 1- or 2-iron to that par 5?
I can't believe I didn't break par today.
Hey, Wally, I think you got a skin with that 7 on the
Welcome to the first APL at Torrey Pines.
Editor's note: Like Immelman, Dufner also
eventually made it to the PGA Tour. Other future PGA Tour
players to make the match-play draw at the 1998 APL
included Bubba Watson, 1997 APL runner-up Ryuji Imada and
Ryan Armour, the runner-up to Tiger Woods at the 1993
U.S. Junior Amateur.