THE SKY was nearly black when the brothers reached their seats on the practice green at Augusta National, awaiting the start of a ceremony that until this moment had existed only in their imaginations. In the back row sat Mark Immelman, his eyes moist and puffy with emotion, craning his neck over the Augusta National membership for a better view. In the front row sat his kid brother, Trevor, who at any moment would rise to his feet and slip into a green jacket like the one they used to see on television back home in Somerset, South Africa. � They had always spent Masters Sunday that way, in front of the screen at midnight as Seve made birdie from the trees and Crenshaw curled in putts from all over and Jack was just being Jack. Now, on this indigo night, four months after a doctor cut into his back and stitched him together, 28-year-old Trevor Immelman ruled the grounds of the converted nursery, having toughed out a three-shot victory over Tiger Woods. � Back in December, Immelman could not have imagined that his first major championship would be won on this cool, blustery Sunday. When he complained of stomach pain in the days after winning the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa, doctors discovered a mass on his diaphragm. They decided to remove the growth and perform a biopsy. It took 48 hours to get back the results, time that Immelman spent thinking about his life with his wife, Carminita, and their one-year-old son, Jacob. "I realized that it can get taken away from you real fast," Immelman says. "Since we've had our first child, you want to hang around and be part of his growing up and try and make sure he turns into an upstanding citizen of the world. For those reasons, it was all scary."
The biopsy came back negative, but Immelman still felt uncertain about his health and his profession. Whenever he felt a pain, he wondered if the tumor had returned. He missed the cut in four of his first eight starts this year on the PGA Tour, including in Houston the week before the Masters. His best finish in stroke play was a tie for 40th place at the CA Championship, and his World Ranking fell from 19th to 29th.
On Monday of Masters week, Immelman stood on the practice green with Mark, 37, his first golf instructor and the coach at Columbus (Ga.) State University. The brothers worked on Trevor's putting, focusing more on the quality of the stroke than on the ball dropping in the cup. Mark wasn't as concerned about his brother's overall ball-striking. Trevor first beat his older brother head-to-head when Mark was an All-America at Columbus State, forcing Mark then and there to reconsider his plans to be a tour pro. "He was 13," Mark says. "That's how I got into golf instruction. I was like [legendary teacher] Harvey Penick who saw Sam Snead. I saw my brother and that was it."
Even after Trevor opened with a pair of 68s to take a one-shot lead over Brandt Snedeker, something just didn't seem right. How could Immelman—and not Ernie Els or Retief Goosen—become the first South African since Gary Player to win the Masters? How could this young player, whose stroke had become so suspect several years ago that he had experimented with a belly putter, navigate Augusta National's treacherous greens on the weekend? Sure, Player was telling anyone who would listen that Immelman had the best swing in golf since Ben Hogan, but that could just have been national pride talking.
Two hours before their final-group pairing on Saturday, Immelman and Snedeker sat on the first floor of the clubhouse. Snedeker, the 2007 Tour rookie of the year and a Vanderbilt grad, was in the players' dining room watching the Florida Gators' spring football game. Immelman, the 2006 Tour rookie of the year, was around the corner in the lounge, sitting with his sports psychologist, Bob Rotella.
"You have been given this talent, discipline and dedication for a reason," Rotella recalls telling Immelman. "This is what you spend your whole life practicing for. Go out there and cherish it, embrace it and love it. Trust what you're doing, stay in the moment, never mind the scoreboard. Take care of you."
A little later, after Immelman and Snedeker had made their way to the course, the locker room attendants gathered around a television, studying these faces that belonged to neither Woods nor Phil Mickelson. They were most taken with Snedeker, the 27-year-old Nashville native with the boyish haircut and broad smile. "He just has that face that he could do a milk commercial," said one.
"When he gets ready to putt, he shakes his butt," observed another.
In 2007, at the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines, Snedeker had said how cool it was when Woods had congratulated him on his round of 61. At the time, Snedeker said he couldn't beat Woods, whether it was on the course or in a video game, but at the Masters he was holding his own against everybody. He thrived in the first two rounds while paired with his idol, Tom Watson, and even impressed the two-time Masters champion with his imagination and feel. Snedeker's family was having a rollicking time until Brandt bogeyed all three holes of Amen Corner on Saturday. "I died a thousand deaths, and they quit serving beer at four o'clock," older brother Haymes said.
Still, Snedeker closed out his third round with a grin, making birdie on three of his last five holes. With his 18th-hole birdie he stayed two shots behind Immelman and secured a spot in Sunday's final pairing. On his way to the clubhouse Snedeker caught a ride with an Augusta member on the back of a golf cart. When they zoomed by Steve Flesch, who was three strokes behind the leader, Snedeker called out, "Good playing, Lefty."