master trevor

South African sports fans were excited yesterday after countryman Trevor Immelman became the first South African to win the US Masters in 30 years.

South African sports fans were excited yesterday after countryman Trevor Immelman became the first South African to win the US Masters in 30 years.

Gary Player won the tournament 30 years ago. But, there was no sign of the euphoria generally generated by, for example, a major rugby or soccer victory.

At the Parkview Golf Club in Johannesburg, Daniel Nathan, an acquaintance of Immelman, admitted he fell asleep while watching the game on cable television late into Sunday night. The players were on the "9th or 10th hole and Trevor was three or four shots ahead.

"If I had been awake when he put on that green jacket, I would have cried," said Nathan, who said he knew Immelman from playing golf with him as a kid - Nathan's father was involved in the South African Sunshine Tour of which Immelman's father was commissioner - and remembers a "down to earth, humble guy".

The club was closed as always on Mondays for maintenance, but the manager conveyed the following terse reaction: "Absolutely fantastic. I think he [Immelman] is going to be good for many more years to come."

South African-born US consultant Greg McFarlane, who was making some purchases at the Sweatshop sports shop in Rosebank, said: "He is very good."

"Imagine that. The rookies of the year in 2006 and 2007 playing together in the final round, one winning, the other in a tie for third," the owner of the Sweatshop, Jax Snyman, interjected, referring to Immelman and playing partner Brandt Snedeker respectively.

Snyman describes himself as a keen sportsman but not a golfer. Yet he followed the game until the 16th hole, he said.

"But he was far in front by then. It was great to see him win," Snyman added.

Several people also mentioned Immelman's recent operation to remove a benign tumour on his diaphragm.

"Cancer scare drives Immelman," the headline story on the inside cover of a Johannesburg daily newspaper read. It described how Immelman had had to pull out of the South African Open in December after chest pains caused by the tumour.

"That kind of thing focuses the mind," said Snyman.

South Africa's most famous golfer and Immelman's mentor, Player, whom Immelman talked of emotionally minutes after his Augusta victory, was also on many lips.

"I first met him when I was five years old at my home club in Somerset West. I have a great picture - he picked me up and put me on his shoulders. I had no teeth then. That was the first time I met him," Immelman said.

In 1978, the sportsman dubbed the Black Knight was the first ever non-US golfer and first South African to win the green jacket, Snyman points out.

Player could not be contacted for comment. Outside of golfing circles, however, even armchair sports fans seemed to have little interest in the Masters.

Deutsche Presse-Agentur phoned four sports bars around South Africa shortly after the game ended. Three did not respond. At the fourth, the Planet Sports Bar in Cape Town, which often carries international sporting events live on big screens, the TV was off because, the night manager said, there was no interest in golf. Instead the patrons were kicking their heels to karaoke, he said.

"Everything's soccer, soccer, soccer," said Sharon Sabbatini, mother of Rory Sabbatini who won this year's Masters Par-Three tournament and tied for second in last year's Masters alongside US star Tiger Woods.

"Most people were watching English soccer last night." - Sapa-dpa