tampabay.com

The Player . . . and a teacher

By BOB HARIG
Published July 18, 2006


HOYLAKE, England - As Trevor Immelman has learned, having Gary Player take an interest in your game is a pretty nice thing to have going for you.

The latest South African to win on the PGA Tour when he captured the Western Open on July 9, Immelman arrived for his fifth Open Championship glowing with stories about the Player.

Despite a difference in age of more than 40 years, they share a nationality and a passion for golf.

"He's just such an incredible human being," said Immelman, 26, who moved up to 15th in the Official World Golf Ranking after his victory. "He's really helped me out, taken me under his wing. . . . The reason you know he's so genuine is the fact that when I play badly he'll leave a message, too, saying don't worry about it, believe in yourself. For a guy who's that busy and been around the game and been such a great champion to take the time out ... that's an incredible feeling."

Player, 70, is one of just five players to claim a career Grand Slam, beating Jack Nicklaus to the feat in 1965 when he captured the U.S. Open. Player won the Open Championship three times - in three different decades. And he finished third here at Royal Liverpool in 1967, having played with winner Robert de Vicenzo on the final day.

Immelman was only 5 when he first met Player at an exhibition in South Africa. "I've got pictures of him and he put me on his shoulders that day and everybody took photos," Immelman said. "I've just known him ever since then."

And he often wonders why.

"I enjoy practicing, I really enjoy working on my game," Immelman said. "And we're similar stature, both short guys. So maybe he saw a little bit of himself in me. I have a hunger to achieve and maybe that's what he saw. I'm not 100 percent sure, but I'm very fortunate to have been able to have so much time with a legend of the game."

Annika's tourney: The Ginn Co. continues to make a bigger push into golf. The sponsor of the first full field LPGA Tour event in Florida in five years at the Ginn Resort in Orlando will sponsor another tournament to be played in late May in South Carolina.

It will be called the Ginn Tribute Hosted by Annika Sorenstam. The LPGA star, who has an endoresment deal with the company, was part of an announcement on Monday concerning the $2.6-million tournament, the largest purse of any regular event.

The Ginn Co., which runs resorts, is also getting involved in the Champions Tour, where it will have an interest in two Florida events next year, both to be played at Ginn Resorts. One is in Palm Coast and the other is in Naples.

Cheers for Hale: He is taking this week off in Europe after playing in the Scottish Open last weekend at Loch Lomond, where Hale Irwin made a rare appearance outside of senior golf. Irwin, 61, played as a favor to the course's owner and made the cut, which was impressive to England's Lee Westwood.

"What struck me is that he is still so competitive at the age of 61," said Westwood, who played with Irwin during the first two rounds. "I can't believe that it still hurts him when he plays a bad shot after all he has achieved, and it is a lesson for all of us."

Around Hoylake: The final two players who gained entry to the field were Australia's John Senden, who won the John Deere Classic on Sunday, and Argentina's Andres Romero, who tied for second at the Scottish Open and was the highest finisher not already exempt. . . . Among the interesting tee times for the Open announced Monday was Tiger Woods not teeing off until 2:09 p.m. local time (9:09 a.m. EDT) on Thursday, along with Nick Faldo and Shingo Katayama. Phil Mickelson begins at 9:20 a.m. (4:20 a.m. EDT). Because it stays light until nearly 10 p.m., all players go off the first tee, with times beginning at 6:30 a.m. and ending at 4:21 p.m.