Els snipes; Immelman sniffs at SAP
"Son," said a grizzled old Scot of my long-ago acquaintance, "you need three things to be a good golfer: big hands, big feet and a big head."
Take the 24-year old South African's press conference in the immediate wake of his exciting one-shot victory over the luckless Padraig Harrington -- now a 22-time runner-up as a professional -- in the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open Tournament Players Championship of Europe. Having just completed a thrilling seven-birdie 65 to make it to 17-under par and pip the Irishman's 66, and having triumphed on the European Tour for the first time outside his homeland, Immelman, it might be supposed, would be in better than fine fettle.
Not a bit of it.
And you can blame Ernie Els, who eventually slumbered to a T-5, for that. Earlier in the week, the world's No. 3 player aimed a low blow -- in Immelman's mind at least -- at the solar plexus when he called for the belly putter to be banned from competitive play.
"It's become such an easy way to putt. Nerves and skill in putting is part of the game," said the two-time U.S. Open champion after his opening round of 67. "Take a tablet if you can't handle it.
Never mind that there are plenty of other devotees of the handle-in-the-navel style. To Immelman, Els' widely supported contention -- Adam Scott was another to speak out -- seemed to be a direct attack on him and him alone. In only his second tournament with the belly putter, he was apparently still feeling more than a little sensitive about switching to what largely has been, until now, a crutch for those with putting problems.
Not that he has any of those at the moment. Any areas of discontent in his life are strictly off-course. Mere minutes after making an eight-foot putt, only his 24th such stroke of the round, for a closing and decisive birdie and what should have been a sweet victory, the new champion was tetchy, touchy and tiresome in his brief dealings with the waiting media, most of whom had, as you would expect, reported the words of Els three days previously.
In response to a question involving congratulations for the fine quality of his work on the greens over the course of the final round, Immelman was a man with an agenda.
"To be totally honest with you guys, I was a little disappointed with what you did after Thursday," he snapped. "You've got to hit the ball well to win tournaments. You don't just hole putts. I had 13 other good clubs in my bag, too.
"I just felt like we've got a lot of our top players on tour that use the belly putter, we've got arguably the best player in the world [Vijay Singh] right now using a belly putter, and I've never really read too much about them using it, to be honest."
Immelman was then asked if the PGA Tour was something in his immediate future.
"Why do you always ask me these controversial questions?" he barked. "I'm just taking things week-to-week right now, and right now I'm a member of the European Tour, and I'm not going to look any further than that."
And that was your winner's -- or should it be whiner's? -- press conference. Which was a pity. The quality of the golf played by the two main protagonists -- and to only a slightly lesser extent, by Joakim Haeggman and Darren Clarke, who tied for third -- should have been the main talking point of a week that veered from searing heat to chilly breezes over the course of four days just outside the picturesque city of Heidelberg.
Between them, Immelman and Harrington made 14 birdies Sunday over the St. Leon Rot course that the absent Tiger Woods had made his own, with three victories in the three other times the tournament was held here. The only blemish was the steady Irishman's bogey on the second hole where he drove into a hazard. And that, when the counting was done, was the difference.
In the immediate aftermath of what must have been a disappointing loss, Harrington -- who announced he was splitting with long-time caddie Dave McNeilly -- was typically philosophical. Despite performing so well, the highest-placed European on the World Ranking knew exactly how his not winning would be viewed.
"Next week or in six months' time, nobody will remember how I played," he sighed. "It's going to be another second place. That's the way it is."
Ah, realism. Doesn't sound like Els will be getting inside the head of Harrington anytime soon.
John Huggan is the European correspondent for Golf World magazine
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