He is rarer than he knows, a near unicorn among professional athletes at the end of their playing careers. But at least Trevor Immelman, who begins his full-time broadcasting career this week on Golf Channel and will make his first full-time appearance next month at the Genesis Invitational as part of the newly revamped CBS Sports team, understands and can articulate the turmoil he and all like him go through.
“An athlete is über-dedicated and singularly focused but (the playing career) is all over quite quickly in the grand scheme of your entire life,” said Immelman, who turned 40 in December. “Here you find yourself in your 30s, or for golfers around that 40-to-42 age – and let’s face it, the best players in the world are in the mid- to early 20s now – and all of a sudden you’ve dedicated your life to something, worked incredibly hard at it since a very young age, and you’re still in the prime of your life, and, suddenly, you’re like, ‘Whoa, what just happened here? What do I do now?’ ”
Immelman didn’t realize he was broaching a taboo subject, one every athlete goes through and almost zero discuss. The dark. The quiet. That circle of despair they all find when the spotlight goes out and the cheering stops. Once you get to know professional athletes, once they feel comfortable speaking off the record about personal things, almost all of them admit to struggling with the “What’s next?” question. Even though they know their competitive career will come to an end, likely at a young age, few of them steel their emotions for that eventuality. Some numb their feelings with alcohol or drugs; some seek to regain the thrill by investing in risky businesses or, worse yet, weekends at the VIP tables in Las Vegas.
Golfers have it better than most. The average age of all NFL players is 26. Most signees are out of the league long before they turn 30. NBA players make it a little longer with the average retirement age being about 34. Dustin Johnson is 35. Tiger Woods is 44. Still, there are far more Trevor Immelmans, guys who because of injury and age find it hard to compete, than players like Vijay Singh, who had his best years on tour after age 40.
“That’s just the life of any athlete,” Immelman said. “And it’s tricky. The fire that is inside you, the thing that has driven you to become great, never goes away. It can be quite difficult because you’ve got this thing inside you that drives you to put the work in, to want to achieve, and it’s still there even though you’re not competing anymore. People find that hard to deal with.”
The divorce rate among all professional athletes ranges between 60 and 80 percent, reports from The New York Times and Sports Illustrated have estimated, far more than the estimated 39 percent for the general population (a decrease in recent years). Young athletes also are 1.8 times more likely to binge drink and take illegal drugs than non-athletes in the same age group, according to a 2017 study.
But Immelman is an exception, and not just because of his lack of struggles in transitioning from the fairway to the booth. He has always been grounded, a testament to a solid family who kept things in perspective. The youngest of Johan and June Immelman’s three children, Trevor was the best player in a golf family, and has been in the spotlight since he was a young teen. But his parents, who immigrated in the early 2000s to the United States from Cape Town, South Africa, insisted that their children remain mannerly and gracious no matter their circumstances. Prayer and humility was always a part of their lives. Those traits in Trevor caught the eye of television executives.
“Trevor came in a couple of years ago during the Open at Birkdale where he was doing some DirecTV stuff,” said Matt Hegarty, senior director of news for Golf Channel. “He was so enthusiastic to be there. The first thing we noticed was his energy and how much he always wanted to learn. That was infectious. But the big thing, at the end of that week, he walked around and thanked everybody in the trailer. The guys he worked with on Live From and on DirecTV, he thanked them all. That kind of stuff resonates. He has such a good attitude, people want to work with him.”
It also helps that Immelman is realistic about his transition from playing to broadcasting. There isn’t the depression you sense with some who think they left the game too soon or the bitterness of those who think too many breaks went against them.
“Since about 2015, things became a bit of a slog (playing),” Immelman said. “I felt like I was putting in a lot of work, but the body wasn’t feeling fantastic and I certainly wasn’t seeing the results. I began to feel like there was only a certain type of golf course where my game could hold up. I proved that to myself at the Scottish Open in 2018 (where he finished tied for third place). If we got to a course that was super firm and super fast with windy conditions, a place where you needed experience, imagination and the ability to hang in there, if I could find some form that week, I stood a chance.
“There were a few other weeks in 2018 when I had some decent finishes, a top-25 or so. But I had to decide what I was going to do. I was getting into my late 30s, had a lot of injuries, and I was at that crossroads. Do I double down and hope things turn around or do I look at other options?”
He already had worked in the 18th tower for Turner Sports during the PGA Championship and had been a part of the world feed and the multimedia platforms for the Open Championship and the Players Championship.
“I really enjoy the opportunity,” he said. “I’m obviously at the fledgling stage of my TV career. It’s cool that I’ve been able to gather this much experience this early. Being in the 18th tower at majors, calling other PGA Tour events, being part of the Open Championship coverage on the world feed, or doing Live From at the Players Championship, I’ve had to learn a lot of roles on the fly. That’s been very exciting. One thing I’ve learned is that I love the process of learning. I enjoy being at the bottom of the mountain looking up and saying, ‘OK, how do I get better at something that I really enjoy?’ That’s been fresh air for me.
“When I look at the landscape now, I can be a little bit different in that I’m pretty young in the (television) industry. I’ve just finished a 20-year playing career competing with and against the best of this generation. I have a very clear and sober understanding of how the game is played right now. I understand the modern game and how today’s players prepare to play the modern game and the things they do on and off the course to compete at this high level.
“There’s no doubt, I can say with complete conviction, even in the 20 years that I played, the way these players prepare today is much different from when I started. Never mind drawing that back another 10 to 30 years. My goal is to bring that through to the viewer.”
He will continue to play the Masters, which he won in 2008, and a few other events. But Immelman is quite happy being a casual pro and a full-time broadcaster.
“I’m excited about (being home),” he said. “It was a huge part of the decision-making process. I was out 30 weeks before (15 playing and 15 on television). The positive and negative about my personality is that I’m always über-prepared. I’m never going to pitch up and not give my best. So, I found myself doing all my research for TV to gather all the information that I could. Then, when I was competing, the time I did have at home I was spending every waking hour practicing or working out. So, the last few years have been very challenging in terms of doing everything to the best of my ability.
“To be able to do about 25 weeks of TV and throw in an event or two (playing) really takes the pressure off. To get back home (to Orlando, Fla.,) from the Presidents Cup on the 17th of December and not have to worry about hitting the range the next day to get ready for an event in early January was a relief.”
“He comes in as prepared as anybody,” Hegarty said. “He works very hard, takes lots of notes and he’s still connected with the game. He knows all the players. He’s been in the spotlight his entire career so he’s never been afraid of a camera. And he understands the content.
“He just loves the game. He’s thoughtful about the game. And we are always looking for people who are thoughtful.”
As for walking away from his playing career, Immelman has no regrets and has had no problems with the transition – no darkness, no quiet, no destructive urges.
“I think it’s partially because there was no stone unturned for me since I was a kid,” he said. “I’ve worked my butt off my whole life. I know that I’ve given it my best shot. Sure, I’ve made mistakes, and my career might have been more successful if I didn’t make certain decisions. But they were decisions of intention. It’s not like I was being lazy or making bad decisions off the course. I made some changes in my swing that maybe didn’t need to be made because I was searching for the holy grail of ballstriking when there is no such thing.
“But my whole life has been about competing in golf, knowing what it takes. Now that I’ve seen both sides of the coin, going from winning the Masters to battling injuries and losing a tour card, there’s a broad spectrum of experiences that I hopefully can explain and give the viewer an enjoyable perspective.
“It’s important to have other interests. That’s why, for me, I’m excited about this next chapter, about doing TV and learning more about that process whilst having a Ph.D. in the topic.”
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Tell us how we can improve this post?