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.
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