Hard (net)worker: Herman has friends in high places

By Will GrayMarch 9, 2017, 9:42 pm

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Catch a glimpse of Jim Herman on the golf course, and you probably won’t find reason for a double take.

As far as PGA Tour pros go, Herman is about as mild-mannered as they come. A soft-spoken product of the University of Cincinnati, Herman seems like the kind of guy more likely to fold shirts in a pro shop than play for millions of dollars each week. Then again, maybe that’s because he used to fold shirts in a pro shop for a living.

But there’s plenty of talent beneath the wraparound sunglasses and easygoing demeanor, and in his pocket sits a list of contacts that would make many of his colleagues blush.

Herman was a late entry into this week’s Valspar Championship, a decision that paid off in a big way when the 39-year-old opened with a 9-under 62 to take a two-shot lead over Henrik Stenson and Russell Henley.

Herman’s story garnered attention last year when he won for the first time at the Shell Houston Open and was whisked away on a last-minute trip to the Masters after holding off the likes of Stenson, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth down the stretch.

He had struggled to find his footing on the PGA Tour prior to that breakthrough, and it had taken him seven tries to even make it out of Q-School’s second stage. It was during that time that he worked as a club pro and logged hours in a few pro shops, among them Trump National Bedminster in New Jersey.

Yes, that Trump.

As a businessman and golf course owner, Donald Trump helped to bankroll Herman at a pivotal point in his early career, and the two have remained in contact since businessman Trump became President Trump. Herman still sports Trump resort logos on his bag and shirt, and attended Trump's inauguration in January.

“Why are you in the shop?” Trump once told him. “You should be on Tour.”

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But Herman’s Rolodex extends even beyond the commander-in-chief, and he credits his appearance this week at Innisbrook to another titan of industry: former General Electric chief Jack Welch.

“I get emails from Mr. Welch. I get a long list of people that send me texts and emails,” Herman said nonchalantly. “Mr. Welch, he does follow me. That’s pretty amazing that I have people like Jack Welch and President Trump following my golf career.”

Herman wasn’t planning to play here as recently as a few weeks ago. After all, he had missed the cut in his two prior trips to Tampa and was already scheduled to play the upcoming Arnold Palmer Invitational.

But Herman has a standing spot in the exclusive field at the Seminole Pro-Member, and following a T-27 finish at the Honda Classic, he played well there, making eight birdies on his own ball on a course where eight birdies aren't common.

He and businessman Jim Tullis barely missed out on some hardware in the team competition, but it was Welch who watched part of the round and implored Herman to add another stop to his schedule and capitalize on his good form.

“We had nine holes with him watching last week,” Herman said. “Every hole was, ‘Why aren’t you playing Valspar? Why aren’t you playing Valspar? Why haven’t you committed?”

It appears that after decades at the helm of one of the country’s largest companies, the 81-year-old Welch hasn’t lost his touch. Herman’s opening round is 10 shots better than his best prior effort on the Copperhead Course and it ties his career-low round on Tour.

In addition to Welch’s prescient push, Herman credits his victory last year in Houston for giving him added confidence and a new perspective.

“I feel like I belong out here, and it helps keep rounds going,” he said. “Before I think you’d be content with getting it to 3 or 4 under par. But just feel like I felt, ‘Why can’t we keep going lower?’ So I wasn’t really worried about making mistakes.”

The mistakes never came, as Herman made it around one of the Tour’s sternest tests without dropping a shot. He birdied four of his first five holes en route to an outward 30, then added three straight birdies on Nos. 3-5 to briefly challenge the course record of 61 still held by Padraig Harrington.

“I really wasn’t worried about the course record or 59s or anything like that,” he said. “I was just trying to hit the next fairway and hit the next green and try and make the putt. I don’t think there’s many feelings better than shooting in the lower 60s on the PGA Tour.”

Herman realizes that a long road remains ahead of him this week, with Stenson likely hoping to equal the score after coming up short in Houston. But he’s playing with the relaxed attitude a two-year exemption affords, and he’s well on his way to turning Welch’s plea into a seven-figure prophecy.

Hey, sometimes it’s good to know the right people.

“I guess I’m certainly glad I took his advice,” Herman said. “I’m sure there’s going to be some kind of email.”

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.