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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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."

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Rahm (62) shoots career low round at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 10:33 pm

After a banner year in 2017, Jon Rahm found a way to add yet another accolade to his growing list of accomplishments during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Rahm got off to a fast start at La Quinta Country Club, playing his first seven holes in 6 under en route to a 10-under 62. The score marked his career low on the PGA Tour by two shots and gave him an early lead in an event that utilizes a three-course rotation.

La Quinta was the site of Adam Hadwin's 59 during last year's event, and Rahm knew full well that a quick start opened the door to a memorably low score.

"Any time you have that going for you, you get thoughts come in your head, 60, maybe 59," Rahm told reporters. "I knew that if I kept playing good I was going to have more birdie opportunities, and I tried not to get ahead of myself and I was able to do it."

Rahm birdied his first two holes before an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole sparked him to an outward 30. He added four more birdies on the inward half without dropping a shot.

The Spaniard is the highest-ranked player in the field this week, and while many players opted for a two-week stint in Hawaii he instead came home for some practice after opening the new year with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. That decision appears to have paid some early dividends as Rahm gets set to defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Low scores were plentiful on all three courses during the opening round, and Rahm remained pleased with his effort even though he fell short of matching Hadwin's sub-60 score from a year ago.

"That's golf. You're not going to make every single putt, you're not going to hit every shot perfect," he said. "Overall, you've got to look at the bigger picture. I birdied the last hole, had a couple of great sand saves coming in, shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for."