Herman's journey ends with SHO win, Masters invite

By Will GrayApril 4, 2016, 1:50 am

HUMBLE, Texas – The term journeyman gets thrown around a lot in golf parlance. It can be applied to players of varying ability, sometimes attached simply to those without name-brand recognition.

For Jim Herman, though, it’s an appropriate tag. At 38 years old, his journey has been a meandering one, filled with far more valleys than peaks.

But after a self-described whirlwind final round at the Shell Houston Open, Herman’s journey has now taken him to the rarified air of PGA Tour champion. It also will include an extra destination: Augusta National.

Starting the day with a share of the lead, Herman held off a packed leaderboard that included Henrik Stenson and Dustin Johnson for a one-shot victory. It was a performance that elicited tears of joy from Herman shortly after sinking the winning putt, a stroke that earned him the final spot in the Masters.

“This is crazy,” Herman said. “I’ve dreamt of this for so long, and now it’s here. So I’m going to enjoy it.”

Crazy, indeed, for a guy who once was content with the prospect of forging a career as a club pro. Herman struggled to get his playing career off the ground in the early 2000s, trying his hand at various Florida mini-tours just to pay the bills. It took him seven cracks to simply get past the second stage of PGA Tour Q-School – a barrier he finally cleared at TPC Woodlands, a short drive from the Golf Club of Houston.

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“I think Houston has been pretty good to me,” he joked.

In between those failed attempts, though, he worked for years as a club pro, first in south Florida and then at Trump National Bedminster in New Jersey.

“I love this game of golf,” Herman said. “I always knew I had the talent to get out here, but when you don’t get out here, what else are you going to do? No one is going to let you come out here.”

Herman finally made it to the PGA Tour in 2011, but he spent the next few years bouncing back and forth between the big leagues and the developmental Web.com Tour. The tears he shed in victory flowed for a far different reason two years ago, when Herman said he reached a low point after losing his card and returning to the Web.com Tour Finals.

For Herman, the battle has been uphill seemingly from the start, and it made his final-round performance all the more remarkable. He had never even sniffed the lead on the PGA Tour before, and he had only five top-10 finishes in 105 starts entering the week.

He had strung together three good rounds, but the crucible of the final round would surely be his undoing. Faced with the pressures of leading for the first time, he was expected to fold and make way for one of the stars behind him to rise up and take the trophy.

And the rallies from the chase pack did come, as expected: first from Jordan Spieth, then Rickie Fowler, then Johnson and finally Stenson. But through it all, Herman remained calm and committed to a game plan that he and caddie Matt Achatz had crafted.

“We wanted to hit shots that he could 100 percent commit to, and that he was comfortable, and he could see it with his eye,” Achatz said. “We didn’t want to force him to hit anything that his brain couldn’t see.”

Herman’s recent results didn’t indicate that a winning performance might be on the horizon, but he said that he saw his short game turning around last month at Bay Hill. He had been putting in some extra work with short-game coach Bill Davis, a man whom he credited for turning his game around over the last two years.

It was Davis’ advice that Herman had echoing in his ears on the par-3 16th hole just before authoring the tournament’s defining shot.

Clinging to a share of the lead, he let a “wheelhouse 6-iron” drift left into the rough on the upslope of a bunker. Rather than get it up-and-down, Herman holed the pitch to grab a one-shot lead that he would not relinquish.

“That’s the deciding shot,” he said. “That’s just like Bill said, ‘You’re going to have a chip shot to win your tournament or a pitch shot or a putt, and you’re going to keep your head down and execute.’”

With one hole standing between Herman and a career-defining victory, he faced an obstacle that has taken out numerous players before: a wait on the 72nd tee.

Herman had to wait six minutes for the group ahead of him to clear the fairway, left with nothing but time to ponder what was at stake. He paced, he checked the leaderboard, and he paced some more.

When the wait was over, though, he uncorked the drive of his life – a 316-yard missile that split the fairway and set up an easy par.

“It’s easy to let your mind wander,” Herman admitted. “But we’ve been through a lot, and it’s great to be able to execute when you need to.”

“I tried to make it fun,” Achatz said. “When you have a one-shot lead, I don’t care what hole it is, I don’t care what’s in front of you, you should be having the best time of your life because you have an opportunity to win on the PGA Tour. We didn’t look at anything that could happen. It was just, ‘Enjoy the moment.’”

Only minutes after closing out the win, Herman began to take stock of everything his victory had earned him. The Masters, he said, was never something he saw as a realistic goal.

But now he’s not only hopping the next flight to Augusta National, he’s also playing the PGA Championship in July, booking a room for Kapalua in January, and assured of a card through the 2017-18 season.

Herman withstood the biggest pressure he has ever faced in a tournament, and he’ll now be taking the trophy home. Not bad for a journeyman.

“I was not given the tournament, I know that. I played really well, 9 under on the weekend, 4 under today,” he said. “Pretty proud of myself to, you know, get up there, first time I was in the final group, and bring it home.”

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

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After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.

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Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 12:35 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – 

Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.

Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.

''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''

Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.

''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''

Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.

''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''

Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.

''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''

The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Web.com Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.

''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''

Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.

''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.

The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.

''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.

He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.

Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.

''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''

Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.

''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.