Jim Herman: An improbable leader at Honda

The headliners at the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, all sort of hung in there. Rory McIlroy shot 3-over 73 in tough wind conditions blowing at 15 to 25 miles per hour. At one point his group was 20-over par, with Brooks Koepka at 8-over getting the worst of it. Dustin Johnson managed one better at 7-over:

I mean, walking from 14 green to 15 tee, I said to Brooks, let’s just make a couple birdies on the way in, try and get something out of it.  Luckily I was sort of able to do that.

But yeah, it was tough.  When nothing’s going your way and you don’t really have anything to feed off, you don’t see many good shots and guys, we’re all struggling, it was a grind out there.  As I said, we’ll all go home and put our feet up tonight and get ready for tomorrow.

McIlroy was 5-over at that point, but managed to birdie 17 and 18.

Phil Mickelson finished at just 1-over and he was satisfied with that given the conditions. Not only that, he claimed to have had fun: 

Yeah, it was a fun day.  I enjoyed the challenge of the wind, and the course is in tremendous shape.  The greens were beautiful.  I hit a couple balls in the water coming in, made two bogeys, but otherwise, I really enjoyed the challenge of the day.  It’s fun to be back out competing and had a good day with the putter and it was a fun day.

It’s instructive that he was unperturbed by the two balls in the water.  This is how the best deal with the inevitable in golf…and then press on into their enjoyment of the battle. It’s not necessary to be enraged by these things. In fact, it’s mostly unproductive:

I made a couple of mistakes coming in. I have a couple focus things I’ll work on, seeing the shot a little bit better.

I just really enjoy the challenge of these windy conditions.  I enjoy having to hit shots to work the ball back into the wind or let it fall with the wind to get the balls in the fairway to get them to the green and get them close to the hole.

It’s fun.  You’re not able to hit just the same shots over and over; and some I pulled off and some I didn’t, and I enjoyed the challenge of the round.  I think this is going to be really a good tournament, a good test.

Padraig Harrington has had a miserable year so far — T75, T73, T56 and five missed cuts — so it was a pleasant surprise to see him at 3-under and T3.

Yeah, if I had come from Ireland, I probably would be thinking it was a nice day.  But having played the last four weeks over here, even I was struggling and questioning and doubting myself out there.  I found it very difficult.

As tough as the day was and it was playing tough, I kept telling myself, it suits me more than most guys.  There was an element of don’t get down on yourself, this suits you better than possibly everybody else, so stick with it.  But I did find it difficult.

But maybe found his game in the process. It’ll be will be interesting to see if this could be a breakout tournament for him.

But the best story of the day belongs to the leader, Jim Herman, who has a 1-shot lead after shooting an impressive 5-under 65.

It’s a great golf course, I’ll tell you that.  Little unexpected to get to five.  I was trying to keep it around par.  If you could get a birdie here or there and sneak in 1‑ or 2‑under par, it would be great.

Herman came into the week on his 13th on the Web.com priority list status, a tenuous position to be in:

Well, playing out of this category, you always know that it’s an uphill battle.  Played pretty well this year so far, but I reshuffled back [to 21st], so I was in the field on Friday and then after the reshuffle, I moved out to second alternate.

So Monday, no changes [to the field] in the morning and then teed it up at the Monday qualifier. And on the fourth tee box, I got the call [that he was in].  So that was nice.

I was playing in a Champions Tour Monday qualifier when one of the guys I was playing with got an early visit from the Tour official with the news that he was in. The official handed him the manila envelope with his tournament credentials in it and the guy, with a measured smile on his face, was gone like a wisp of smoke. Wouldn’t have been appropriate to be more demonstrative when the rest of us still had to beat our brains out.

One of the things that helped Herman is that he is a local player:

Moved down 2001 after school and just trying to chase the dream.  Friend of mine lived in Port St. Lucie, Steve Whittier (ph), living on his couch for a while.  Just moved, my wife and family, we moved to Palm City four years ago.  So just for school district, through other things.  Nice, quiet area in Palm City.

I play at Trump Jupiter, so drive down to Jupiter.  Play there and a couple other places, that sorry — up in Port St. Lucie, the PGA Village in Port St. Lucie, as well.

And the Trump connection goes back a little further than that. As a matter of fact, he credits Donald Trump with saving his career:

Yeah, you play the Golden Bear, go to Q‑School, it was just the same cycle every year.  Four years of it, missing out at second stage, that was just a terrible drive back from the West Coast.

Played in Tampa, seems like every year and driving back to East Coast with, what am I going to do now.  Got in the golf business, started working at the PGA Village, got phone call, started working up at Trump National in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Just an assistant pro.  At Trump I was an assistant pro, tournament ops, things like that.  Got into a nice conversation with Donald, Mr.Trump one day.  He’s like:  “Why are you folding shirts and giving lessons, why aren’t you on the Tour?  I’ve played with tour players, you’re good enough.”

My second season there I finally got through second stage [at Q-School] and got status on the Web.com and been playing the last eight years since then.

I don’t know, maybe something like that gives you more confidence.  It’s nice playing out here.  I definitely enjoy it better than the golf shop.

In his fifth year on Tour, it has been a very tough go for him. He’s only had 2 Top-10s and 7 other Top-25s. He never makes enough money to keep his card outright, but somehow  he manages to land in one of the obscure categories that allows him to at least keep his playing privileges.

And Trump continued to help him:

There were a lot of people along the way that have helped me.  There’s a lot of members in Port St. Lucie — a lot of people helped me get to Florida and then at Trump there are a lot of members that raised money to get me to Q‑School.  Mr.Trump has been very influential in that.  He helped me along the way.  Carry his logo right on my chest and on the bag, so he’s been influential in getting me to the Tour.

Which means Trump also gave him an endorsement deal. And now, here he is leading his first PGA Tour tournament.

If history has any sway, the rest of the week will probably not go as well for him; you get yourself in these positions and you start thinking about it instead of just playing. But, then again, if history has any sway, he wouldn’t be here in the first place.

I just love these stories of perseverance and triumph, even if it is only for a day. It just means that he’s getting closer.

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