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.”
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.”