In April 2006, businessman Donald Trump was introduced to Jim Herman, the assistant golf pro at Trump's swanky country club in Bedminster, N.J., over a round of golf. By the end, Trump was impressed enough with Herman's game to pull out his checkbook and give him some seed money to revive a playing career that had stalled on countless mini-tours during Herman's mid-20s.
Trump told Herman: "What are you doing folding shirts and giving lessons here at my club?" the latter recalled to the New York Post last year. "I've played with PGA Tour players, and you're just as good as them."
A decade leader, Trump is pursuing the Republican presidential nomination, and Herman, at age 38, is a first-time participant in this week's Masters, having notched his first PGA Tour victory Sunday at the Houston Open to claim the final spot. After Herman clinched the victory — and with it a payday of $1.224 million, presumably enough to pay back his famous benefactor — Trump himself was among the first to tweet his congratulations.
"I don't know what it is — when I play with him, I usually play pretty well," Herman said Monday, reflecting on his relationship with Trump, with whom he played golf as recently as two weeks ago. "But yeah, he's been a big supporter of mine . . . He's doing great in what's he's doing now, and we'll see how far that goes."
Herman didn't say Monday if he planned to repay Trump, but he has carried his logo on his bag and shirts.
"He's really good for golf," Herman said. "He loves golf and he's really good for the game."
Herman was frank in discussing why it has taken him so long to make it on the PGA Tour and to play in the Masters. Herman said he was good enough to make it on the Tour, he just wasn't good enough to stay there because his short game and mental approach weren't good enough. Indeed, until Sunday, he was the classic journeyman — ranked 191st in the world, having failed to win in any of his previous 105 starts since obtaining his Tour card in 2011. A chip-in for par on the 16th hole Sunday and a pair of closing pars gave him a one-shot victory over Henrik Stenson, earning both the Masters invite — and perhaps more importantly for Herman — a two-year PGA Tour exemption.
Instead of flying home that night to Florida, where he planned on driving his daughter to school in Palm City on Monday morning, he came to Augusta to get ready for this week's tournament. The rest of his family planned to join him.
"I feel like maybe I'm going to wake up," Herman said, "and (it's) still going to be Saturday night going into the final round (at Houston) and I haven't done it yet. But I don't think that's happening. I think we're here."
Contributing: Atlanta Journal-Constitution