Journeyman Jim Herman Is Augusta’s Most Inspiring Story

April 6, 2016

Welcome, Hermie—welcome to Augusta! That Shell Houston Open win was the damndest thing we’ve seen so far in this interesting golf season, a tremendous statement about you, and about grit. It is also a testament to the wisdom of one of Augusta’s best policies: win and you’re in. You’re in, brother!

You can imagine an Augusta National official, watching you play that final hole in Houston, ready to hit the send button.

The Board of Governors of the Augusta National Golf Club cordially invites YOU, Mr. Jim Herman of Palm City, Fla., 38-year-old journeyman pro, to participate in your first Masters!

What a remarkable thing you will do this week. What a week this will be for you, your wife, your two young kids, your friends, family and supporters. What a journey to get here. This week, as it always is this time of year, Augusta, Ga., is the absolute epicenter of golf and spring and life its ownself.

You’ve played the course once before, in the sullen light of late November. You went around in under par, and you loved it. Of course you did. Who doesn’t? But now you will see it in full bloom. Ted Scott, Bubba Waton’s caddie, captured the course in its April glory beautifully in an interview on 60 Minutes on the Sunday before Masters Sunday: “When you go to Augusta, the grass is so green. Then you go to the brown pine straw. And then you got the azaleas and the dogwoods. And there are slopes and there are mounds—you got all this stuff going on. So all that alone is just bringing out the kid in Bubba. He just gets there and it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah.'” Scott was describing his boss as a golfing artist, drawn to color.

Seve Ballesteros would have loved that quote. A lot of today’s leading players would get it. But not all.

Color is not your thing. Color, flamboyance, spectacle. Not you. You’re more out of the schoolboy basketball coach mold. Cincinnati’s Greater Catholic League. All those dank winter afternoons, learning the value of … discipline. Our Lady of Victory, St. Xavier, class of ’96. Some people have a natural affinity for discipline, but most people get it instilled somewhere. 

This golf year has been dominated by lavish talents with big physiques, matching personalities, tight shirts, monster endorsement deals, protective entourages: Jason, Rory, Phil, Dustin, Jordan, Bubba, Adam. Augusta National, golf’s grandest stage, is all about the showstoppers, starting with this trio: Arnold, Jack, Tiger.

Except when it’s not. For every Greg Norman in Masters lore, there’s a Len Mattiace. For every Gary Player and Ben Crenshaw, there’s a Mike Weir and a Charles Coody.

The point is, there’s a place for you in this event. Of course there is. For one thing, you’ve earned your spot. For another, you are what it’s all about. The pile of balls. The desire it takes to get better. Your journey to this Masters is the thing that made millions of us fall in love with professional golf in the first place. Hogan would get your life story. Calvin Peete, too. 

We’ve played together twice, about eight years ago, when you were working at Trump National in Bedminster, N.J. Your drove it beautifully, but a lot of guys drive it beautifully. You were in your late 20s, your wife was working in the pro shop and I thought I could see the rest of your golfing life. Man, was I wrong.

You got yourself on Tour in your mid 30s, and every time you cashed a good check, I hoped like hell you were doing something smart with it.

Then, on the Wednesday of Doral last month, we had a good dinner at a strip-mall Italian place near your house. You could smell the fresh garlic from the parking lot. You weren’t in the Doral field, and the previous week you had shot 74-74 to miss the cut at the Honda. But there was no despair in your voice.

You were a man with a plan, with one guy for your head, another helping you with your chipping game, a caddie you could talk to, a nutrition-and-flexibility program. You described yourself, essentially, as a stubborn jock who was seeing the light of the newish ways. I couldn’t help but admire it. You were identifying weaknesses and finding a path to improvement. Tiger 101.

Still, leaving the Ristorante Claretta that night, I would have had serious doubts that you could take a 54-hole lead in the Houston Open and hold it over a slow, tense final day to win over an elite field. But you did. And now you’ll play that whole gang, and scores of others who are among the best in the world, at the 80th playing of the Masters.

I want to thank you, Jim. A sincere, heartfelt thank you for something I know but, like all of us, can forget. And this is it: You reminded me of what golf, spring, the Masters—life, really, when you get right down it—are all about: a test of a person’s will, and the beautiful, cleansing power of the fresh start. 

Here it comes. Golf’s spring flower. The Masters. Fore, please. Now driving: Jim Herman. You and 93 others playing, millions of us watching, wondering, wondering, wondering wondering. Wondering what you might do. And what we might do too.