Jim Herman is a 42-year-old PGA Tour player who changes putting strokes the way most people change shoes and who, despite winning three times on the game’s biggest circuit, remains best known for having been an assistant pro at one of Donald Trump’s many golf courses.
Tyler Strafaci is a 22-year-old college kid who had intended to be a professional by now but thanks to the pandemic is enjoying his own version of the summer of love, having just added a gripping U.S. Amateur victory to the North & South and Palmetto amateur titles he’s already won since June.
Last weekend was just another reminder of how the game works in mysterious ways.
“Pretty amazing” is how Herman described his unlikely victory in Greensboro, North Carolina, one week after shooting the highest score in the final round of the PGA Championship and two days after needing three late birdies to make the Wyndham cut on the number.
“My dad said, ‘Use this time to get better,’ and I did,” said Strafaci, who has decided to return to Georgia Tech for one more year after the virus changed everything, including his plans to be playing for money by now.
For all the commonalities players share – coping with quick greens, learning to play under pressure, not getting caught up in what other players are doing – everyone follows his or her own path.
Some start one way then veer another. Some climb the mountain. Some don’t.
Some paths look easy. None of them are.
Herman is Exhibit A of how the game can do a sudden backflip on anyone.
He arrived at the Wyndham Championship with the grudging acceptance that he was going to miss the FedEx Cup playoffs, sitting in 192nd place, knowing only the top 125 would advance to the three-week finale.
With nothing better than a T27 on his record this season, Herman was in no man’s land, planning to drive home to Palm City, Florida, after the tournament. Instead, he’s off to the Northern Trust near Boston this week and virtually assured of a spot in the BMW Championship at Olympia Fields next month, bonus money kicking in with every start.
At his age, Herman is not long enough to hang with the bombers and there’s a lifetime of scar tissue on the greens. How many players have won three PGA Tour events using not only three different putters but three different putting styles?
He won the 2016 Shell Houston Open using the claw grip. He won the Barbasol Championship out of nowhere last fall using a conventional grip. He won the Wyndham Championship putting left-hand low, a change he made on a whim before the tournament began.
“Maybe this one will stick,” Herman said late Sunday.
“This game will beat you down (if) you do it long enough … (Winning) last year obviously was giving me a redemption, giving me a couple more years out here. Now to do it again … ” – Jim Herman
“Up the arm could be in my near future,” Herman admitted. “I’ll try to go with winning with four different putting strokes.”
For a guy who plays golf with the president and considers him a lucky charm of sorts, Herman’s game and his career have a patchwork quality about them. How else to explain 27 missed cuts in his past 40 tour starts – with two wins?
“This game will beat you down (if) you do it long enough,” Herman said. “You get a little nagging foot injury, a hip that’s starting to hurt more each week and you think it might be coming to an end.
“(Winning) last year obviously was giving me a redemption, giving me a couple more years out here. Now to do it again … ”
If Herman prolonged his personal sunset on the tour, Strafaci is caught in the full glow of a career sunrise.
He was prepared to turn pro but changed his mind when the pandemic short-circuited college golf’s spring season, taking a chunk of the amateur schedule with it.
When Strafaci won the North & South at Pinehurst – winning the same title his grandfather, Frank Sr., had won in 1938 and 1939 – it was sweet. When he rallied from an early 5-down deficit to beat Ollie Osborne in the U.S. Amateur final at Bandon Dunes, Strafaci became the story of the summer and the new face of American amateur golf.
In March, Strafaci cried when his Georgia Tech coach Bruce Hepler told the team the season had been canceled, abruptly ending the national championship dreams of the highly regarded Yellow Jackets. Five months later, he choked up thinking about how he had closed a circle within his golf-rich family, earning a Walker Cup spot with his victory.
“My grandfather was born in America, and during the late ’30s he was the best amateur golfer in the world, no ifs, ands or buts about it, and for him not to be selected on that Walker Cup team, it kind of hit home hard with him,” Strafaci said.
“It’s a different day and age now, but he kind of held that deep inside him. That’s why I always wanted to be the first Strafaci to make a Walker Cup. It’s been a rough couple of years because I’ve been pretty close to it and now that I’m on that team, I feel like I’ve made him proud. I feel like it’s just unbelievable.”
Separated by 20 years and 2,900 miles Sunday, Herman and Strafaci were bound by a game that can cut your heart out one minute then fill it up the next. One can see the end approaching, the other is just getting started.
Each following his own path.
Top: Tyler Strafaci on the second hole during the final round of the U.S. Amateur. Photo: Steven Gibbons, USGA
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