Tim Herron and Tom Lehman were striding down the 18th fairway on
Sunday during the first hole of a playoff to decide the Bay Hill
Invitational when an exuberant fan yelled, "Let's go,
Minnesota!" Lehman turned his head and shot back, "I promise
you, somebody from Minnesota will win this tournament."
His reply drew a few guffaws from the gallery, but in Minnesota,
home of the salt truck, the world's largest open-pit iron mine
and the only governor to have mastered the sleeper hold, that
sort of repartee would have had 'em rolling in the snowbanks.
See, Herron and Lehman were the only golfers in the playoff, and
both are frostbacks, born and raised in the Land of 10,000
Lakes. Get it?
All you need to know about Minnesota, where the all-purpose
Scandinavian expression uff da!--as in, "Uff da! This beer is
warm" or "Uff da! That puck hurt my forehead"--ranks as snappy
conversation, are three things: The hockey season is long; the
golf season is short; and the people are, well, unpretentious.
Who would have thought that Arnold Palmer's snazzy tournament in
Orlando would come down to a duel--Herron won it by birdieing
the second playoff hole--between two Minnesotans? Next thing you
know, Jamaica will have a bobsled team.
Herron and Lehman certainly are making the state's thousands of
avid golfers proud. Lehman's footprints on the game have been
particularly large. He has come heartbreakingly close to winning
three U.S. Opens and two Masters and did win the 1996 British
Open. For one short week in the spring of 1997, he reached the
summit and was ranked the No. 1 player in the world. Lehman has
also starred in the Ryder Cup, the Presidents Cup and the Skins
Game as well as in the latest SPORTS ILLUSTRATED swimsuit issue,
in which he appears with his wife, Melissa.
Herron, 29, has been making tracks, too. He led wire to wire to
win the '96 Honda Classic in only his seventh start on the Tour,
won again the following year at the Texas Open, then last week
again led from start to finish. Interestingly the two-hole
playoff marked the first time the Minnesotans had played
together in a Tour event, although Lehman, 40, had faced
Herron's father, Carson, in state amateur events when Lehman was
Bay Hill may prove to be a turning point for both players.
Herron showed that he has the game, the guts and the desire to
become a factor in a major championship like the upcoming
Masters. Before Sunday the only thing that he didn't have was an
invitation. Ineligible for the tournament, he had planned to
spend Masters week in Minneapolis visiting his girlfriend, Ann
Paulson, a recruiter for an investment brokerage. Herron,
though, was keeping his options open. On Sunday night at Bay
Hill, Paulson said, "Three weeks ago he asked me, 'If I win,
will you come to Augusta?' He has been bound and determined to
get into the Masters this year." Now Herron's in, and Paulson
will join him in Georgia, "if," he says, "she can get off work."
Herron and Paulson go way back--they've known each other for
more than 15 years--but have been dating for only 15 months.
Their relationship took a romantic turn when Herron, who now
lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., was visiting family and friends at
Christmas. Paulson said, "I reintroduced myself to him, and he
said, 'Ohhhh, I know you.' We danced and he asked me out the
Lumpy Herron, dancing? "Oh, yeah; he's a good dancer," Paulson
said. "Did you see him after he made that putt at 10 [on
Sunday]? He tried to do a little dance and hurt his ankle. He
can really cut a rug."
Herron can also really play, although he has probably been
underrated because of his appearance. At 5'10" and 210 pounds,
he looks a little like the rest of us--sort of soft around the
middle, hence his nickname. Herron is a no-frills,
beer-and-a-butt, fire-at-the-flag kind of guy. The two
endorsement logos on his shirt say it all: Target, the bargain
hunter's department store of choice, and Harmon Auto Glass.
Cadillac and Rolex, he ain't. There is hope, though. Herron
looked sharp in the navy blue blazer awarded to the Bay Hill
champion. "I've got to figure out how to get him into that more
often," Paulson said, admiring the coat.
Herron seems poised to move up in class on the course, too. Once
a streaky player, he's becoming more consistent, finishing 20th
or better in five of his eight starts this year. More important,
he's a closer. He has been in position to win on three occasions
since joining the Tour and has won every time. He won five
tournaments during his senior year at New Mexico, was undefeated
in three matches during the '93 Walker Cup and beat a
16-year-old named Tiger Woods 6 and 4 in the second round of the
'92 U.S. Amateur.
"Lumpy is a laid-back, fun-loving guy who's fun to hang around
with, but the fact is, he practices hard," says Brandel
Chamblee, a fellow resident of Scottsdale, who tied for fifth at
Bay Hill. "He hits a lot of balls and has a video camera and a
teacher out there on the range. Lumpy grinds."
The work is paying off. Herron was paired with Davis Love III,
one of the Tour's longest hitters, for both weekend rounds at
Bay Hill and regularly outdrove him, averaging 283.3 yards,
sixth best in the field, for the week. Herron saved some of his
most impressive shots for the end. Lehman had already finished
at 14 under par when Herron came to one of the Tour's most
dangerous holes, the 441-yard, par-4 18th, whose green is
guarded by a pond. Herron hit a fearless six-iron over the flag
to within six feet of the hole. He missed the putt for birdie
and the win, but playing the 18th again in the playoff, he hit
another solid six-iron, this time leaving his ball 15 feet left
of the pin. His birdie putt got away from him, but after Lehman
had holed out for par, Herron drained a nervy four-footer to
remain in a tie.
Then, with Lehman in trouble in a fairway bunker at the par-5
16th, Herron went for the green with a five-iron and--Uff
da!--wound up 15 feet from the cup. Lehman scrambled to salvage
par before Herron carefully two-putted for the birdie and the
Even though he didn't win, Lehman got a boost in confidence from
the close call. Last week was an affirmation that, yes, he's
back from the surgery he had just after Thanksgiving on his
right shoulder, which he had injured at an amusement park during
last year's British Open. "The shoulder is completely healed,"
Lehman says. "It's now a matter of getting my strength back. The
doctor told me the shoulder looked like I'd been an NFL
linebacker for 10 years. Last season I would play all right the
first day, not so good the second day and then bad the third
day. My arm would get so weak I felt like a pitcher who had gone
too many innings. It felt like a noodle."
Lehman's first tournament back was the World Match Play in
February, in which he lost his opening match to Scott Verplank.
"My brother [Jim] said I'd play 14 holes and go home," Lehman
says. "I actually got to 17, so I feel like I achieved a goal
Lehman barely made the cut two weeks ago at the Honda Classic,
then skied to 76-79 in the wind on the weekend. "My short game
and concentration were really rusty," he says. "In the third
round I had 40 yards left to the 1st hole and missed the green.
Then I had 30 yards left on the 3rd hole and missed that green. I
thought, Great, I hit a 320-yard drive and miss the green. I was
a champ on the range, but competition is different. There are a
million Jack Nicklauses on the range who turn into chumps on the
For a guy who has been off everyone's radar screen, Lehman
suddenly looks like someone to keep an eye on this week at the
Players Championship and April 8-11 at Augusta. "It seems like a
long while ago that I was Number 1," he says. "I had three or
four years of constant improvement. Nothing was getting in my
way. Now I'm back to where I was a couple of years ago. Winning
is front and center in my mind--I haven't won on Tour since '96.
I really feel the need to win."
His time almost came on Sunday. Lehman's closing 71 was O.K.,
but a couple of mistakes made the difference. With a birdie at
the reachable, 481-yard, par-5 16th, Lehman might've avoided a
playoff. Instead he drove into a bunker right of the fairway and
settled for a par. At the 17th his par putt lipped out, then at
18 he left a downhill birdie putt short, just as he would in the
first hole of the playoff.
The shot in the playoff that ultimately did him in was the drive
into that same fairway bunker at the 16th. His ball came to rest
in a furrow in the sand, caused by a careless raking, and he
pulled his next shot into the left rough behind a tree. "I never
should've been in the bunker in the first place," Lehman said.
He eventually holed a putt from off the green to save par but
could have easily reached the green in two, as Herron did, if he
had driven into the fairway. "I'm disappointed, but it's nice to
be disappointed," Lehman said. "If you'd told me before the week
that I'd be in a playoff, I probably would've been overjoyed."
While 16 was Lehman's nemesis, the greenside bunker at the par-3
17th had Love's number. On Sunday his tee shot plugged in the
sand, and the ensuing bogey dropped him out of a three-way tie
for the lead. In the second round he had also buried his ball in
that bunker, and after blasting 30 feet past the hole, he
angrily slammed his club on a sprinkler head. The sprinkler
broke and spewed a gusher of water, all of which was shown on
TV. "You hit a lot of sprinkler heads and nobody sees it," said
an embarrassed Love, "but I have a feeling somebody saw that one."
Yup, Palmer, Love's host, had been watching. The next day Arnie
left a bill for the damages in Love's locker: $3.50 for parts,
$175,000 for labor.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY JIM GUND
COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN Uff da! Lehman had a couple of chances to win on 18, but this birdie putt and another in the playoff came up short.
COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN Fit for a King Fifteen of the top 20 players in the world paid homage to the 69-year-old Palmer (left) by playing in his tournament.
"Winning is front and center in my mind--I haven't won on Tour
since '96," says Lehman. "I really feel the need to win."