NAPLES, FLA. – The youth working various tasks around Woodhill Country Club were required to carry a nickname, so that club pro Phil Reith and his staff would be able to call out that sobriquet and get an immediate response.
One day, Tim Herron was working on the driving range as a high schooler with a stout frame. Reith and assistant Jimmy Wahl kicked it around and decided Tim resembled Clarence “Lumpy” Rutherford, a TV character on “Leave It to Beaver,’’ and Minnesota’s Lumpy was branded.
Being summoned thusly did not cause Herron to race back to Wayzata High School and tell his friends to start calling him “Lumpy.’’
It was not until he was a PGA Tour rookie, and about to pull off a long-shot victory in the Honda Classic in March 1996, that the golfing world became aware of the nickname.
Alissa Super, Herron’s sister, said Friday: “Phil’s brother, Bobby Reith, was playing on the Champions Tour and a telecaster mentioned that a kid from Minnesota was making a run at the Honda. And Bobby said, ‘Yeah, Tim Herron … everyone calls him Lumpy.’ ’’
That information was passed along to the Honda TV crew, it was shared with the viewing audience, and now … 24 years later, everyone does call him Lumpy.
Herron turned 50 on Feb. 6. That was the date of the opening round for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He was able to get into the field for that prestigious PGA Tour event but opened with a birthday balloon of 78 at Spyglass Hill and missed the 54-hole cut with aplomb.
“I pretty much hit it terrible all week,’’ Herron said. “But it was a good to have the competition, right before taking this next step.’’
That would be the Champions Tour, the competition for which Herron became eligible on Feb. 6. The first post-birthday senior event started Friday at The Classics at Lely Resort:
The Chubb Classic.
Don’t bother with your “Lumpy debuting in the Chubb’’ joke. There’s a long line in front of you ’n’ me. I first heard it from Alissa.
Senior golf is in need of all angles to be embraced. And as a rookie, Herron might rate behind only Ernie Els and Jim Furyk, and they will be part-timers on the Champions Tour.
“I’m going to be playing this tour full time,’’ Herron said. “I’m planning to play 18 or 20 events.’’
The Golf Channel collects large dollars from the weekly Champions events to give them a few hours of airtime on Fridays through Sundays. By no coincidence, the pairings sheet put Herron in a group with Tom Lehman and Lee Janzen — winners of a combined 17 events on the PGA Tour and three native Minnesotans.
OK, Janzen has eight of those wins (including two U.S. Opens) and his family moved out of Austin, Minn., when he was a tyke, but on Friday … he was one of us.
Lehman, a newly minted grandfather, turns 61 next month and this was the start of his 201st Champions Tour event, including 12 wins. Lehman’s daughter Holly was his caddie; beyond that, the gallery was pretty much Lumpy strong.
The fairways were mostly wide enough for senior work, and Lumpy kept hitting those with plenty of length. He had four good looks at a birdie in the first seven holes and didn’t make a putt.
The best putt he made all day was for a par on the ninth hole. He was 2 under after 10 holes and finished at even par … as did Lehman and Janzen.
“Game never changes: You have to make putts,’’ Herron said. “But with the scores they shoot on this tour every round, 6, 7 under or better, you can’t leave those birdies out there.’’
Carson Herron, Tim’s father and now the patriarch of this tremendous golfing family, walked a few holes in Friday’s steaming humidity, retreated to the clubhouse, then came out to the No. 9 green (the group’s 18th) to see the finish.
Dad was asked for a comment, and he said, “What should I say?’’ The reporter replied, “You think he should make more putts tomorrow.’’ Carson smirked and said, “I’ve been telling him that since he was 8.’’
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