Jim Herman's Masters journey complete, with help from Trump

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Jim Herman's journey to Augusta National for his first Masters Tournament didn't begin with an early Monday morning flight from Houston. It didn't begin one day earlier, when he clinched his spot in this week's field by finally becoming a PGA Tour champion. It didn't even begin five years ago, when he initially reached the world's most elite level as a full-time member.

No, Herman's journey began way back in 2006, when he took an assistant professional job at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

He recalls the story with a smile on his face and sentimentality in his voice.

Not long after being hired, Herman was thrust into a match alongside Donald Trump, the club's eponymous owner. As is usually the case for Herman, he was on his game that day.

"Just was able to play really well," Herman remembered. "I don't know what it is. When I play with him, I usually play pretty well."

And Trump knows how to spot an opportunity. It wasn't long until he offered the club's new assistant a chance to chase his dream, giving him the financial stability necessary to pursue a career as a touring professional, with the caveat that he could always return if it didn't work out.

Herman took him up on the offer. He bounced around the mini-tours for a little while, played the developmental Web.com circuit. He graduated to the big leagues, flunked out, then got promoted again. A few times back and forth.

Last year, for the first time, he eclipsed the seven-figure barrier in season-long earnings. He was trending in that direction this year, too. The man with Trump's logo affixed to the chest of his golf shirt had finally made it -- and never forgot where he got the jump-start.

"He's been a big supporter of mine," Herman said of Trump. "He helped me early on in my years financially and maybe just a little shot in the arm of confidence."

Just before Easter, they rekindled their partnership, playing a match together at Trump International in West Palm Beach, Florida. It shouldn't come as a surprise, but the boss, now a Republican presidential candidate, made the teams.

"He's usually the game-maker," Herman said with a wry smile. "So the games are usually won or lost on the first tee."

They indeed won that day, the pro posting a cool 64 to help the team.

One weekend later, he won again. Herman found himself holding off the likes of top-10 players Henrik Stenson and Rickie Fowler to claim the Shell Houston Open and golf's version of the golden ticket -- the 89th and final invitation into this week's Masters field.

As of Monday afternoon, he reported that he still hadn't slept a wink, the combination of leftover adrenaline and returning messages and securing an early flight to Augusta keeping him wide-awake through the night.

It's been a whirlwind of a trip for him so far, but that's only fitting for a guy who's enjoyed a whirlwind journey to his first Masters anyway.

"I was planning on watching," he explained of his original intention for this week. "I really enjoy watching the Masters. I've been a fan of golf my whole life, dreaming of playing here and now it's happened."

It's a remarkable story, this ascendancy from assistant pro to Masters competitor.

His victory didn't escape the notice of his old boss, either, the man to whom he credits much of his success.

"It was really nice to see him win," Trump told USA Today. "He's such a good guy -- a nice person. And he deserves it. Such a great story. He's what America is all about. He never gave up, never gave up on his dream. I'm proud of him."

Instead of watching the Masters on television this week, Herman will be among the world's best golfers, competing in the game's most prestigious tournament.

He still seems in awe of the situation, as if he doesn't want to blink or it all might somehow vanish.

He's earned his place here, though. From the victory, yes, but also from the decade of work that led to that moment.

"It's just going to be awesome," he said. "I can't wait."

For a guy who's waited so long to make this journey, he won't have to wait any longer.