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Valspar leader Jim Herman has a big-league backer in Donald Trump

PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- There was no text message from the man who helped convince him to take his golf talents to the PGA Tour, nor was there a voicemail. But there was still time.

The thought of Jim Herman eventually getting some sort of congratulatory message from President Donald Trump was not out of the question after he opened the Valspar Championship with a 9-under-par 62 on Thursday.

Since Trump moved into the White House, his ability to communicate with Herman has waned, although the two did play golf together a few days prior to Christmas at Trump's course in West Palm Beach, Florida.

While working as an assistant pro at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, more than a decade ago, Herman often played golf with Trump and took a certain confidence out of those encounters. Trump asked him why he was working there and not playing on the tour, and it eventually led to the future president providing some financial assistance to help Herman, now 39, make the tour.

"I would say getting me through Q-school ... just his words and inspiration," Herman said. "The confidence he exudes and gave me going through the qualifying school. And then obviously it doesn't hurt to have a check coming from him for three years."

Herman worked at Trump National in 2006-07, and then started on the Web.com Tour in 2008. He finished 19th on the money list in 2010 to earn his PGA Tour card for 2011. He lost it that season but regained it the following year.

In 2016, he broke through for his first tour title, winning the Shell Houston Open by holding off Henrik Stenson down the stretch, earning a spot at the Masters the following week.

Trump was in Milwaukee at the time preparing for a campaign speech when he got word Herman was in contention. He turned on the TV broadcast and even discussed it on a call with a USA Today reporter just before giving his speech. "Such a great story," Trump said. "He's what America is all about. He never gave up, never gave up on his dream. I'm proud of him."

Herman, who attended Trump's Jan. 20 inauguration, qualified for the season-opening Tournament of Champions, where he tied for 12th. He followed that with a 10th-place finish at the Sony Open in Hawaii, but then he missed three consecutive cuts before a tie for 27th at the Honda Classic.

The following day at the Seminole Golf Club's pro-member tournament, Herman played well enough to catch the attention of Jack Welch (Herman has influential friends). The former General Electric chairman couldn't believe Herman was not scheduled to play this week.

His persuasive powers got Herman to commit just before last week's deadline, and here he is after coming one shot short of Padraig Harrington's course record.

Herman's nine-birdie, no-bogey round Thursday is a big help in his quest to get back to the Masters. Ranked 89th in the world, he needs a big push in the next few weeks, and qualifying for the 64-player WGC-Dell Match Play in two weeks would be a big help.

The conclusion of that tournament is the cutoff for the top 50 in the world to qualify for the Masters, and short of that, Herman would have to defend his title in Houston the next week in order to get back to Augusta National.

Either way, he's likely to tell his Trump stories a few more times.

"It was just a matter of confidence," Herman said of Trump's influence. "'Why are you in the [pro] shop? You should be on tour.' We'd play again; played really well with him, so it was always something I looked forward to because I'd rise up to the occasion and played well with him."