More than two decades ago, Tim Herron arrived on the PGA Tour with a dry wit, a sweet swing and one of the game’s greatest nicknames: Lumpy, a nod to his couch-potato physique. The Minnesota native proudly called ice fishing his favorite hobby. At one point in his career, he worked with a trainer six days a week to lose 30 lbs. “It was like throwing a chair off the Titanic,” Herron says. He decided he was miserable and put the weight back on, with gusto. He now has a website (lumpco.com) that sells such cheeky items as a throw pillow with a photo allegedly depicting the high-calorie breakfast he ate before his victory at the 1996 Honda Classic, the first of his four wins on Tour.
In short, Herron has always been easy to root for, and he enjoyed the warm embrace of the galleries. “I had a good time,” he says, looking back on the sweep of his career. “Maybe a little too good of a time. Man, sometimes I wish I would have tried harder. But then I remember it wouldn’t have been as much fun.”
Now Herron is looking forward to the game’s ultimate mulligan: He is a year away from turning 50 and becoming a rookie on the Champions tour. But this final act to his career has been complicated by a rare disease. A big man with soft hands, Herron is battling Dupuytren’s contracture, a condition in which layers of tissue beneath the skin on the palm and fingers thicken and stiffen. There is a dark history of Dupuytren’s in Herron’s family; his sister Alissa, the 1999 U.S. Mid-Am champ, gave up the game when she lost her soft touch on the golf course. Tim has a milder case, similar to his father’s. So far, his fingers have not been affected, but in the last few years he has felt some hardening in his right palm. “I can still hold the club fine,” he says. “If I practice too much I get some cramping. The only time there is real discomfort is hitting shots out of rough, when the club twists and torques in my hand.”
Dupuytren’s cannot be cured, but the symptoms can be managed, so Herron sees a specialist four times a year. He has made a few small allowances in his everyday life, like shaking hands left-handed. “It’s awkward, so I have to explain the disease, and then people say, ‘Eww, don’t shake my hand, I don’t want to catch it!’ Of course it doesn’t work that way, it’s genetic. So they’re just joking. I think.”
To further help raise awareness of a condition that is estimated to affect some 16 million Americans, Herron has become the spokesman for the Facts on Hand campaign (factsonhand.com). “So many people have Dupuytren’s and don’t know it,” he says. “It gets misdiagnosed as arthritis or carpal tunnel. I would really encourage anyone who is having trouble with their fingers or hands to see a specialist so you can get on the right path for treatment.”
Knowing that his own condition can worsen has added urgency to Herron’s run up to the Champions tour. With $19.3 million in career earnings (79th all-time), Herron sees the senior circuit not as a crucial annuity but rather as a shot, once again, at glory. Beginning in ’96, when he was 26, Herron won in three out of four seasons, but in his thirties he claimed only one victory (though, to be fair, it came at august Colonial). “Coming from Minnesota, I felt for a while like I was overachieving,” says Herron, a happily married father of three teenagers. “But the more I played out there, the more I felt like I had underachieved. I think I should have won more tournaments. I’m looking forward to having the chance to win a few more.”
What would be more uplifting than a fan favorite overcoming a potentially debilitating condition to take a grand victory lap? Here’s hoping Lumpy can seize what’s within his grasp.