With the torrent of players blowing onto the PGA Tour with sculpted arms and exercise-video abs, Tim “Lumpy” Herron stands out like a Twinkie in a box of Yodels. He smokes a pack a day and eats what he pleases, and he recently decided that exercising is better left to those who are willing to trade in their free time for a hard body. In his spare time, Herron would rather turn in his golf slacks for snow pants and go ice fishing. It’s not your usual pastime, but then, Herron isn’t your usual golfer. He’s soft and polite, a family man who treats the game like he treats people: with respect. He has a legion of fans, not because he’s as talented as Tiger or as audacious as Daly, but because he reminds you of your beer-bellied neighbor flipping burgers on the grill, the one who waves you over for a cold brew. With just four wins in 11 years on Tour and a six-year winless stretch from 1999-2005, Herron’s record doesn’t inspire awe, but there’s something in him fans want to cheer for, and last year they could. Herron ended his winless drought at the 2006 Colonial and played well enough to garner consideration as a Ryder Cup captain’s pick, proving that nice guys don’t always finish last, or even T42nd.
You’re no doubt aware that you’re immensely popular based on the fact that you’re a good player, seem like you’re having fun and don’t have killer abs. Do you think if you looked more ‘average,’ like, say, David Toms, you’d be as popular?
Well, it’s a good question. You know, I don’t live like him, so I don’t know. I’m not sponsored by Polo or Hilfinger or Hilfiger or whatever the heck the brand is. I guess guys can identify with me easier, like the fan who watches football on Saturdays and Sundays. He’s more like me than David Toms.
The nickname — ‘Lumpy’ — how long have you had it?
Since I was 15 years old. I’ve grown into it more as an adult, you know? When I was a kid, it was more about the baby fat, but I think now I’ve, uh, grown into the name.
It had to bother you when people first started calling you that, right?
Sure, I mean how it came to be was at the first job I ever had, at a golf course, I came in the first day and they asked if I had a nickname and I said no, and they
said, “All right, go do some work, pick up some golf balls and when you come back we’ll have one for you.” So I came back up and they said, “Hey, Lumpy, what’s goin’ on? Do you like your new nickname?” And I said, “Not really.” And they said, “Well, perfect, it’s gonna stick then!” [Laughs] I think with nicknames, you can’t nickname yourself, somebody else has to do it. And when you have a nickname, you’re kind of stuck with it, and you just kind of have to get used to it.
Is there a nickname you’d rather have? Like, say, The Rock, or Killer, or The Assassin?
Sure, I mean, why not! To have a nickname people are scared of, yeah! But I guess that’s another reason why people identify with me. I’m the common guy, like on Leave it to Beaver, the kid next door.
Do your fans have a cool nickname, like Lumpy’s Legions?
We’ve actually been trying to get the fan base going with a name, but we haven’t come up with anything.
Do you want to try to come up with one now?
Lumpy’s Legions is pretty good.
A few years back you lost about 35 pounds. Was that a mistake? (Herron went winless from 2000 to 2006.)
My focus was on losing weight instead of my game. I’m one of those guys where if I put my mind to something, I can do it. But you know, I was more into making sure I got on the treadmill instead of going out to hit balls and practice. But then I realized I needed to stay focused on my golf and I just learned that I need my relaxation time. And I didn’t really have a lot of in-between time from working out to playing golf.
Did you work with a trainer?
Yeah, and he was on me all the time. We were working out five or six days a week, so it was less time for golf. But I don’t think the actual weight loss had anything to do with [the faltering of my game].
Is it tiresome always being pegged as the heavy golfer? Is it something that feels as arbitrary and overplayed as, say, Sergio Garcia being pegged as a lady-killer?
Well, I’m married so I don’t compare myself to Sergio. But, yeah, it does get tiresome, although it is something I have control over. You can’t really feel sorry for me because I have a choice, in a way, of how I want to look. It’s just time and effort, and I know I could put it in to get into better shape, but I just don’t.
Has your dyslexia ever been a problem in golf?
Sometimes. I’m not the best with numbers and my caddie has to help me out. Like if he says, “You have 136 yards to the hole,” I get a little confused and have to hear it again. It feels like a jumble.
Where does golf reside on the list of top-five priorities in your life?
Family would be number one. Golf would most probably be three. Then you’ll probably want to know what two is, right? Then are you going to want to know four and five, too?
Let’s just start with two.
OK, one is family, two would be, I guess, people in general, how I treat them, being kind, being thoughtful. Golf, you have to realize, is a sport, and I put it at three [on the list] because you always have to practice and everything else, but you have to realize it’s a game, a sport, and if you put golf above people, it doesn’t make sense. Golf’s a thing and people are living, so I think you have to put the living above a thing.
Would you trade in your ability to bomb it for a faultless putting stroke?
Well I can’t bomb it anymore, so I’ll take the putting stroke. [Laughs.]
Why don’t you consider yourself a bomber anymore?
I think the kids are just hitting it longer and longer. I mean, I was one of the longest when I first came out. I think I’d take the putting stroke. The putting stroke
keeps you in the game a lot longer.
You finished 17th in the Ryder Cup team point standings last year and were under consideration as a wild-card pick. What did U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Tom Lehman have to say to you over the course of the year?
I wanted to make it on my own, obviously, so I wouldn’t have to be in that pick situation. But through the course of the two years leading up to it, Lehman sent over a lot of DVDs of his favorite movies, motivational movies, motivational notes, and he told me to always keep the Ryder Cup in the back of my mind. I struggled at the beginning of the year and then I had a win [the Colonial] and we had a new addition to the family, and now it’s three [children] instead of two, so it was a little rough, just a big change. Plus I moved from Arizona to Minnesota. So all of that within six months — it was tough, the focus on the golf wasn’t really there. And when I won, it was my first win in seven years, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t lose sight of that, and that I celebrated it properly and enjoyed it and was grateful for it. So I said to myself, “I’m not gonna losesleep over the Ryder Cup. I’m just going to gain confidence from my win.”
You’ve never made a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup team, although you did go 3-0 in the Walker Cup as an amateur. What kind of Ryder Cup player do you think you’d make?
Well, I think Tom liked the idea of me as a personality, and I think a lot of his decision in not picking me was because we had so many rookies on the team, he wanted someone with experience. I think if we had more experienced guys, he might have picked me because I can get along with anyone I’m playing with: Tiger Woods, Chad Campbell… Everyone’s different and it’s about getting along with them for five hours and being a good teammate for that long a time. Golf’s such an individual sport, and guys with a lot of ego get thrown together and sometimes some people are intimidated. But I think I’d be good because I can get along with just about anyone.
Can you handle Ryder Cup pressure?
Everyone talks about the pressure, but I don’t think you can really know what it’s like until it’s time to play. I think the pressure builds up because the rounds are really slow. But on the other hand, that’s why I play the game, for pressure and to try to overcome that pressure, so it’d be a great experience, and that [pressure] certainly wouldn’t be the reason why I wouldn’t play in the Ryder Cup.
Which of your victories has meant the most to you?
The first win [1996 Honda Classic] was important because you know you belong in that arena. Then I won three years in a row. But after seven years going
winless, you know now that you’re more mature, and you know you’re not gonna take it for granted. So this most recent win was the most important.
At 37, you’re still fairly young by golf standards. What are your goals moving ahead?
Well, of course I’d like to win more tournaments, you know? I think it’s more about winning now more than ever. In the beginning it was also about winning, but it was probably more about making money and trying to make a living. We’re lucky with Tiger and the surge of interest he brought to the game, we’ve been fortunate to make a good living — to make a really good living — but when I first started, it wasn’t that great. And now I just want to win. Ambition-wise, I’d like to stick around, stay healthy, to still compete with the young guys.
At which major are you most comfortable?
The major I enjoy the most is the British Open, even though I haven’t had too much success there. That’s where the true golfer comes from, and the true golf fans. I enjoy that kind of golf because it’s so different, and I get really excited to go over there. I think if I get in the hunt in one of those, I’m just gonna be really
happy I’m there. But maybe I still need to learn how to play that type of golf.
What are the one or two things you do better than most that have allowed you to make more money than most of us ever dream of?
I get a little streaky with the putter, and I’m not afraid to take chances. I know most regular guys have a comfort zone and they’re afraid to come out of it, but I learned in high school and college [at the University of New Mexico], if you’re not gonna take the chance, somebody else will, and then you’ll wish you had. For me, it’s all about taking the chance, trying to go lower and lower and not being afraid of what I need to do to get there.
What are the things that are holding you back from becoming better?
I’ve probably tinkered too much with my swing. I’ve been working on trying to find the right feel. I think my ability to change my golf swing in just a few days is a good thing when I have a bad habit I need to break, but a bad thing when I have good habits. It seems like the bad habits creep back in, but the good habits get sent away with all the tweaking.
You smile a lot and seem genuinely happy, but there must be something that makes your engine run hot. What is it out on the course?
Sometimes the fan interaction. Some of it can be fun but when they start heckling it gets annoying, and I can’t go out into the gallery and take care of
it, you know?
What’s the worst heckle you’ve heard?
Well, it’s usually about a golf shot. Or my size. And I try to stay professional. I’d love to go out there and say, “OK, let’s go!” [Laughs] But we’re not
supposed to do that because we’re professionals, you know? I want to be treated like I treat other people, but when the fans get drunk and too rowdy, it makes you mad. There are some cruel remarks, and fans need to understand we’re trying to make a living out there. It’s a fine line between having fun and being rude, and it’s just important to keep golf a gentleman’s game, as it was meant to be.
What gets you steamed away from the course, outside of golf?
I have a tiny bit of road rage. [Laughs]
Even in rural Minnesota?
Yeah, not so much out here. Not out in the country. But in cities and stuff. And it’s mainly when I see people hanging out in the left lane, when they could be hanging out in the right lane. If someone wants to go fast, they should be able to do that in the left lane, and people shouldn’t just be hanging out there doing the speed limit. Like in New York, the traffic jams! That’s a pet peeve. And I travel a lot, so service is another pet peeve.
Well, when you go to a nice restaurant, for example. When you’re out on the road, you want to treat yourself to a nice meal. But sometimes fancy places just over do it. I want to be out of there in an hour, not h ave a two-and-a-half-hour meal, and they bring over the meat cart, and all the rest, and no matter what I say they go through all the motions.
Speaking of food, what’s your favorite meal?
Probably split between a nice filet mignon and a good New York pizza pie. I like a nice thin crust, I don’t like it Sicilian style.
You have a fairly uncommon hobby for a golfer in ice fishing. How much time do you spend on a frozen lake in the off-season?
I try to get out ice fishing, when the season starts and it gets cold enough in January, about two to three times a season. That’s enough.
What’s it like? Do you really sit in a little hut like in Grumpy Old Men?
It’s almost exactly like Grumpy Old Men. It’s a colony. And you can’t go and chase the fish around, so you have to know about the most strategic place to put your ice house; you’ve got to know where the fish are. It’s usually on a ledge, or a drop-off from the lake. You take the ice house out there with a four-wheeler or a car, and, yeah, it’s totally OK to do that on the ice. They snowplow it off, so there are actually roads out on the lake.
What sort of comforts are in your ice house?
Well there’s always a plentiful amount of beer. That’s important.
Icehouse beer? [Laughs.] Nah, whatever, just cans of beer. I like Amstel Light, so I usually have those. And then there’s the heater, which is important
because it keeps the ice hole open; the area is so cold that there’s a danger of freezing up the hole you made, so the heater helps keep it open.
What do you love about it?
It’s just more of a being-out-there-with-the-guys thing. Being out there with friends. Growing up in Minnesota, it was hard in the long cold winters to find stuff to do. It gets depressing to sit in the house every single day. So you have to find something to do if you don’t want to just hibernate. But I think it’s important to get out with your friends and just do something that Minnesota sets up great for, like ice fishing.
Which tournaments do you find the most fun to play in?
Muirfield Village [site of the Memorial] is one of the great golf tournaments, and of course the Colonial. I like playing Milwaukee [U.S. Bank Championship] because it’s one of the closest to me, and a lot of my friends come down to watch. And that’s about it. I wouldn’t call the majors “fun.”
Is there anyone on Tour that when you’re paired with them you say, ‘Man, this is going to be a long day.’
The really, really slow players.
But anybody you just don’t like?
Not really. I’m just not someone who dislikes people.
What about pro-ams? Is it possible for a player to actually like playing in them? Do you?
Pro-ams are long, and I think they’re long for the amateurs, too, but I do enjoy it, and I’ve met a lot of great people in pro-ams. It’s really important for us
to do because it’s the only sport where amateurs can actually play with the pros and get on the same playing field, and that’s what makes our game so unique. Plus, it really helps us generate the revenue for the money that we play for. The only advice I can give to the younger guys coming up is: Don’t take pro-ams for granted. That’s why golf’s so attractive, because they can play with us and spend a lot of money, and that’s why our purses go way up.
So you’re out here, in a decidedly un-golfy place. Why, after living in sunny, golf-mad Arizona, did you decide to move back home to Minnesota?
For family, mainly. So my wife could have some support with the three kids. She’s from here, too. I figure that we play so much golf that it’s nice to take time off away from golf, and there’s no better place than home for that. To be honest, when you asked before what comes first, it’s just so clearly family. I know everyone says that, but I really mean it. You certainly don’t move to Minnesota for golf.