(Reuters) - American journeyman Jim Herman earned a last-minute invitation to the Masters when he secured a one-stroke victory at the Houston Open on Sunday.
Herman, whose event preparation included a social round with U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, shed tears of joy after carding a closing four-under-par 68 at the Golf Club of Houston in Humble, Texas.
And he wasted no time giving partial credit to Trump for even being on tour, after spending years in the golfing wilderness.
“He helped me financially, wrote me a check. He gave me a lot of confidence,” Herman, who was a teaching pro at Trump National in New Jersey a decade ago, told reporters.
Herman seized his moment with a chip-in birdie at the 16th hole to take the lead, before closing with flawless pars at the final two holes, tapping in his winning putt from two feet to finish at 15-under 273.
Swede Henrik Stenson (68) finished in second place after missing an 18-foot birdie putt at the last.
Herman, 38, has never played the Masters and had not come close to winning in 105 career starts on the PGA Tour.
“I never thought it was possible,” Herman said, his voice cracking with emotion.
He described how far he had come after being forced back to the tour qualifying school seven times after being unable to keep his card.
”This would never have been possible two years ago,“ he said. ”There were some shots I couldn’t have hit under the pressure. I was pretty low with my game. I couldn’t get out of my own way.
“I‘m pretty proud of myself, first time in the final group to get up there and bring it home. I was not given the tournament. I played really well, nine-under on the weekend.”
He also spoke of his relationship with Trump, and how they teamed up for a round last Saturday in Palm Beach, Florida.
“He was my partner. I played really well. I shot eight-under.”
Stenson, meanwhile, posted his eighth runner-up finish on the PGA Tour, to go with four victories.
One of the best players never to have won a major, he will head to Augusta at least in the knowledge that his game is in good shape.
Jordan Spieth (70), who will open defense of his Masters title on Thursday, double-bogeyed the final hole and finished seven strokes off the pace.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Frank Pingue