Tim Herron and Tom Lehman were striding down the 18th fairway on Sunday during the first hole of a playoff to decide the Bay Hill Invitational when an exuberant fan yelled, "Let's go, Minnesota!" Lehman turned his head and shot back, "I promise you, somebody from Minnesota will win this tournament."
His reply drew a few guffaws from the gallery, but in Minnesota, home of the salt truck, the world's largest open-pit iron mine and the only governor to have mastered the sleeper hold, that sort of repartee would have had 'em rolling in the snowbanks. See, Herron and Lehman were the only golfers in the playoff, and both are frostbacks, born and raised in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Get it?
All you need to know about Minnesota, where the all-purpose Scandinavian expression uff da!—as in, "Uff da! This beer is warm" or "Uff da! That puck hurt my forehead"—ranks as snappy conversation, are three things: The hockey season is long; the golf season is short; and the people are, well, unpretentious.
Who would have thought that Arnold Palmer's snazzy tournament in Orlando would come down to a duel—Herron won it by birdieing the second playoff hole—between two Minnesotans? Next thing you know, Jamaica will have a bobsled team.
Herron and Lehman certainly are making the state's thousands of avid golfers proud. Lehman's footprints on the game have been particularly large. He has come heartbreakingly close to winning three U.S. Opens and two Masters and did win the 1996 British Open. For one short week in the spring of 1997, he reached the summit and was ranked the No. 1 player in the world. Lehman has also starred in the Ryder Cup, the Presidents Cup and the Skins Game as well as in the latest SPORTS ILLUSTRATED swimsuit issue, in which he appears with his wife, Melissa.
Herron, 29, has been making tracks, too. He led wire to wire to win the '96 Honda Classic in only his seventh start on the Tour, won again the following year at the Texas Open, then last week again led from start to finish. Interestingly the two-hole playoff marked the first time the Minnesotans had played together in a Tour event, although Lehman, 40, had faced Herron's father, Carson, in state amateur events when Lehman was a teenager.
Bay Hill may prove to be a turning point for both players. Herron showed that he has the game, the guts and the desire to become a factor in a major championship like the upcoming Masters. Before Sunday the only thing that he didn't have was an invitation. Ineligible for the tournament, he had planned to spend Masters week in Minneapolis visiting his girlfriend, Ann Paulson, a recruiter for an investment brokerage. Herron, though, was keeping his options open. On Sunday night at Bay Hill, Paulson said, "Three weeks ago he asked me, 'If I win, will you come to Augusta?' He has been bound and determined to get into the Masters this year." Now Herron's in, and Paulson will join him in Georgia, "if," he says, "she can get off work."
Herron and Paulson go way back—they've known each other for more than 15 years—but have been dating for only 15 months. Their relationship took a romantic turn when Herron, who now lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., was visiting family and friends at Christmas. Paulson said, "I reintroduced myself to him, and he said, 'Ohhhh, I know you.' We danced and he asked me out the next day."
Lumpy Herron, dancing? "Oh, yeah; he's a good dancer," Paulson said. "Did you see him after he made that putt at 10 [on Sunday]? He tried to do a little dance and hurt his ankle. He can really cut a rug."
Herron can also really play, although he has probably been underrated because of his appearance. At 5'10" and 210 pounds, he looks a little like the rest of us—sort of soft around the middle, hence his nickname. Herron is a no-frills, beer-and-a-butt, fire-at-the-flag kind of guy. The two endorsement logos on his shirt say it all: Target, the bargain hunter's department store of choice, and Harmon Auto Glass. Cadillac and Rolex, he ain't. There is hope, though. Herron looked sharp in the navy blue blazer awarded to the Bay Hill champion. "I've got to figure out how to get him into that more often," Paulson said, admiring the coat.