How three legends inspired Farmers Insurance Open exemption Michael Herrera

“And he told me, you know, ‘We don’t play this sport. It’s not for us.’”

But Herrera, who was 10 at the time, kept asking. One day, Hugo, determined to make a point, took a U-turn and pulled into Cottonwood’s parking lot.

“He said, ‘You know what, let me show you how much it is and why we don’t play,’” Herrera remembers.

Father and son entered the pro shop. Much to Hugo’s surprise, the fee to play the course, which is made up of eight par 3s and one par 4, was just $5. It costs the same amount to rent clubs.

“So, for less than $20, we went out and played,” Herrera says. “And we had the best time of our life and we fell in love with the game right then and there, and we tried to go back as often as we could after I got off school. That’s how we picked up the game.”

Herrera’s dad liked the game so much that he bought a set of clubs from Wal-Mart that the two could share. Soon, he got a junior set from US Kids Golf for his son. Herrera – who didn’t have a formal lesson until his second year as a pro – studied YouTube videos to learn the game. His dad also bought the book “How I Play Golf” that Woods collaborated on with the editors of Golf Digest

“I just tried to replicate everything he did,” Herrera says. “Mannerisms, even the way he got mad on the golf course, I tried replicating everything.”

Herrera and his dad eventually found a course closer to their home, but it was $85 to play 18 on the Pete Dye design so playing there regularly wasn’t an option. It had a driving range, though, and for $100 Herrera could get 100 tokens for buckets of balls. After he practiced, Herrera, who likes to listen to R&B to calm himself before he tees off, would head back to Cottonwood to play.

“And every time after school when I got a little older, I’d hit roughly six to eight buckets a day, just non-stop hitting balls,” he recalls. “They were really cool about it. They’d scratch off one from the card and give me three buckets and stuff to help me out.”

As much as he liked golf, though, Herrera’s first love was basketball – just like his father, who played on the Guatemalan National Team. Herrera, a 6-foot guard, played four years in the varsity at Valley View High School and was recruited by Phil Mathews at Riverside City College.

After Herrera’s freshman year at Riverside, where he also played golf, Mathews introduced him to Ken Bentley, who founded the APGA. The two played a round at Wilshire Country Club and Bentley could see the potential. He told Mathews that Herrera needed to focus on golf.

It wasn’t exactly the news Herrera wanted to hear.

“Knowing that I could play at a high level in basketball, it wasn’t an easy pill to swallow,” he says. “… With golf, my career lasts a lot longer. And then I just have a better chance at succeeding in life. And I love the game of golf, so it wasn’t too hard to do.

“But basketball was my first love, and we all know first love hurts the most.”

Soon Herrera decided to pursue golf full-time. He turned pro in 2019 and has played predominately on the APGA – winning his second event last year at TPC Scottsdale and posting two other runner-up finishes among his nine top-10s. He advanced to the second stage of Korn Ferry Tour qualifying and has conditional status on PGA TOUR Latinoamerica and PGA TOUR Canada.

“It’s been amazing to be able to test your game on TPC golf courses and championship golf courses,” Herrera says. “There’s nothing like it. …. Without the APGA being able to put us there, I think it would be very hard to be successful at higher levels of golf.”

The APGA has also provided financial support, covering Herrera’s expenses this week, and caps entry fees at its events at $400 where other mini-tours might hit $1,000 or more. Bentley also arranged for Herrera’s first club fitting, getting him a TaylorMade M1 Driver and a set of Srixon Z 756 irons, an experience the young pro calls “game-changing.” The APGA also pays for instructors like his current coach Tony Greco, the director of instruction at Bear Creek Golf Club in Murrieta, California, who also coaches PGA TOUR rookie Brent Grant.

“Just my family background, we wouldn’t be able to afford any of that – $200 or $250 fitting fee or $200 for one hour of coaching,” Herrera says. “So to have the APGA put their entry fees at $400 and we’re playing TPCs makes it a lot easier to get there and then it doesn’t break the bank.

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