Steve Virgen: Herron family's golf legacy thriving - at UNM and at US Amateurs - Albuquerque Journal

Steve Virgen: Herron family’s golf legacy thriving — at UNM and at US Amateurs

Carson Herron has followed in his father’s footsteps to play at the University of New Mexico, where Tim Herron was a three-time All-American who went on to play 25 years on the PGA Tour and earned four PGA Tour wins. (Eric Espada/New Mexico Athletics)

Some of Carson Herron’s earliest memories of golf are that of disdain for the game.

Hard to believe when you consider how meaningful the sport is to his family. But there was a time when golf was absent in Herron’s dreams and his future.

Herron said his famous father, Tim, didn’t push the game on him. But there was, to put it lightly, a vigorous introduction.

“My parents started making me do a golf clinic every Friday, (when) I was like 5, which I hated,” said Herron, heading into his sophomore year at the University of New Mexico. “I hated golf when I was young. They made me do that until I was like 8, and then they didn’t really push golf or had me play.”

His father, just as any elite pro, displayed a strong passion for golf when Carson was a kid. Tim Herron’s passion resulted in four PGA Tour wins, yet also a highly demanding schedule that included 25 years on the PGA Tour, and now play on the Champions Tour that has him in Washington for the Boeing Classic.

That’s not why Carson carried such a strong dislike toward golf.

“I hated dressing up with a collared shirt,” he said. “I just thought it was a pretty boring sport.”

But in 2012 everything changed for a 10-year-old Carson when he saw his father play in what would be his 11th and final U.S. Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.

Carson’s hate soon became love and it led him to competitive junior golf and transformed his young life. Carson said he wanted to follow his father’s footsteps and play at UNM, where Tim was a three-time All-American and two-time Western Athletic Conference Golfer of the Year before graduating in 1993.

“It’s pretty cool to be a Lobo,” Carson said during a Zoom interview on Wednesday from his hometown of Deephaven, Minnesota. “Originally I didn’t have too many (scholarship) offers and I wanted to go to the University of New Mexico. My dad mentioned it and I thought it would be really cool. He always wanted me to go to UNM. And, so did I. When I first saw the locker room and everything, when we would go out to New Mexico for a weekend, I pretty much knew I wanted to be a Lobo. I just think it’s really cool to follow his legacy. I think it’s a really good spot and a good school for me.”

Carson showed just how good when he was named Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year after averaging 73.21 per round over 11 tournaments. He continues to improve. On July 11 he became the fourth generation to qualify for the U.S. Amateur Championship. His great-grandfather, Carson Lee Herron, qualified in 1934. Grandfather and Tim’s dad Carson D. Herron played in the U.S. Am in 1969, and Tim played in the 1993 U.S. Amateur.

“(UNM Coach) Glen Millican took a chance on him,” Tim Herron said in a telephone interview after his even-par round (he’s 3-under for the tournament). “He’s performed really well and I’m proud of him. I’m excited that he’s playing in the U.S. Am.”

Carson will play in the U.S. Am in New Jersey, starting Monday. He’ll compete in stroke play at Arcola Country Club, vying to reach match play at the Ridgewood Country Club. Tim said he’s leaving after the Boeing Classic ends Sunday on a red-eye flight to New Jersey to watch his son play.

Tim Herron is shown in an undated file photo while competing for the University of New Mexico men’s golf team. (Aaron Wilson/Journal file)

Tim remembers the 2012 U.S. Open at Olympic well.

“I had an ESPN highlight and the place went crazy and I think that’s when (Carson) fell in love with the game,” Tim said, adding that Carson got Tiger Woods’ autograph that day. “I told him he didn’t have to (fall in love with golf). I think it’s really cool. I’m proud of it. I’ve told him try not to be me and live up to those type of expectations. Just try to have fun. You’re playing amateur golf right now, it’s supposed to be fun. I think he’s really enjoying it.”

Carson’s roommate, Matthew Watkins, who will be a junior at UNM, is also in the tournament.

Millican is excited for them both. Entering his 22nd year overall at his alma mater, he began as a freshman at UNM in 1993. He said Tim Herron’s success at UNM was one of the reasons he wanted to play for the Lobos.

“I always looked up to Tim,” said Millican, who met Tim in 1993 and played a few rounds with him as Herron was wrapping up final classes at UNM. “He’s definitely the most successful alum to come through UNM, both while he was here and as a professional. As a Lobo golfer, that’s who you look up to and that’s who you try to be. Fast forward almost 30 years later and I’ve got that guy who I’ve known from that perspective calling me and talking about his son coming to school here, it’s kind of a full-circle deal for me. Personally it’s really cool and for the program it’s really great. There are a lot of good things about UNM.”

Carson said he wasn’t aware that he could become the fourth generation to play in the U.S. Am until after he qualified and a reporter told him. He is aware, however, that he could become the fourth generation to play in the U.S. Open.

“I don’t feel that pressure,” he said. “The only pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself. I think it would be really cool and really awesome to be a fourth generation U.S. Open (qualifier) but only time will tell.”

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