SAN DIEGO — Michael Herrera had 14 long hours on the flight home from Thailand to process the crushing disappointment. Just over a week ago in Thailand, the California mini-tour pro missed a six-foot birdie putt on the last of 80 holes in Asian Tour Q School to not get full status by one shot. It would have been an enormous career boost to a 25-year-old who only began playing serious competitive golf in high school.

“It just proves there’s going to be adversity; it doesn’t matter where you are in the world,” Herrera said. “You have to be able to take the punch, and like Rocky says, stand back up.”

Herrera returned home from Asia to Moreno Valley, Calif., last Sunday, fought off his jet lag most of the week, and then got back into the ring. On the Torrey Pines municipal courses on which he played on a sponsor’s exemption in last year’s PGA Tour Farmers Insurance Open, and barely missed the cut, Herrera entered the 36-hole Advocates Professional Golf Association (APGA) Tour’s Farmers Insurance Invitational. The event is played on the North Course on Saturday of the Farmers Open and moves to the South on Sunday, with the same setup that featured Frenchman Mattieu Pavon capturing his first PGA Tour title the day before.

The good and bad experiences build on each other, and both the setback in Asia and the positive past experience at Torrey Pines all melded for Herrera over two days. He scored 72 on the North Course on Saturday, and then battled to a two-over-par 74 on the difficult South on Sunday to finish at two-over 146 and beat Floridians Kamaiu Johnson (72) and John-Batiste Hakizimana (72) by one shot.

The victory, worth $30,000 to Herrara out of a $100,000 total purse, was his fourth on the APGA—all coming at PGA Tour venues. His maiden win was three years ago at Torrey Pines, followed by victories at TPC Scottsdale and Bermuda, where Herrera won last fall to earn an exemption into the 2024 Butterfield Bermuda Championship.

Sunday’s victoryt was a family affair for Herrera, with his longtime girlfriend, Tyler, on his bag and his parents, Hugo and Jelin, and 13-year-old sister, Vivian watching from behind the ropes. In the aftermath, Tyler held their 20-month-old son, Leon James, at her hip as Michael accepted the trophy.

“Playing the Farmers last year, it was huge, confidence-wise,” said a beaming Hugo Herrera. “He felt like now he can compete with these guys and play these courses, too.”

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PGA Tour player Billy Horschel stands with Michael Herrera and his girlfriend, Tyler, and their 20-month-old son, Leon James after Herrera’s victory. (Tod Leonard)

Another happy spectator in the aftermath was PGA Tour player Billy Horschel, who served as an on-course Golf Channel commentator on Sunday. He also has been a key supporter of the APGA with his sponsorship of the tour’s biggest invitational.

“When I first saw Michael three years ago at my event, there were a couple of guys I felt like had the talent to be on the Korn Ferry Tour or PGA Tour within five years; Michael was one of those guys,” Horschel said. “He’s gotten better every day, and that shows with him winning here. He’s got the ability; it’s about learning to be more consistent, day in and day out, continuing to improve on his strengths. And, mentally, believing in himself.” Herrera, who has once reached the PGA Tour’s Q School Second Stage, has a unique golf background. In a 2023 Golf Digest profile, he spoke of his love for basketball, and though he was curious about golf, his father denied him from playing for a long time because he saw the game as strictly a “white man’s sport.” Michael finally wore his dad down, and after they took up the game together, they were hooked.

A high school hoops star, Michael still dreamed of playing professional basketball until he sat the bench at Riverside City College, where he eventually transferred over to the golf team. He left school early and decided to turn pro, and in a happenstance meeting at a celebrity event, Herrera met NFL Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, who was so taken by the young man that he offered to sponsor him. That support allowed Herrera to play on and excel on the APGA.

Herrera posted a handful of top-five finishes on the APGA last season and capped the year with the Bermuda win. He sees himself as a far different player, mentally, than a year ago at this time.

“I had a different demeanor,” he of the time that followed the Farmers, in which he shot 72-75. “I try to be humble, and I love everybody out here. But when you get that experience and you’re standing on the driving range next to the best players in the world, and it shows you that you can compete with them, it feels a lot different standing on the tee box.”

In looking forward to this year, Herrera said he will play early events on the APGA, try some tour Monday qualifiers, and head to Asia in May to play on the developmental tour there. His commitment to reaching the next level is obvious.

“When you go into an arena that you’re not comfortable with,” Horschel observed, “and you don’t know how things are going to go … the more you’re there the more you’re going to feel like you belong. It shows you where you are in the game, and it continues to fuel the fire of working hard to get to where you want to be.”

This article was originally published on golfdigest.com