Three years ago Troy Merritt won the Quicken Loans National in wildly impressive fashion, including carding a third-round, course-record 61 at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club en route to a three-stroke victory over Rickie Fowler. It was his second 61 that season, and Merritt appeared to be the latest talented 20-something poised to make more noise on the US PGA Tour for years to come.
That’s not been the case for the now 32-year-old Iowa native, having missed 37 cuts in his 81 starts since that breakthrough. A stretch like that can humble even the most confident of players, but one good round can also have a way of flipping the switch. Merritt came up with that round on Thursday at the Barbasol Championship, matching the course record at Keene Trace Golf Club with a 10-under 62. Four marathon days later, he finished off his second career victory on Monday with a five-under 67, overcoming the weather and a stacked leaderboard that included tour winners like Billy Horschel and Hunter Mahan.
As his eyes welled up with tears, it was clear how meaningful this second victory was for Merritt, probably because he didn’t know if and when he’d ever get it.
“Man, it’s pretty special,” said Merritt, who finished at 23-under 265 to win by one stroke. “It’s been a few years, I’m sure I’ll have a few emotions in the next 10 minutes, but it’s been a struggle, for not just myself but my family, always cheering me on. Are you going to keep going, keep going? And we’ve prayed hard and the good lord helped us out and I really appreciate him for that, but it’s just been a long time coming.”
Merritt’s win is the latest that highlights just how important this opposite-week event has become for players at all different points in their careers. The tournament’s first winner, Scott Piercy, was coming off an injury-plagued season when he won in 2015 for the first time in three years, getting his career back on track. In 2016, Aaron Baddeley won for the first time in five years while playing out of the tour’s past champions category after failing to regain his PGA Tour card. Last year, Grayson Murray broke through for his first win on tour.
For Merritt, the win gets him a two-year exemption on tour as well as a spot in next month’s US PGA Championship, where he’ll be making just his fifth start in a Major. More importantly, it proves to himself he still belongs out there competing against the biggest names in the sport.
“Having played out in Maui (in the Tournament of Champions) back in ’16 after the Quicken Loans win, I always wanted to get back, I always wanted to start my season there or at least start my year there. To get back there will be special.
“To get to play the PGA at Bellerive in a couple weeks, that’ll be nice. I’ve got some family there north in Iowa that might make the trip down. Just being able to play in those big events with the big names and to be able to compete against them, it’s always very special. Week in and week out we don’t get to see them every week, so when you get the opportunity to tee it up against the big boys you’ve got to relish that opportunity and make the best of it, and now we’ve got a couple more opportunities.”
Three players finished one behind at 22-under 266, including Horschel, who had a great look at birdie at the par-3 18th and nearly holed it. His par gave him a five-under 67 and his second finish inside the top-5 this season, not including his team win at the Zurich Classic alongside the aforementioned Piercy. Richy Werenski and Tom Lovelady also had great birdie chances at 18 that just slipped by the cup. The T-2 is the best finish of the season for both players.
J.T. Poston finished alone in fifth at 21-under 267, and Mahan tied for seventh at 19-under 269, giving him his first top-10 on tour since the 2015 Deutsche Bank Championship. The leading Australian was Cameron Percy, who closed with a 69 to share seventh place.