The doubts began to creep into Troy Merritt’s head after a couple of years spent spinning his wheels on the golf course.
Merritt earned his first PGA Tour win in 2015 at the Quicken Loans National. Immediate success did not follow.
“It’s just so hard to win on the PGA Tour. After my win ... I really didn’t play overly well the last couple of years,” Merritt said. “You always ask yourself, is this the time to move on?”
Fortunately for the 32-year-old Iowa native, he chose to stick with the sport that has been part of his life since he was 8 years old. That persistence finally paid off on Monday as Merritt held off a field that was hot on his heels for a one-stroke victory in the PGA Tour’s Barbasol Championship at Keene Trace Golf Club.
Merritt raced out of the gate with a 10-under par 62 in Thursday’s first round, tying Kentuckian Steve Flesch for the Champions course scoring record. He was part of a four-way tie for first place heading into the final round and finished at 23-under par to lock up the victory, one shot ahead of Billy Horschel, Richy Werenski and Tom Lovelady.
“To get a win like this late in the season ... and to secure a job for two more years, it’s a pretty good feeling.”
Merritt has had to fight to keep his PGA Tour card the last couple of years, but with his victory in the Barbasol Championship he earned a two-year exemption on the tour. That should make for a happy household.
“Just knowing I can play the last few weeks of the season not stressing about, ‘Am I going to have full status next year?’, that’s key,” Merritt said. “I mean, my wife loves it. My wife loves that I’m going to have a job for the next two years.”
Mrs. Merritt might want to extend a thank you for her husband’s continued employment to his new caddie. Merritt got emotional when talking about the way Wayne Birch has helped turn around his game.
“I’ve got Wayne on the bag now, and he’s the most positive person I think I’ve ever met,” Merritt said. “We started working at the Valero (Open) in San Antonio together and it’s just a nice little spark I needed to kind of refocus and know that I can still play this game.
“As a result, we’ve missed one cut in three months, and now we’ve got a win to show for it. It’s been a nice little run for us.”
Merritt said Birch helped him put his only bogey of the final round — on hole No. 5 — behind him. Merritt responded with a birdie on the next hole, and then his biggest moment of the tournament on No. 8 — a 128-yard, 9-iron shot that he ran in for eagle and the outright lead.
“It just set the tone for the back nine, knowing that we were going to be right there.”
Horschel was a hair away from forcing a playoff. On the par-3, No. 18 hole, Horschel’s long birdie putt was racing straight toward the hole. But it caught the left edge of the cup and spun out. Horschel flipped his putter and looked to the sky, hands on hips.
“Sometimes you need a little bit of luck. When you have that luck you know it’s your day, I just didn’t have it,” Horschel said. “I hit a good putt … I thought I’d made it.”
Merritt didn’t play it safe with the one-shot lead. He went straight for the flag on No. 18 and landed his tee shot 16 feet from the cup, pin-high. He two-putted for par to earn his second PGA Tour win.
“We knew it was going to take a lot of birdies to get the job done but we didn’t focus on any final number,” Merritt said. “We just tried to do our best on each shot and counted them up at the end and it was one shot in the positive for us.
“It was awesome to play here all week. I’m looking forward to the next time I get the chance to play in Kentucky again.”
The Bluegrass state clearly made an impression on Merritt. He plans to visit again, even if golf isn’t necessarily the main item on the agenda.
“I did find out that I will need to take some kind of guys’ trip sometime in the next few years and do the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Sounds like a pretty good time, so I’ll be back for that, for sure.”