Merritt Gets Another 2 Years -- at Least -- on PGA Tour with Barbasol Victory
July 24, 2018
NICHOLSVILLE, Ky. -- Never mind the Web.com Tour Finals. Troy Merritt won't have to go back to that psychological torture test this year, or next year. Instead, he'll go to the PGA Championship in two weeks.
He arranged for the change of schedule on Monday, when he shot a 5-under-par 67 in a rain-delayed final round at the Barbasol Championship. That gave him a 72-hole tournament record total of 265 (23 under) on the Keene Trace Golf Club's Champion Trace Course, and a one-stroke victory.
Billy Horschel, a former winner of the PGA Tour's season-long competition known as the FedEx Cup (and the $10 million prize that goes with it), lipped out a 16-foot putt from the fringe on the final hole that would have tied him with Merritt and forced a playoff. He had to settle for a 67, an aggregate of 266 and a tie for second place, along with Richy Werenski and Tom Lovelady. J.T. Poston closed with a 66 and finished alone in fifth at 267. Brian Gay was another stroke back at 268, good for solo sixth.
This was the second PGA Tour victory for the 32-year-old Merritt, who played high school golf (and basketball) at Spring Lake Park. It was worth $630,000 -- and a lot more.
Besides reserving a place for him in the PGA (in two weeks at Bellerive Country Club near St. Louis), Merritt's triumph earned him a spot in this year's FedEx Playoffs, plus a place in the 2019 Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, and in the Players Championship next March in Florida. It moved him up on the PGA Tour money list from outside the top 125 to No. 77, and from No. 327 in the Official World Golf Rankings to 170. But more important than any of that, it gives him full status on the most lucrative golf tour in the world for another two years.
That's because the rule on the PGA Tour is that anyone who wins a tour event is exempt until the end of the season two years hence. In Merritt's case, that means he's fully exempt until the end of the 2019-20 season.
"Just knowing that you've got a job for the next two years," he said, "it's awesome."
Merritt has had some good tournaments this year, but he's had problems finishing them off. In the AT&T Pro-Am, for example, he made a triple-bogey 8 on the final hole at Pebble Beach and cost himself roughly $150,000 as a result. Through 22 events, he had made $664,261 and was 128th on the money list, with only five tournaments left on the schedule.
Last year, he finished 151st on the money list. Only the top 125 are guaranteed fully exempt status the following year. So Merritt had to play in the Web.com Finals, which is a series of four tournaments for guys on the PGA Tour money list from No. 126 to 200, and for the top 75 guys on the Web.com regular season money list. The top 25 from the Web.com regular season have already earned their PGA Tour cards for the next year by then, but they can improve their status by playing well in the Finals. In addition, the top 25 money winners in the Finals, not counting the 25 guys who are already exempt, also earn exempt status.
If it sounds like a convoluted system, that's because it is. But Merritt has come through it twice and earned exemptions The first time was 2014. He won the Quicken Loans National the following year, which gave him fully exempt status through the end of the 2016-17 season. But when he finished out of the top 125 last year, he was back in the Finals, where he made $59,560, good for 17th place -- and another year on the PGA Tour.
It appeared that he might be going back to the Finals again this year -- until Monday.
"For a guy that has struggled to maintain a job for each year I've been out here, with the exception of the year after I won Quickens," Merritt said, "just knowing that I can play the last few weeks of the season not stressing about am I going to have full status next year, that's the key."
The $630,000 that he earned in Kentucky bumped his season earnings to $1,312,357, and pushed his career total to $7.35 million on the PGA Tour.
Merritt, who shot a tournament-record 61 on his way to the Quicken Loans victory three years ago, opened the Barbasol tournament with a record score of 10-under 62. He followed that with a 67 and a 69 and was tied for first going into Sunday's final round. Except that he never hit a shot on Sunday. The weather in Nicholasville didn't allow any of the contenders to make it as far as the first tee at Keene Trace.
Once he did get started, just before 8 o'clock on Monday morning, Merritt birdied the first hole, a 443-yard par-4.
The highlight of his final round was a holed wedge shot for an eagle 2 at the eighth hole, but he didn't take the lead for good until he followed a two-putt birdie at the 543-yard, par-5 14th hole with another birdie, from 8 feet, at the 423-yard, par-4 15th. He wound up hitting 17 of 18 greens in regulation.
Merritt was born in Iowa, then lived for several years in Idaho. His family moved to Fridley shortly before he started his freshman year at Spring Lake Park. His best finish at the state high school golf tournament was fifth place in Class AA (then the large-school class) in 2004, when he was a senior. He played college golf for Winona State for two years and was a Division II All-American. During the summers, he had a job at Oak Ridge CC that allowed him to play a lot of golf. But in 2006, after his sophomore year at Winona State, he was informed that Oak Ridge was cutting back on the amount of golf that employees could play.
One of Merritt's uncles was still living in Idaho, and he told Merritt's father that Troy should come back to Boise. There was a course in town, the uncle assured him, that would allow Merritt to play as much golf as he wanted. While he was there, Merritt shot some really low scores in local tournaments, and attracted the attention of the Boise State coach, who asked him if he might like to play for the Broncos. Merritt transfered. As a senior at Boise State, he won the last five tournaments of the regular season and ended up with the lowest average in NCAA Division I golf -- 69.2 strokes per round.
After turning professional, he played on the then-Nationwide Tour (now the Web.com) in 2009 and won once. That fall, he cruised through the old PGA Tour Q-School, becoming only the third player in the Q-School's 50-year history to lead wire to wire for six rounds. Once on the PGA Tour, however, he barely kept his card in 2011, finishing at No. 125 on the money list -- the last spot. In 2012, he finished 187th, lost his exempt status and he spent the next two years in the wilderness of the Nationwide and mini-tours.
"Every now and then you think: 'Do I have what it takes to win anymore,' " Merritt conceded Monday. "I've won at every level I've played at since I was eight years old. I know I can still play good golf. But when you don't see if for long periods of time, and you're always trying to find it, and the guys are getting better and better and better, doubts will kind of creep in there."
At Keen Trace Golf Club - Champion Trace Course
1. Troy Merritt 62-67-69-67--265
T2. Billy Horschel 65-66-68-67--266
T2. Richy Werenski 66-66-68-66--266
T2. Tom Lovelady 66-67-65-68--266
5. J.T. Poston 69-66-66-66--267
6. Brian Gay 67-68-68-65--268
Missed cut (140)
Cameron Beckman 70-75--145
Tim Herron 71-75--146