The list of players who have won the final round of PGA Qualifying School is a mixed bag. Littered among the 45-year history of the event are decorated PGA champions (hello, Paul Azinger and Mike Weir), might-have-beens (where have you gone, Mathias Gronberg?) and complete busts (Jeff Brehaut, anyone?).
It remains to be seen where the name Troy Merritt will one day fall, but if momentum is any indicator, the 24-year-old appears to have an excellent shot. Last month, Merritt became just the third player since 1992 to share or lead outright after each of the six rounds of Q-School’s final stage. He won the event at 22-under par, one shot ahead of PGA veteran Jeff Maggert, snagging a $50,000 paycheck and — most importantly — a ticket to the 2010 PGA tour.
Before stampeding through Q-School, the Minnesota product lit up leaderboards at Boise State University, where he won seven tournaments in his senior season, including five in a row, before turning professional at the end of 2008. Last year, Merritt picked up his first pro victory at the Mexico Open en route to finishing 39th on the Nationwide money list.
With flashier names like Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Jeev Milkha Singh soaking up most of the preseason hype for rookie of the year honors, Merritt finds himself under the radar – and he’s just fine with that. Before teeing off in Waialae at his first career PGA event, Merritt talked about the transition to PGA life, his expectations for the season and why it might be dangerous to shake hands with him at the end of a round.
Aloha. What are you most looking forward to this week?
Just getting started. The anticipation is the worst part of the game. I know warming up (for my first round) is going to be toughest part of the day, because I just want to get out and get in flow and get in a rhythm.
What have you done to get your life in order and prepare for this season?
It’s actually been fairly easy for me. I’m surrounded by a really good group of people. My uncle-slash-manager and my agent take care of a lot of the business, and they only bother me when it’s really the important things, like phone interviews —
Or Radio shows. Or if I have to sign a contract here or there.
So you don’t have to worry about the little things, like what hotel you’re going to stay at, or where to buy golf tees. Did last year on the Nationwide help you adjust to all the traveling?
It took me about eight months after turning professional and traveling to finally get used to being on my own on the road. In college you travel with the team, you’re always with buddies and you’re having a good time. But when you’re just getting started, you’re out there all by yourself and you don’t really know anybody. It takes a while to get adjusted to that, and about midway through last year I finally got acclimated to it, and that’s what I’m used to.
One of your college teammates, Graham DeLaet, is also starting out on the PGA tour this year. Helpful to have a friend in this same position as you?
Absolutely. Especially with Graham, he’s real fired up to be here. He wears his emotions on his sleeve a little more than I do. You always know what’s going on with him. We’ve obviously learned a few things from each other. Hopefully if one of us gets off to a good start, the other one can ask ‘How are you doing this? What are you doing differently?” Hopefully we can both find some success.
Have any current PGA pros given you advice?
I’m not really one to go up to somebody and say something like, “Hey, I’m Troy Merritt, can I pick your brain for a little bit?” I kind of like to learn things for myself, from my own experiences and being in certain situations. I’m kind of that quiet, shy one who just goes about their business. I don’t really initiate many conversations.
You’re a Boise State grad. In one sentence, please give your thoughts on college football’s BCS system.
Given the chance, small schools will perform at a high level.
I found that out last year for myself.
And no profanity regarding the BCS. Well done.
Your bio in the PGA media guide says you’re superstitious and you like chicken enchiladas. Are you superstitious about chicken enchiladas?
Well, I do really enjoy my mom’s chicken enchiladas. Whenever I go home and we don’t have chicken enchiladas, the trip isn’t as fun as it could be. As long as we have chicken enchiladas one night, it’s going to be a good trip.
What’s your biggest superstition?
I played basketball in high school, and it was always a crime to cut your fingernails before the day of a game. I kind of carried that over into golf. I wouldn’t cut my nails when I was playing in a tournament. But I decided to cut them during the Saturday of the final round of Q-School, and things ended up going just fine. So, I broke my biggest superstition.
If you decide to revive that superstition this season, you might want to be careful when you shake hands at the end of a round.
When I won the Mexico Open, I had some pretty long nails. I’m not a fan of long nails, but the superstition overruled that day.
Some guys have superstitions about the number on their golf ball, or something like that.
I do have a superstition about numbers, but it’s not as big as the fingernails. I won’t play a Titleist 3 during a round because I feel that I’ll three-putt more than I want to. That’s probably my biggest golf superstition.
What are your goals for this season?
First and foremost, I want to maintain my card. I know they say the easy part is getting your card, and the hard part is keeping it. I think a successful season this year would be to go out, be competitive and finish inside the top 125 on the money list. I think any rookie has that goal. After that, obviously I want to contend in a few events, maybe have a chance to win. That’s something I’ve been able to do at every level that I’ve played at. This is the highest level, and I want to see if I can win here.
I joined a fantasy golf league for the first time this year, and I drafted you on my team. The team needs three wins from you, minimum.
My mom just sent me an email from the football coach from my old high school, who’s also the weights and conditioning coach. I was probably the only athlete who never took his conditioning class. But in his email to my mom, he said that he took me in the sixth round of his fantasy draft, and it crossed a lot of eyes in the room. I thought that was pretty funny.
Many athletes are now on Twitter. You tweeting this year?
Not. At. All. I was real stubborn about getting into Facebook. It took me almost a year to get into it when I was in college. People were talking about Twitter a few months after it first came out, and when I found out what it was, I thought it was pretty stupid. You won’t see me tweeting at all.
I don’t know. 'Troy’s Tweets' has a ring to it. You could build a brand around that.
You know, my agent wishes I would tweet, but I won’t do it.
Your PGA career is only beginning, but you’re a member of one pretty exclusive fraternity: Q-School medalists. Does being a part of this list add any pressure or expectations?
I think I glimpsed at the list once. I look at Q-School as just another golf tournament. You’ve had future major champions win there, but I was just happy to get through it. People may have expectations, and if I achieve something then you can add my name to that list. But it’s not a big deal right now. I’ll let everyone else talk it up.