BOISE, Idaho — Troy Merritt has not fallen off the face of the earth. He played in a charity shootout on Monday at Hillcrest Country Club, site of this week's Albertsons Boise Open, the Web.com Tour's first of seven straight tournaments that will put the wraps on the 2012 season. Merritt, languishing at 104th on the money list (the top 25 advance to the PGA Tour, 26-60 retain full Web.com privileges), was followed by his wife, Courtney, and their 15-month-old son on Monday afternoon. They're in the process of buying a house in nearby Meridian, and they're hoping that moving from Phoenix back to Idaho will change their luck.
Two years ago, Merritt, 26, was considered a potential future star. He started the 2010 season with an opening-round 65 at the Sony Open, which opened eyes considering it was his first start on Tour. (He would eventually tie for 20th place at Waialae.) He ended that year with a pressure-filled, bogey-free 67 at Disney to finish 125th on the money list, barely retaining his playing privileges for 2011. He then made birdie on the first hole of a pressure-filled, sudden-death playoff with Aaron Baddeley and Rickie Fowler to win the $1 million Kodak Challenge.
Merritt, who had won the 2009 Mexico Open before going wire-to-wire to take medalist honors at '09 Q school, was well on his way — and then he wasn't.
"You never know what's going to happen in this game," Merritt said. "One week can change everything. You've just got to roll with it and do your best, and unfortunately for me that means trying to keep my job for next year."
The trouble started in 2011, when Merritt made only eight cuts and $150,000 in 23 starts. Top-25 finishes: zero. That dropped him to the Web.com Tour, where he has continued to struggle this season. He says he's not injured, but his game has suffered extended periods of sickness, including seven straight missed cuts from March 25 to June 3. His caddie, Robbie Richards, a former Boise State teammate, noticed what Merritt describes as a "major swing flaw" on Wednesday of the Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational in late July, and Merritt began trying to make the necessary changes the next day. He hasn't made a cut since, four straight MCs and counting.
"I got off to a nice start south of the border this year," Merritt said. "Three top-25s to start the year, and had another top-25 down in Mexico, where I won. So I think I just need to play outside the country, somewhere where they don't speak English. But no, I've struggled a little bit, although I've played a lot better than you'd think, missing as many cuts as I have. I tell a lot of people I hit 64, 65 good shots a round, and I hit a few poor ones that lead to three or four more."
In perfect fall-like weather, a few hundred fans, the Boise State cheerleaders and even the Bronco mascot followed Monday's skins game, in which Merritt and Graeme DeLaet represented BSU; Casey Martin and Andres Gonzales represented Oregon (Martin coaches the Oregon men's golf team); and Sam Saunders, Arnold Palmer's grandson, and long-drive champion Jamie Sadlowski represented the University of Idaho. Merritt played well enough, but he and DeLaet, who had shaved his FedEx Cup playoffs beard, couldn't get much going and were finally given a few skins by a gracious Martin when all three teams birdied the short, par-4 ninth hole and were headed for a chip-off.
The last 18 months have brought a complete reversal for DeLaet, who was laid up after early-season back surgery in 2011, and Merritt. While Merritt, who looks much younger than 26, was floundering on the developmental Web.com Tour, DeLaet was making a run through the mega-bucks FedEx Cup playoffs. He faded at the BMW last weekend to miss out on the Tour Championship, but he has earned more than $1 million on the PGA Tour in this comeback season.
"I follow him on Twitter, and he follows me, so there's some banter back and forth," DeLaet said of Merritt. "I'm hoping for a big week for him this week. I've played a lot of golf with him, and he's super-talented, and I know it's only a matter of time before something good happens for him."
Having a baby has disrupted Merritt's routine, as he expected it would, but as he reflects on what went wrong he cites living in Phoenix, where he moved shortly after he turned pro in 2008.
"We have no family, and pretty much no friends there," Merritt said. "We're up away from the city and we didn't know anybody when we moved down there. So it's been tough for my wife; when I've had to leave, she has to do everything on her own. It's been tough for her and it's been tough for me. And it's tough to travel with a little one. We're still in that process of figuring it out."
Hence the impending move back to Boise, where Troy's aunt and uncle live, and where he and Courtney have friends from college. (She was a gymnast at Boise State.)
As it stands now, Merritt, who is meticulous right down to the way he ties his shoes, would be headed back to the first stage of Q school. Having been to Q school three times already, he admits it is an endeavor "you want to avoid as much as possible." But seven more tournaments is a lot, and golfers come out of slumps all the time. Tiger Woods did it this year, as did Phil Mickelson. Lee Westwood's mid-career death spiral was a lot worse than Merritt's, and now Westwood is making millions on the PGA Tour and moving to sunny South Florida.
"I've got a lot of work to do," said Merritt, his young son in the crook of his arm, "but one or two good weeks and you're right back in the thick of things."
Short game: Martin Kaymer looks for his first top-10 finish since April at the BMW Italian Open in Turin. He'll play with Nicolas Colsaerts and Francesco Molinari. The three will be Ryder Cup teammates at Medinah in two weeks. … Five tournaments remain in the Champions Tour season, starting with this week's Pacific Links Hawai'i Championship at Kapolei Golf Course. … Of the top three players in the Charles Schwab Cup race, only points-leader Tom Lehman (2,043) is playing Pacific Links, which will be absent Bernhard Langer (1,893) and Roger Chapman (1,796). … Rick Fehr, who became a player-agent after his career on the PGA Tour, makes his Champions Tour debut. … Ricoh extended title sponsorship of the Ricoh Women's British Open through at least 2016. The LPGA's final major starts Thursday at Royal Liverpool, with Yani Tseng going for a three-peat. … Juli Inkster, who received an exemption, is coming back from elbow surgery.