BY MIKE FIELDS
A light rain started to fall just when the Barbasol Championship trophy ceremony got underway on the 18th green at Champions at Keene Trace early Monday afternoon, but there were bright smiles all around, the brightest worn by Troy Merritt, the winner of the first PGA TOUR event in Kentucky in almost 60 years.
After a long, wet week, Merritt wasn’t about to let a little drizzle dampen his delight. He was enjoying the moment and all that came with it.
By winning the Barbasol Championship, he earned $630,000, a spot in next month’s PGA Championship, 300 FedEx points, but most important, a two-year exemption on the PGA TOUR.
“Just knowing I can play these last few weeks of the season not stressing about having full status next year, knowing I’ve got that security for two years is awesome,” he said.
Merritt was strong from the start in the Barbasol Championship.
He matched the course record with a 10-under par 62 in the first round, and followed it up with 67-67-69 to finish 23-under, one better than Billy Horschel, Richy Werenski and Tom Lovelady.
Merritt was playing so-so golf Monday until he eagled the par-4 8th hole, spinning a 9-iron back into the cup from 128 yards out.
But he thought he won the tournament when he birdied the 15th to get to 23-under and take a one-shot lead.
He kept a close eye on the scoreboard after that. Once he saw that his closest challengers failed to birdie the par-5 17th, he figured he could par in and take home the trophy.
Merritt, a bearded 32-year-old who makes his home in Boise, Idaho, won the Quickens Loan three years ago for his first PGA TOUR victory. Since then some doubt began to creep into his mind about whether he could win again.
He credited his new caddie, Wayne Birch, for giving him a boost in confidence. Since Birch picked up his bag nine events ago, Merritt has made 8 cuts, including Monday’s victory.
“Wayne’s the most positive person I’ve ever met,” Merritt said. “There’s a nice little spark there.”
Horschel was the highest ranked player in the Barbasol Championship, and he played like it. He had only two bogeys all week while carding 65-66-68-67—277.
“The last two days I couldn’t get a putt to fall, and when you’re in a shootout like this, you’re going to have to have a little bit of luck. I didn’t have any,” he said.
Horschel was effusive in his praise for the first Barbasol Championship in Kentucky.
“The course is awesome,” he said. “It’s unfortunate we had so much rain. I tip my hat to the maintenance crew. We’ve had a lot of water here, and to have the course somewhat playable is pretty special. If the course is playing fast and firm, I think the scores would be 10 shots higher.
“Barbasol puts on a great event. I think it’ll have a long-lasting life here.”
Merritt, as you would expect, enjoyed his time in the Bluegrass State.
“This is my first time spending time in Kentucky,” he said. “There were a lot of smiles, a lot of very nice conversations with the volunteers, spectators and staff. And the people I talked with were thrilled to be out here watching golf. That makes our job a lot more fun.”
Merritt was busy winning a golf tournament so he didn’t have time to get out and see the sights of Central Kentucky. But he’s a fan of Woodford Reserve and hopes to return to do the Bourbon Trail.
“I’ll be back for sure,” he said.