The rewards for Troy Merritt’s first PGA Tour victory keep coming.
On Thursday, he’ll tee off in the winners-only Hyundai Tournament of Champions for the first time. It’s staged in a heavenly corner of Maui called Kapalua.
“The only downside right now is it’s only a week long,” Merritt said Wednesday. “It’s pretty special.”
Merritt, who lives in Meridian and played at Boise State, is exempt for this season and next because of his August win in the Quicken Loans National. That allowed him to take an extended winter break and set a less-aggressive schedule for the opening two months of 2016 because his ability to enter tournaments is less dependent on his results.
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“I was tired. My game was tired,” he said. “It was a good time to shut it down. ... I have a pretty good schedule set this year. It allows me to be home five to six extra weeks.”
Merritt is one of three with Idaho ties on the PGA Tour for the 2015-16 season, which officially began Oct. 15 but traditionally begins in Maui. He played in three fall events and tied for 21st in Malaysia.
Tyler Aldridge of Nampa, who also played briefly at Boise State, returns to the PGA Tour for the first time since 2009, when he struggled as a rookie. He made four of five cuts in the fall, including a tie for 12th in Mississippi, to gain some quick momentum for 2016 and jump to 68th in the FedExCup standings.
And Graham DeLaet, who played at Boise State and is a former Treasure Valley resident, made two of three cuts in the fall to rank 116th in the FedExCup.
Aldridge finished 14th on the Web.com Tour money list last season to get back to golf’s biggest stage. He’ll make his 2016 debut next week at the Sony Open on Oahu. He plans to play nearly every event on the West Coast swing.
“I had a good time,” he said of the fall schedule. “I was just kind of feeding off the season on the Web.com Tour. I played pretty solid. I think 2016 is going to be really good, though.”
Aldridge, 31, has shot 71 or better in 16 of his 18 rounds on the PGA Tour this season. His decision-making and putting are much improved from where they were in 2009, he said.
He also has the resolve built through overcoming his struggles.
“It makes you tougher,” he said. “It makes you mentally stronger. Knowing that you’ve been there before and have experienced everything, it gives you confidence. It makes you appreciate what you’ve had and it makes you want to work that much harder.”
Merritt, 30, is coming off a breakout year that included $2.1 million in winnings and a 56th-place finish in the FedExCup. He’s ranked 109th in the world — highest of the three local connections — and will make his Masters debut in April.
Merritt recently filmed Wilson Golf commercials in Arizona with a speaking part — a first for him.
The next step in his ascent would be to crack the top 50 in the world rankings to earn invitations to more majors and the lucrative World Golf Championships events.
“That’s the goal, especially early this year — get off to a good start and use this week as a catalyst to get things going,” he said.
He enters the season more relaxed than last year, when he commuted between Meridian and Phoenix to implement swing and equipment changes. This year, he made three trips to Phoenix but didn’t play nearly as much.
“It’s just going out and finding the touch, finding the rhythm,” he said.