Golf

Meridian’s Merritt embraces Masters moments

Troy Merritt competes in the Masters Par-3 Contest at Augusta National with his sons Dodge, 2, and Scout, 4. His father, Mark, served as his caddie.
Troy Merritt competes in the Masters Par-3 Contest at Augusta National with his sons Dodge, 2, and Scout, 4. His father, Mark, served as his caddie. mprater@idahostatesman.com

Four-year-old Scout has made as many competitive birdie putts at Augusta National Golf Club as his dad, Meridian-based PGA Tour pro Troy Merritt.

One.

Scout banged home a 2-foot birdie putt on the final hole of the Masters Par-3 Contest on Wednesday — completing an experience that was of utmost importance to Merritt, who will make his Masters debut Thursday.

“The place went pretty wild,” said Peter Webb, Merritt’s agent.

Scout and 2-year-old Dodge followed their father around the par-3 contest in caddie jumpsuits. Merritt’s dad, Mark, served as caddie. It was a family outing few get to experience.

“I still haven’t gotten past Wednesday,” Merritt said last week. “I’m really excited about seeing the boys out there in their jumpsuits and having my dad caddying. I’ll worry about the first tee shot later.”

He’ll confront that first official Masters shot at 9:27 a.m. MT Thursday — and he’ll face a daunting challenge. Not only is he living a dream and playing in one of golf’s most-famed events, but the Augusta course doesn’t fit his game.

Merritt, a 30-year-old former Boise State player, ranks 143rd on the PGA Tour in driving distance at 286.7 yards. That’s roughly 25 yards shorter than guys like Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy.

“It doesn’t fit (my game) at all,” Merritt said. “It is a huge ask for me to play it really well. I have to play my best golf each and every hole that tournament. There can’t be any lapses. That’s why my short game has to be spot on. ... I just have to have my brain going in full force and really think my way around that golf course to have a chance.”

Merritt played a practice round Tuesday with former Masters champion Tom Watson, who pointed out the places to go and avoid.

Merritt qualified for the elite, 89-man field with his victory last summer at the Quicken Loans National. He stopped at Augusta twice earlier this season to play practice rounds, including once while fighting the flu. He shot even par while he was ill and played worse the second time, he said.

His only other visit to Augusta was as a spectator for the 2009 tournament while playing on the Web.com Tour.

“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “It’s something I dreamed about as a little boy. The only thing better would be being in contention on the back nine on a Sunday at the Masters — that’s been my ultimate dream.”

The Idaho Statesman begins a series of videos featuring tips from local experts. First up: PGA Tour pro Troy Merritt, a former Boise State golfer who lives in Meridian, demonstrates the key to his swing.

Merritt turned this opportunity into a unique experience for his entire family. He rented a house with space for his wife, Courtney, and the boys; his two brothers and their significant others; his parents and his in-laws.

“We thought about maybe getting two (houses), but we wanted to enjoy the fun family experience so we decided to go with the mayhem of one house and enjoy it,” Merritt said.

He enters the Masters with momentum after a tie for third at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in his last start. He also tied for 11th in the Northern Trust Open, giving him a pair of high finishes in his past three events.

He was tied for the lead during the final round at the Arnold Palmer event thanks to five straight birdies. Masters favorite Jason Day won.

Merritt, now ranked 85th in the world, hit his approach shot in the water on No. 18.

“I definitely gained a lot of confidence,” Merritt said. “I wasn’t scared or shying away from the situation. I took a chance and went for the win. It’s just like back in the basketball days, you shoot that 3 to win the game. Sometimes you make it, sometimes you don’t and have to go home the loser. The last time out, at Bay Hill, we were the loser.”

Merritt was relaxed enough when he left Augusta National on Wednesday to joke that Webb should call him if he wasn’t on the property by 9 a.m. MT.

Underneath, nervous energy no doubt lingered.

“I know he’s excited,” Webb said. “He won’t show it.”

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