There is no place like home
On Sunday, John Merrick became the first Los Angeles native to win the Northern Trust Open since its inception in 1926. With the victory he secured a trip to the Masters as well as a much-welcomed two-year exemption.
Merrick’s name may not be the most well known nationally but in the Southern California golf community, this victory has been long awaited. Merrick grew up roaming the fairways of Recreation Park Municipal in Long Beach, Calif., and although the course is not grand in stature, it is a great testing ground for a young player to develop his game physically and mentally. “Rec Park” as the locals call it, is only 6,400 yards but the greens are well regarded as some of the toughest in the city. It’s a place that you can’t really overpower, you have to think your way around. As we were all witness to Sunday, it wasn’t his physical play that got him through the final holes and the playoff, it was his head.
That’s the kind of player Merrick is growing into, he has always had more than enough skill to succeed on the PGA Tour and in tracking his career, he has steadily moved up the chain as each year passes. People forget that he won the highly competitive 2001 Southern California Golf Association Amateur Championship as a 19 year old, becoming the youngest player to ever win, beating Tiger Woods’ previous record. He followed that up by leading his UCLA Bruins to the 2003 Pac-10 Conference championship, their first title in 18 years (Merrick was medalist).
As we learn more about Merrick in the coming days, there is one name that you will see pop up quite a bit hopefully, Jamie Mulligan. Very much like Merrick, Mulligan’s name is one you probably haven’t heard of but the Virginia Country Club director of instruction is the man behind the games of Merrick, Patrick Cantlay, John Mallinger and Peter Tomasulo. All the names mentioned have been under his tutelage since their teens. And it’s only fitting that Merrick won his first tournament on the very course that he and the UCLA Bruins practiced on numerous times.
“As a kid, you dream about playing the tournament one day,” Merrick said, “but to win it, you know, I never factored in winning.”
The victory did come a little unexpected for Merrick, his previous starts in 2013 wouldn’t give you any indication that a victory was around the corner. His best finish in four starts was 16th at the At&t Pebble Beach Pro Am.
It will be interesting to watch where this victory takes Merrick. He has experienced success at every level and perhaps this will give him that last piece of confidence that will break him out of the middle of the pack. There isn’t anything in his game tee to green holding him back, he’s consistently in the upper tier in the All-Around stats and it’s apparent that he deals with adversity quite well as we were witness to on Sunday. For Merrick, it’s all going to be about having the trust that his game is good enough to win at any time.
I’m excited to see what happens the players under the eye of Mulligan. The golf community that he has built at Virginia Country Club has some very promising stars in the making and perhaps with Merrick’s success this week at Riviera the others in the pack will get a twinge of inspiration and bring some more hardware back to Long Beach. We will just have to wait and see.
Here are the clubs Merrick trusted in his victory at the Northern Trust Open
RIVER: Titleist 913 D2 8.5 degree, with Aldila NV 75 X-flex shaft
FAIRWAY WOOD: Titleist 913f, 13.5 degree, with Aldila NV 85 X-flex shaft
HYBRID: Titleist 913H, 19 degree, with Aldila NV 105 X-flex shaft
IRONS: Titleist MB, 3-PW, with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts
WEDGES: Titleist Vokey Design SM4, 54 and 60 degrees, with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts
PUTTER: Titleist Scotty Cameron Newport SS Tour
BALL: Titleist Pro V1x (2013)