Troy Merritt, Winona State golfer, warrants attention on PGA tour

In his first year on the PGA Tour, former Spring Lake Park and Winona State golfer Troy Merritt is proving eponymous.  In December, the 24-year old Merritt earned his way onto the Tour after just a year on the Nationwide by winning the Tour's Q-School event.  That tournament is a grueling six-round test, but the former Minnesotan became just the third player since 1992 to hold a share of the lead in each round.

The win has translated to early success for Merritt in his first four PGA events.

Born in Iowa and raised in Idaho, Troy Merritt moved to the Twin Cities with his family in his formative years.  He attended Spring Lake Park High where he'd earn all-state honors in both golf and basketball, while leading the hoops squad to the school's first ever state tournament (3A).  This is where the yarn gains intrigue:

Merritt ended up having to try out to make the golf team at Winona St., where he went on to win 12 D-II tournaments in two years.  While working at his uncle's course back in his native Idaho, Merritt proceeded to shoot a 63 when playing with the course pro who was pals with the head coach at Boise St. University.  Merritt ended up transferring from Winona to Boise, and proceeded to win nine tournaments at the D-I level, including seven in his senior season.  To close out that final collegiate campaign, Merritt won an NCAA-record five strait tournaments.  Another victory was tacked onto the resume at The Mexico Open on the Nationwide Tour (golf's version of the minor leagues) last September before Merritt earned his Tour status with the medalist honors at Q-School two months back.

Back to modern day: the early returns on Merritt's PGA beginnings suggest that another win may not be far off.  The kid has played in three tournaments this season, having made the cut (and cash) in all three, a stretch that includes two top-20 finishes in the Sony Open (tied-20th) and Farmers Insurance Open (tie-15th), respectively.  His earnings already total nearly $160,000 (third among rookies) and Merritt looks to add to that tally this week at one of the Tour's most unique events, the Pebble Beach Pro-Am.  Matched (perhaps ironically) with former Northern Exposure star Rob Morrow, Merritt completed his first day of play tied for 42nd (-2).  Playing for his fourth consecutive cut, Merritt's second round begins at about 11:30 a.m. Central.

Minnesota has more golfers per capita than anyplace in the country -- but while our collective desire to get the hell outside has proudly placed some exceptional talents on the PGA, LPGA and Champions Tours, none of the fellas active today present the youthful intrigue presented by Merritt.  Wayzata's Tim "Lumpy" Herron is a deservedly embraced figure on Tour, yet he turned 40 last week and has a measured six top 10's since 2006, the same year in which gathered the most recent of his four Tour wins (at the Bank of America Colonial).  Burnsville-born Cameron Beckman, who was featured herein last year, sports two PGA wins of his own, but he turns 40 next week and saw his stellar late-'08 run (including a win at the Open) and solid 2009 play eventually fizzle with nary a top-25 in his final 10 tournaments of

last season.  Former British Open champ and Ryder Cup Captain Tom Lehman remains one of golf's most popular figures, but at 50 his contributions will be more focused on the exceptionally evolving Champs Tour and on his burgeoning course design work.  To see Lehman's new track, check out "The Dunes Course" at the soon-to-be-opened Prairie Club in Valentine, Neb. 

The Herron and Beckman mentions aren't to suggest in any way that either of these guys can't or won't win again.  As Wisconsin-native and the world's No.2 golfer Steve Stricker (age 42) has well-evidenced with four wins since 2007, the "40" mark in no way serves as a sign of declination in golf performance -- hell, a number of guys play the best golf of their life at/around that age.              

                                                                                                             (Image via Wiki)

But with the PGA in desperate search for positive stories inside the ropes, the young Merritt may soon prove worthy of some serious ink.  And on the home-front, his impressive rise gives us another name in bold to track amidst the sports pages as we suffer winter's long thaw and stare in jealous wonder at the idyllic turf upon the likes of which Merritt now walks.  


Sports Fans: please check back next week for the onset of some super-cool Olympic coverage herein.  Stories include an interview with one of the architects of USA Hockey, and a video curling lesson.

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