Featured Golf News
Merrick Rides Familiar Vibe to Maiden Victory
Though only 30 years old, John Merrick has a long personal history with Riviera Country Club. The native of Long Beach, Calif., first visited the fabled George Thomas-designed course in nearby Pacific Palisades as a young fan.
He remembers being behind the ropes in 2001 when Aussie Robert Allenby hit a 3-wood to about five feet on the par-4 18th hole and then made the birdie putt to win a six-way playoff in what was then called the Nissan Open.
He was also at Riviera two years later when Canada's Mike Weir beat Charles Howell III in a playoff after overcoming a seven-shot deficit in the final round.
Then later, as a member of the UCLA golf team, he regularly played the course. So Riviera became Merrick's field of dreams, the place he envisioned playing one day as a member of the PGA Tour.
That's what made his win on Sunday in the Northern Trust Open so poignant. It was not only his first Tour title, but it happened at such a personally memorable place.
"We would always play here at UCLA and have great games out here," he told reporters Sunday evening. "Yeah, to be able to play the tournament was a dream of mine; but to win, I can't describe it, it's so much fun."
Merrick acknowledged the support he got from his hometown crowd. "Everything came together this week with family and friends, people shouting 'UCLA,' people shouting 'Long Beach'; to do it close to home, I live an hour away. I live 45 minutes away. I went to school across the freeway at UCLA.
"I've been to this tournament more than any other tournament growing up, and this is my first win. It's just the laundry list goes on and on, and yeah, it's cool."
Here's what else Merrick said during a Q&A after winning the Northern Trust Open, pocketing $1.88 million with his first victory, which occurred on the second sudden-death playoff hole when he beat Charlie Beljan with a par on the short par-4 10th. He also earned 500 FedEx Cup points to move up to fourth in the standings behind Brandt Snedeker, Phil Mickelson and Brian Gay.
MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome John Merrick - here we go: 2013 Northern Trust Open champion at Riviera Country Club. Give us your first reaction, you said this is a dream come true to win here in L.A.
JOHN MERRICK: Yeah, it is, growing up as a kid I went to a lot of these tournaments and played a lot of rounds at UCLA and yeah, to get a win in my hometown, it's amazing. It is a dream come true. Gosh, I can't believe - it has not sunk in yet for sure.
MODERATOR: Talk us through a little bit of the final round, coming from behind to win and then the playoff.
JOHN MERRICK: Yeah, I've been in this position a couple of times, not a lot. Jamie, my coach, today, just said be tough and be tough and patient, and that's what I tried to do, and let the chips fall where they were going to fall. And I hit some really bad shots out there on the back nine and just kind of hung in there and scrambled and just manufactured something and it worked out. And I got a couple good breaks, which you need, and it's hard to win a golf tournament out here. Unless you're Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson, they win all the time, but it's really hard to win a golf tournament. You know, I'm just going to cherish this. And, gosh, it's so much fun.
Q. You did not look like you were in a winning position off the tee in the playoff -
JOHN MERRICK: Yeah, I hit a bad tee shot in the playoff. I just really had no shot. I didn't really have a good lie down there. It was kind of matted down and I had 170 to the front and 200 to the back, or 200 to the flag, and I had no shot. I mean, I just had to hit like a low cut around there. I was just trying to get something up there right of the flag and it came out perfectly. Just scooted through.
Q. What club?
JOHN MERRICK: 3 iron. Just took a little bit off of it. Just tried to put it back in my stance and hit a little low cut, and it worked out. Yeah, I saw Charlie there right in the middle of the fairway, and I'm like, oh, man, this is not looking good. Yeah, I was able to pull it out there. The chip just set up really good to me. I looked at it, I grew up on kikuyu grass, kikuyu and poa annua greens, so the chip looked good to me and I hit a good chip. Yeah, it worked out.
JOHN MERRICK: 10, yeah, I just butchered that hole my rookie year, and a couple years after that, hitting driver and hitting 3 wood in the traps and finally just laid up. I actually hit 3 wood yesterday to the front left flag and made par. But yeah, I've just been laying up on that hole and I know with a wedge in your hand from the middle of the fairway, I think it's better than hitting wood off that tee, and it paid off.
So I hit 3 iron and then I had 90 yards and just hit a full lob wedge. I thought it was going to be a little bit closer and just kind of checked left. I had a straight putt that I thought was going to break left but I kind of just laid it out to the right. Yeah, and then Charlie hit driver, and it's a tough hole. It's just from the tee box, you're sitting there and it looks like - it looks so easy, looks like you are going to hit it up left of the green and chip on, but it's one of the great, short par 4s that we play on Tour.
Q. Very emotional at the end in a great way. How did you deal with your emotions down the stretch and into the playoffs?
JOHN MERRICK: Yeah, you know, I was just trying to - sounds like a cliché, but I was just trying to do one shot at a time. My caddie and I were talking, my heart was racing out there for sure, I was nervous. I was just trying to grind it out and be tough and do the best that I could and just, you know, whatever happened, just move forward and try your best.
But yeah, I mean, to win a tournament in front of family and friends and in your hometown with people shouting out 'Bruins' and 'Long Beach' to win a tournament in front of them, on the PGA Tour with this field and all the past champions and this golf course, this is one of my favorite golf courses it's my favorite course, actually (laughter). I can't even describe it. It's a dream come true.
Q. You said you've been in certain positions like this before where you've had chances to win golf tournaments. You're up two on the back nine today. What was different in the way you approach it?
JOHN MERRICK: Yeah, it's so hard not to get ahead of yourself. You get these like flashes in your head about thinking about winning and you're like, oh, my gosh, what am I doing. I've still got four or five holes left, and my caddie and I kept talking, slow down, slow down, play your shot as best you can and just keep moving forward. That's what I learned from in the past couple chance that is I've had; that I just sped up in those places and rushed things. And I was doing that today, and I rushed a couple shots. The second shot on 13, gosh, I wish I had that back. I wasn't ready to hit that shot and I hit it, and luckily I got out of there with bogey. But I just slowed down. You get quick and you get ahead of yourself, you've just got to slow down and realize it's another golf shot. You'll get to the finish line. You don't have to force your way.
Q. You talked about needing some breaks along the way. When you hit that ball that ended up between the trees, were you thinking, maybe it is my time today?
JOHN MERRICK: I really did. I really did. The drive that I hit on 14 - or 15, that hit the trees and came down, you give me a hundred balls off that tee, I'm not going to be there in that spot. I just hit a bad tee shot and was able to make par there. Making par there, that really boosted my confidence. I'm like, okay, whatever happens, I feel like - I just felt a little - I felt kind of invincible. Gosh, that break on 17, that's just - it was amazing. It's just one of those things that you need to win a tournament sometimes. And, you know, I got really lucky sometimes.
Q. Your track record here this week prior to this week had not been that good; did you figure something out this week or is it just a matter of your game maturing? What's the difference this week?
JOHN MERRICK: I've learned a lot, and this is my seventh year. I learned a ton on Tour. This tour, it can grind on you when you're not playing well. You've got to just look at the glass half full, not half empty, and be optimistic. I was just able to grind it out. What was your question again? (Laughter). I'm starving right now.
Q. Did you figure out something on how to play this golf course?
JOHN MERRICK: Yeah, it's a tricky golf course. I've been working really hard on my swing and my putting. A couple things clicked. You know, I just kind of went with it. Had a good week, and you really can't put your finger on it sometimes. Sometimes it just happens. And, I don't know, I wish I could do this every week. It just worked out. But I think learning from my past mistakes, like the 10th hole, laying up on that hole, each time I play this course I feel more and more comfortable on it for sure. There's so many tricky breaks on the greens, I still haven't figured them out. I don't think you ever will. But being tough and being patient, you know, definitely paid off today on Sunday, because you never know what can happen.
Q. On 17 when Fredrik went with 3 wood and you went in the bunker, when you saw him doing, that did you give any thought to that strategy?
JOHN MERRICK: I knew what he was thinking about, because when you put it in that trap on the right, you might get against the upslope and have no shot for lay-up. So he was just thinking in his head, I'm going to play it a three shot hole. But he could probably get there in two if he hit a good tee shot. Yeah, I just leaked that tee shot a little bit. When I teed up on 17, I had it in my head, okay, I'm going to hit two really good shots on the green and birdie 17 and par 18. That was my game plan and didn't really work out like that. Yeah, he laid up there and I played kind of the more aggressive play with driver.
Q. And when you played here in college, how did you play the course? Did you play it well?
JOHN MERRICK: I played it okay. No, I played it fine. We would play Bel-Air more, the UCLA team. We played there Tuesday mornings and Thursday mornings, and we get invited out once or twice a month out here and we play early in the mornings. I love the course. We all love the course. But I played it okay, not great, but I think I had a couple rounds where I was maybe 3 or 4 under, playing in college. So I think that helps, definitely.
Q. You talked about having dwelled in the past on having not won; now that you've won, what does this do for your confidence? What does this say about you and maybe your career going forward?
JOHN MERRICK: Yeah, I don't know, it has not sunk in yet. I always felt like I knew I belonged out here and I knew I could play out here. After my 2008 2009 season, going into 2010, I put way too much pressure on myself to win a tournament and I was too focused on winning tournaments rather than just playing and just let everything fall where it was going to fall. You can't force it. You obviously want to win, but I think it just happens. You play well and you add them up at the end and sometimes you win and sometimes you don't. I try to just kind of take the pressure off myself and play. But for my career, I mean, I don't know, it has not sunk in yet. I know that I'm going to get in the Masters and Maui. It's just icing on the cake. I can't wait.
Q. When Charlie missed that putt on the second playoff hole on 10, do you expect him to make that putt?
JOHN MERRICK: Yeah.
Q. Are you surprised he missed?
JOHN MERRICK: I was telling Ryan, my caddie, the moment hole was going to be 14, and I looked at him like, all right, it's a 5 iron on 14, because I hit this perfect 6 iron and it went up short in the trap. We were focused on the next hole definitely. I was fully expecting him to make that putt. You never want to let your guard down, so I was thinking he was going to make that putt and we were going to go to 14. I could see - I was pretty relieved when he missed to be honest with you. You never want to win a tournament that way, to see somebody miss, but gosh, you just take it, you know.
Q. Charlie had pretty negative feelings about 10 being a playoff hole, just because of the way the hole plays, and I don't think he felt like it's a fairway -
JOHN MERRICK: That's what he said?
Q. He said they should put a windmill on it.
JOHN MERRICK: (Laughs).
Q. Thinking about 10, were you confident going into it?
JOHN MERRICK: Yeah.
Q. And was that because you had come to peace with what you wanted to do on that hole.
JOHN MERRICK: Yeah.
Q. And did you think your shot had cleared the bunker off the club?
JOHN MERRICK: Yeah, you know, maybe - I think the way I played the 10th hole, maybe that's just a microcosm of how I approach this course and kind of my experience on the Tour so far. I think it's one of the great par 4s that we play, short par 4s. Because when you look at it from the tee, it looks like the most benign hole. You don't see all the slopes up on the left and everything. It's so hard to hit a wood and be in great position there. I mean, there's this little window like a little ten yard window where you have to put it to get up and down. I think it's one of the great holes.
That 3 iron I hit, it was kind of cooling off and it was kind of getting a little cold and it was 195 to clear the trap and I hit 3 iron. I knew I had plenty of club, but it was just a little further right than I wanted. I wanted it further left to have a better angle. I had a better angle in regulation. But yeah, it just a 3 iron and you've got a full lob wedge where you can take a full swing and put spin on the ball. Yeah, I think that's the way to play that hole.
Q. So total confidence on your part?
JOHN MERRICK: Absolutely. I knew for sure with that back right flag - yeah, total confidence. Why are you laughing, Doug? I knew - no, I wasn't going to hit wood. I wanted a full wedge in my hand from the fairway.
Q. When you were a kid at UCLA playing here, did you ever imagine yourself playing in the tournament or putting yourself in situations back then and think about, this is what I've got to do here, and if so, and you envisioned yourself winning, was it anything like what you envisioned?
JOHN MERRICK: Oh, man, that's a tough question. I always envision myself playing the TOUR. Playing in college and seeing those guys, I knew I was good enough to play. I think it took me a while to develop confidence to where I could envision myself winning. Yeah, you dream. You know, you think about when you're alone sometimes, you think about different scenarios of winning tournaments. Yeah, I think that helps you to kind of envision things like that. It was fun, we would always play here at UCLA and have great games out here. Yeah, to be able to play the tournament was a dream of mine; but to win, I can't describe it, it's so much fun.
Q. Do you remember the first L.A. Open you came to?
JOHN MERRICK: I always remember - I went to it every year, in college, for sure. Well, I always remember the Allenby shot. I was 10 feet from Allenby on the hill on 18 in the rain with my roommate, in full rain gear, watching him hit that 3 wood; that thing was a BB just right at the hole and he made the putt. I think that was a five way playoff. I remember that one. That was fun. But we came out every year. I think I was out at the one, gosh, maybe that Weir won - Weir won twice, didn't he.
Q. If you would have allowed yourself to think about, as you're in the gallery, winning the tournament some day, how would you have scripted it?
JOHN MERRICK: I don't know, I never really thought about that. But I always just dreamt of playing the tournament. You know, as a kid, watching on TV and Elkington won the PGA here, right? I remember watching that. Did Ernie Els have the lead? Yeah. I always remember that. Just seeing the course on TV and just, oh my gosh, this is the coolest course. You know, as a kid, you dream about playing that tournament one day, but to win it, you know, that was never - I never factored in winning.
Q. How do you plan on celebrating the win this week?
JOHN MERRICK: Whewww, I don't know, might have to off the record on that one. (Laughter). I don't know, friends and family will probably gather at my house in Long Beach and we'll have a couple beverages over there probably. But I'm going to enjoy this, for sure. This kind of changes the season schedule wise a little bit. I'm just looking forward to the opportunities.
Q. You picked up a lot of strokes when you birdied 10 in regulation. Was it same clubs?
JOHN MERRICK: Yeah, that was - gosh, that was a huge putt. I think, gosh, I made another one from off the green, too. What was that hole? I forget. But I made that putt from off the green. That putt broke so much to the left, and that was a huge putt. That was a huge putt. I just knew when I made that, I had 11 downwind and knew I could get home in two and I knew that I could just, you know, grab a couple more strokes heading in, because once you turn back on 12, everything is into the wind until you get to 17, and those holes, 12, 13, 14, 15, they are so tough. You've got to be just perfect. So that birdie on 10 was huge, and 11, all the way.
Q. The lip-out 50 footer at 16?
JOHN MERRICK: Oh, yeah.
Q. Two thoughts. Did the pin hurt that, and secondly, why didn't you have it tended?
JOHN MERRICK: Oh, that's true. You know (chuckling) maybe I was not expecting to make the putt; it was so long. Yeah, my caddie, actually, Ryan, joked - he said, well, I couldn't really see it that well. I was just like, well, leave it in, I've got a good aiming target. Sometimes they drop in, hit it dead on. I guess it probably would have gone in. But I hit it dead on and I'm like, "Ryan, how did that thing not go in?"
And he's like, "Well, maybe we should have pulled the flag." I looked at him like, you, whatever (laughter). Yeah, I guess we should have tended that. That was a mistake. But that putt, what was that putt, 50 feet? 60 feet? I was just trying to lag that thing up there.
Q. Given the situation, being emotional about it is completely understandable, but did it surprise you how choked up you got out there?
JOHN MERRICK: Yeah, just putting everything together, how everything came together this week with family and friends, people shouting UCLA, people shouting Long Beach; to do it close to home, I live an hour away. I live 45 minutes away. I went to school across the freeway at UCLA. I've been to this tournament more than any other tournament growing up, and this is my first win. It's just the laundry list goes on and on, and yeah, it's cool.
MODERATOR: Congratulations, John, looking forward to having you as defending champion.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.