Published: September 9, 2009
Sandy »Professional golfers on the Nationwide Tour can see the prize, a PGA Tour card. By turns, the image is either a carrot or mirage.
Brendon Todd and Troy Merritt navigated different routes on the way to today's start of the four-day Utah Championship. Merritt desires what Todd has, while Todd holds on with both hands.
The quest for both continues today as 156 competitors begin their quest for the $99,000 winner's check today at 7:40 a.m. at Willow Creek Country Club.
Todd enjoyed the fruits of his labors in 2008, including a dominating, record-breaking finish to claim Utah Championship winner's check. The Pittsburgh native took the lead at the end of the third round at Willow Creek Country Club and never looked back, winning by six strokes, 22 under par.
Todd eventually earned his PGA card. That's what this endless grind is all about.
"This year has been full of new experiences," said Todd, currently 182nd on the money list and not eligible for the PGA Tour's FedExCup playoffs. "It's been a little bit of a struggle as far as scoring."
Meanwhile, as Todd attempts to refine his game for a push in the fall, Merritt, a Boise State graduate who turned professional 15 months ago, finally experienced his professional breakthrough moment.
Scuffling, missing five of 11 cuts, a 23rd place was his best finish on any Nationwide event; Merritt broke through with an unexpected victory at the Mexican Open.
A pressure-packed 20-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole earned Merritt a $117,000 check and a vault up the Nationwide money list to No. 28.
"It's been a hectic couple of days," Merritt said. "It's actually been a long week, playing in wet conditions with delays; the pressures and struggles of trying to win."
A top-25 finish among the Nationwide money winners is a sure way to earn a PGA Card.
Despite a 12th-place finish in June at the St. Jude Classic, Todd has struggled for much of 2009. It's truly all about the money, as the top 125 money-winners on the PGA Tour receive a tour card for the following season. Should Todd finish among the top 200, he's assured of at least an exemption on the Nationwide.
Todd is pointing toward a fall push. It's not that he wasn't prepared for the level of competition on the PGA Tour.
"I'm sorry to say, the Nationwide is not full of players who are golfers in their prime," Todd said. "I learned what I need to do to get better. I'm ready to try to do a little better.
"This is a good way to stay fresh while prepare for the fall and Qualifying School."
A breakthrough, a top-10 finish, still lurks in the distance.
"I know I can do that if I play as well as I can," Todd said.
Merritt's victory allowed him the luxury of not playing following next week's event in Boise, a homecoming of sorts. He'll take a well-earned vacation following what will have been seven consecutive weeks away from home in Phoenix.
"I found a little something in my position and set up," said Merritt, explaining his victory. "I was knocking wedges to within, two, three and four feet. I thought I could win out here.
"I've gone from thinking how well I have to play just to make the cut, to now I know I can win. I can make some top 10s."