John Merrick held tough and won a two-hole playoff with Charlie Beljan to win the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles.
It had particular significance to him because he was born in Los Angeles County (Long Beach), lives in Long Beach now and attended UCLA:
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.
Beginning the day three shots back, he simply followed his coach’s advice:
Yeah, I’ve been in this position a couple of times, not a lot. Jamie [Mulligan], 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.
One of the toughest situations he found himself in was the playoff. You work all day long to get to the finish line, but you come up one shot short and end up in playoff. So you go to the first tee and the very first thing you do is spray your tee shot into the right rough. And you have no shot; certainly nothing you expected. So you just hang tough and hit a long, knockdown, cut 3-iron to get around and under the tree line:
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 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.
Because he started three shots back and nobody was going low by the time he teed off, he was just out to play his best. But as the contenders started coming back to him, his mind went to the obvious; he could actually win this thing.
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 as the plot thickened, so did his thoughts:
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 chances that 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 [anyway], 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.
One of the lessons you learn over the years on the PGA Tour is the power of optimism:
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.
And you also have to be prepared for things to work out even when there’s not any evidence that they will:
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.
And it doesn’t help that the most prevalent conversation on the Tour and in your head is, “When are you going to win your first tournament?”
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.
And how about the power of imagining your future?
I always envisioned 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.
And then the best, the very best payoff is that you get to discover that dreams really do come true. And when you add it all up, it can be a little overwhelming:
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.
And you get to cry. And everybody gets to cry a little in their hearts with you. And it humanizes us all a little more.