Former UCLA golfers finding their way on Tour
FEB 15, 2013 7:01p ET
It’s rich in history, both Old Hollywood and golf history. Nestled in the canyon of the Santa Monica Mountains, the posh, Spanish-style clubhouse overlooks some of the best views of any Los Angeles-area course.
It’s a course where red numbers are possible for some – but only if you know how to handle Hogan’s Alley. It’s a tournament that rarely produces first-time winners, with the veteran PGA Tour players typically faring the best. Even Tiger Woods was never able to conquer it, playing just two rounds in 2006 before pulling out and never returning.
“This is a course you can’t fake it around, you need to think around here and you can’t just pull out driver on every hole or shoot at every flag,” said John Merrick.
A Long Beach native and former UCLA golfer, Merrick estimates that he has played over 30 rounds at Riviera Country Club, but Friday’s was his finest.
Merrick, who golf’s out of Long Beach’s Virginia Country Club, was one shot off the low round of the day with a 66, moving his name to the top of the leaderboard with an 8-under total of 134. Just one shot off the lead, Merrick will tee off in the leader’s group Saturday morning and is currently tied for third.
It's a course he has struggled at in the past but after years of practice, he feels he finally knows how to navigate it.
"There's a lot of course management involved with this course and I think over the years, I've kind of learned where to go and where not to go," Merrick said. "A lot of tricky greens out here so I think it takes quite a few rounds to get comfortable."
Now in his sixth full year on Tour, Merrick could be due for that breakout win. He’s come close twice before, finishing second twice. He has twice held a share of a 54-hole lead and he’s got three top-10 finishes in majors. But that win has yet to come.
“I’ve had a couple of close calls and dwelling on it and thinking about it, I think it’s even harder,” Merrick said. “I think winning just happens when you’re kind of in your process and playing well and doing the best you can on each shot.”
While Merrick is one of the Tour’s players on the rise, conversely, another Long Beach native, Patrick Cantlay is trying to find his way.
Like Merrick, Cantlay also played for UCLA and trains under Jamie Mulligan. Mulligan’s stable at Virginia Country Club includes, Merrick, Cantaly, and Tour players John Mallinger and Peter Tomasulo. They are affectionately referred to as the “VCC Boys” and are an especially tight-knit group.
Cantlay, in his first full season of tour golf is experiencing the growing pains that are only to be expected. After going pro last fall, the 20-year-old who was once ranked the No. 1 amateur player in the world, looked as though he would be able to play his way on to the PGA Tour without having to prep on the Web.com Tour, the PGA Tour’s version of the minor leagues. Cantlay made cuts but ultimately fell short of gaining full-time status on the PGA Tour, settling for conditional status on the Web.com Tour for 2013.
His homecoming in the Northern Trust Open did not go as planned.
Cantlay started off well, carding a 70 in Thursday’s opening round, but faltered Friday with a 75. His 145 was just one shot off the cut line.
“I didn’t hit the ball well at all,” Cantlay said. “I played well last week but I’ve played horrible in my other three starts.”
Cantlay insists that there hasn’t been much of a struggle to transition from college golf to Tour golf, only nothing the difference in travel schedules, but he has picked up some tips from the other three VCC Boys.
“I learn all of the time from them,” Cantlay said. “They’ve obviously played a lot more professional golf and I can always learn from them, just little things here and there.”
For Merrick’s part, he says Cantlay isn’t in need of much advice, as his superior talent is evident to all around him.
“To tell you the truth, I might ask advice from him,” Merrick said. “It’s been cool to watch him grow as a player and grow as a person. We’re all about 10 years older than him so it’s kind of cool to watch him go through the same things that we went through.
“But he’s way ahead of where we were at this point in our careers.”
+ SHOW COMMENTS +