By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
John Merrick’s playing opportunities this season have been limited after finishing 2010 140th on the money list -- meaning he has full status on the Nationwide Tour and only partial status on the PGA TOUR.
As a result Merrick is making just his ninth start of the year on TOUR this week in Memphis, where he opened with a 4-under 66 to sit near the lead.
Given that Merrick doesn’t necessarily know what tournaments he’ll get in given his status, he has to take advantage of opportunities when he can.
“The weeks off that I've had, you need to get prepared to play because you're not out week after week after week playing,” he said. “You're at home. Back out. You're at home. You really need to be ready to play. That's one of my goals, to be ready to play when my chances came.”
They certainly came Thursday when he hit 11 of 14 fairways and 14 greens in regulation on his way to five birdies -- including four in a five-hole stretch at one point -- and just one bogey.
“I felt like it's been close for a long time,” the 29-year-old Merrick said. “Just a little bit more patient, little bit more confidence, and, you know, see what happens.”
It wasn’t all that long ago that Merrick was on his game. In 2009 he finished in the top 10 at the Masters and the PGA Championship. A year earlier, he tied for sixth at the U.S. Open.
He wasn’t able to build on that major success, however, and in 2010 had just one top-10 the entire season.
So what has the former UCLA standout been doing to prepare for his now an on-again, off-again schedule?
”Working with my coach, fine-tuning,” he said. “We're out here, always fine-tuning, and, you know, stroke here or there can go a long way.”
Especially in Merrick’s circumstances.