ST. LOUIS — For a pro golfer determined to keep his career mojo going, having to sit out a week seems like an eternity. This is why Troy Merritt was back, playing after six days off. He was willing to overlook a few incidentals, such as the fact that it was also six days after emergency surgery to remove a foot-long blood clot and that only last week his right arm was swollen, purple and totally incapable of swinging a club.
Never mind, too, that although his surgeon said he was fit to play in the PGA Championship, experts have not ruled out the possibility that Merritt has thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS), the condition that derailed Matt Harvey’s pitching career last year.
“I see the doctor next week,” the golfer said, shrugging it off as if he were renewing a library book or getting an extension on his car registration. He also dismissed these tidbits: As recently as Monday he could do no more than hit a few putts, as recently as Tuesday he was limited to chipping and as recently as Wednesday he still was not up to playing any golf.
He hit about 50 balls here at Bellerive Country Club. “It was throbbing. It was manageable but I knew it was going to be painful,” he said about having decided to enter the season’s last major, regardless. On Thursday, he took ibuprofen and Tylenol, injected a prescribed blood thinner into his stomach and was ready to go.
All things considered, the 1-over-par 71 he shot at Bellerive Country Club was one heck of a round. It also illustrated that golfers do have that certain something inside that we admire in other athletes.
“I like to think my career is based on resiliency," the 32-year-old Boise State graduate said. "I haven’t always been in a position to lock up my (tour) card each and every year, and I've had to play a lot of golf. The one thing I pride myself on is never quitting or giving up, even on a round that’s not going well. I always try to make birdie on the last hole to get some positive momentum. I just kind of fed off of that. I wanted to play. I wanted to give myself a chance. But I also set that limitation that I wasn’t ready, I wasn’t going to tee it up.”
It boggles the mind, thinking about what it would have taken to convince him he wasn’t ready. It is not every day that the likes of Troy Merritt gets to play in a major championship. He did not make it into the Masters, U.S. Open or British Open this year. In fact, while the big stars on tour were in Scotland, playing the latter last month, he was in central Kentucky, playing the Barbasol Championship.
He happened to win it, which earned him a prized spot in the PGA Championship. Merritt played the next week as well, at the RBC Canadian Open, all the while trying to ignore the pain and swelling in his right arm. When it ballooned to be twice the width of his left arm, his wife insisted he see a doctor near their Idaho home.
There was relief in learning what had caused his scary problem. So much so that he said, “I shouldn’t joke about it, but we said we don’t know how many guys have won on tour with a foot-long blood clot in their chest,” he said. “I could swing a club, and as a stubborn man, I thought I could still play the game.”
Still looming is possible TOS surgery, which involves removal of a rib and entails a long rehab. He is not entirely prepared to concede anything to that, either. “I might be able to put that off until after the (FedEx Cup) playoffs and go from there,” he said. “I don’t know. We’ll see.”