Troy Merritt, along with caddie Wayne Birch, joins Shon Crewe to talk about the success he and Birch have found since teaming up together, his remarkable recovery following last year’s medical scare, and why Boise is where he decided to call home.
Announcer: The Golf Show on 710 ESPN Seattle. Shon Crewe (00:05): He began his professional career in 2008 on the Nationwide Tour and quickly earned his first win the following year. He’s since won two more times on the PGA Tour, with the most recent being at the 2018 Barbasol Championships, a win that would secure his PGA Tour status for two more years. Joining us now on The Golf Show with Jim Moore and Shon Crewe, Troy Merritt, and his caddie, Wayne Birch. It’s great to have you both on today. Thanks so much for taking the time. Wayne Birch (00:28): Yeah, thanks for having us. Shon Crewe (00:30): Well, I want to roll back the clock a little bit. Troy, I know you grew up in Idaho and spent a little time in Minnesota in high school and early in your college career, but then came back to Idaho. What drew you back, and what helped you decide that you wanted to play at Boise State? Troy Merritt (00:44): I love Idaho. I love it out west. You got room to spread your wings a little bit and breathe easy, and it’s not too hectic out here. But I mean, the only reason I ended up coming back to Boise State is the summer after my sophomore year at college, I actually lost my playing privileges at the club that I had been working at for a couple of years - because I had practiced on the driving range two times one week and they didn’t like that. So I came out to Boise to work and won a bunch of amateur golf tournaments that summer and that coach at the time at Boise State, Kevin Burton, took notice, asked me if I wanna to come and play and I had no problems coming back to Idaho. Like I say, I love it out here. I ended up meeting my wife at Boise State, and she feels that Boise’s really the only home that she’s ever had. So we now have our roots here, and we absolutely love it. Shon Crewe (01:32): Well, and did you always know that you wanted to pursue a career in professional golf. Troy Merritt (01:36): It had always been a dream of mine. I never thought it’d become a reality. I never thought I’d give it a shot until spring semester my senior year. When I was a kid and even growing up through middle school and high school, I wanted to be a garbage man, and that’s still kind of my retirement plan. Shon Crewe (01:52): Oh really? That’s great. I love that. But Wayne, you also played golf in college at Southern University. What made you decide to go the path of caddie? Wayne Birch (02:01): The path kind of found me. I played a little pro golf, didn’t really have a lot of money behind me, but one of my good friends, he made it on the PGA Tour and at one point, he was struggling, and I was an athletic director in Baton Rouge at a high school called Lee High. And he pulled me out of the classroom and asked me to caddie for him. So I started caddying for him, and we had some success, and he got injured and never really was the same. So he ended up losing his status, and when he lost his status, Troy picked me up. And me and Troy have been locked in ever since, so I’m very grateful for Troy. Shon Crewe (02:39): (laughs) Well, now, you guys are in your second season now together. Troy, how did you end up hearing about Wayne and knowing that he was potentially available? Troy Merritt (02:48): Yeah, I’d known Wayne for about the last five/six years when he kind of came out working for Andrew Loupe, and, you know, we’d gotten to know each other a little bit. And you know, several months before Loupe ended up losing the status, Wayne had been asking me, you know, if I had heard of any bags opening up. So I kind of kept my ears out, and then it just so happened that my bag opened up. So I went ahead and knew Wayne was a good caddie, knew he was a hard worker, so I went ahead and asked him, and I guess he was more than happy to accept. Shon Crewe (03:17): Shortly after you connected, I mean you two had your first win together last year, it was at the Barbasol, and Troy, I know it was your second win on the PGA Tour, you had won in 2015. I imagine getting another win under your belt felt good, and you also obviously had a new caddie on your bag. How important was this particular win for you? Troy Merritt (03:35): Yeah, well, it was cool to get Wayne his first win, it was cool to be a part of that and get us a couple of years on Tour, and it so happened that that win came at a great win. I ended up having surgery ten days later to have a blood clot removed, and then I ended up having a rib taken out this past January. So having that two-year exemption was really huge. You know, allowing us to be out on Tour for a little longer and giving us a chance to get a couple more W’s. Shon Crewe (04:00): You mention that. Wayne, this was your first win as a caddie, and it was something that you had said you’d wanted for a long time. You know, we often talk about players and their first wins, but what was it like for you experiencing your first PGA Tour win as a caddie? Wayne Birch (04:14): It meant everything. I won in the World Finals with Andrew Loupe back in 2015, but I never won on the PGA Tour. And winning on the PGA Tour, I just love to win. I’m a competitor, very competitive, so I always want to be the best. So I work hard, and I just wanted to get that flag and for us to finish that round off solid and get that flag in there, everything. We was outside though, 1-25 or keeping our card and to win, you know. With the money as well, I had just bought a new house, so my funds were low and then to win that, so that helped. Yeah, those two years on the PGA Tour, that helped, you know. And you can take the money away, but you can never take that flag and that trophy away, you know. So I want another one ASAP. Shon Crewe (05:07): (laughs) It sounded like you also had a pretty good feeling that that win was coming. It seemed like every week, you thought something was coming, and then you landed it. Wayne Birch (05:16): Yeah, I say we’re going to win every week. Troy, he’s the best ball-striker in the world. I don’t care what nobody else says. I watch everybody hit balls, and nobody strikes it like Troy. I call him T-Roy. Shon Crewe (05:29): T-Roy. (laughs) Wayne Birch (05:29): Where nobody strikes the ball like Troy. He’s an excellent putter, and I think we can win multiple times every year. I think we can be in contention every week. Shon Crewe (05:40): Troy, I’m curious about the timing for that win together. How much of that helped solidify the decision that Wayne was the right guy? Troy Merritt (05:48): Yeah, I mean obviously, you know, when you’re out there, you know, you’re away from your family, it’s your job, you’re trying to compete against the best in the world, and it’s hard to stay out there. It’s hard to keep your card each year, especially if you don’t have a win. And the guys are so good out there these days, and I can’t remember which event it was, for us, it was probably one of the 10th or 12th events that we were together, but we had had several good finishes. I think we’d only missed one cut up until that point, maybe two. But yeah, we just had a good thing going, and everything was solid, and yeah, to finally get that win, it just kind of showed the work that we had put in together and the work that we’re doing on the golf course, you know, was worth it, it was worth the time, the effort, and you know, you just knew that we’re going to have success going forward. And we had several good finishes this last year, several top tens, had a chance to win in Reno. Just got caught by some late birdies by Morikawa, but yeah, we’ll be up there a little bit more often, I think. You know, we’ve got a good partnership, we’ve got a good routine. We’re just always constantly putting in a little bit of work here and there, and when those weeks come along where everything’s firing on all cylinders, we’ll have a good chance to win some more. Shon Crewe (06:55): Your dad was the one who got you into golf, and I know he was a great athlete himself. He said that one of your greatest strengths as an athlete is your temperature. How much of that do you think has contributed to your success? Troy Merritt (07:06): It’s helped out a lot, you know, and everybody’s different. You know, a lot of people can go out there and wear their heart on their sleeve and show emotion, and that’s what works for them, and for me, it’s kind of keeping everything together. I don’t get too high with the highs, and I don’t get too low with the lows. If I can just keep it kind of even throughout, it really helps out, and I know Wayne saw a little aggravation in Korea. I actually gave my bag a little bit of a kick late in one of the rounds, but then we birdied four out of the next six, so it seemed to work out. But usually, just keep it under control and let kind of things come and go as they will and just keep moving forward. And that’s usually what works out. Shon Crewe (07:46): Wayne, you seem like the kind of guy I would think could caddie for anyone and enjoy it. I imagine that you and your player having good chemistry makes it that much easier. You know you two seem like you have something that works really well together. Wayne Birch (07:58): Yes, I’m a people’s person. I get along with pretty much everybody, and golf is my passion It’s my heart. You know, so it’s easy for me to go to work every day. Sometimes, I can’t sleep at night, ready to get to the golf course the next day, you know. I just love golf. I just got through putting in my house before the interview, so I got a match laid on this afternoon, I gotta make sure I win. Shon Crewe (08:21): Well, Troy, you mentioned the medical issue. I mean, I guess it may be a little bit of a medical scare, and it started last year with some pain and swelling in your arm, but eventually, it sounded like you realized it was a bit more serious. Troy Merritt (08:36): Yeah. It got the point, about a week after we won Barbasol, I came back home after we had played in Canada and my left arm was double the size of my right. It was purple from the shoulder to the fingertips, and I couldn’t move it anymore. And my wife was trying to get me to go in and see the doctor, and I told her, I said, “You know it’s the PGA Championship next week. I gotta play. It really, really, really hurts but I think I can get through it,” and finally, she said no, I gotta go see the doctor. And the doctor had me go in and get an ultrasound done, and yeah, it showed I had a large blood clot from my chest down to my left elbow. They went ahead and took care of that, and I was able to tee it up about five days later in the PGA Championship. Had to play with some painkillers. It hurt where they took the clot out, but we managed, and I was able to get through the fall playing on blood thinners and with the compression sleeve. And then I elected to have the rib out, which was the cause of the problem, and ever since then, you know, it’s been good. Shon Crewe (09:37): And that surgery, you were expected to be out for a minimum of at least three months, and you were back in less than two months later. Troy Merritt (09:45): Yeah. The recovery time was supposed to be three to six months, and I worked hard with my therapist three days a week. He put me through the wringer. He knew that I wanted to get back out there as soon as I could. It just so happened, yeah, that I got through it real quick. You know, they have to slice a few muscles up in your chest to get to that rib, and when you don’t have as many muscles, it doesn’t take as long to rehab, I guess. So it didn’t take me too long to get back out there, but yeah, it was nice that it went as quickly as it did, as successful as it was, and yeah, it was nice to play the Players. You know, might’ve come back a little bit quickly but it didn’t hurt anything. I wasn’t going to re-aggravate anything. And we took about four/five weeks off again until Hilton Head and had a top ten down there and then played well for the next several months. So it worked out just fine. I’m glad I had it done. I didn’t like being on the blood thinners at all. You know, just kind of scared to do several things throughout your life, and I didn’t want to be on the blood thinners anymore, so it all worked out well. I don’t need to go through it again, though. Shon Crewe (10:46): How was Courtney throughout all of this? I mean, it sounds like on the one hand, I’m sure it’s great that you were able to kind of push your way through, but I’m sure on the other hand, I mean, she probably wants to make sure you’re taking care of yourself too. Troy Merritt (10:57): Yeah. You know, she didn’t have to be on me to go to the therapist to see him. You know, I know how important it was, and yeah, it was something that I had to do, but she was actually finally the one who was telling me that I wasn’t quite ready to play for the Players. You know, she’s usually, you know, kind of pushing me to go play and go see what I can do, and this time, she wanted to make sure that I was ready and healthy, ‘cause she knew how important it was for me to be healthy. But she was a rock star through all of it. You know, very supportive. I think she actually, for a change, liked having me home for several months. (laughs) She wasn’t pushing me to get out the door too quickly. But no, she was absolutely phenomenal. Shon Crewe (11:38): Well, and what did the boys think of having Dad home a little bit more? Troy Merritt (11:41): They liked having me home for those three months. Then the problem was, you know, from Father’s Day till now, we’re on the road pretty much every week, except for three or four. So they didn’t like that quite as much. You know, we’re trying to catch up and play a lot of golf. But now we’ve basically got another two months at home, you know, with only one tournament coming up here, RSM in a couple of weeks, and after that, taking off till January. So they’ll like having me back home, just in time for it to get cold. Shon Crewe (12:06): Wayne, what were you doing during this time while Troy was off? Wayne Birch (12:10): I was playing a lot of golf and working out, and working for a couple of guys during the off weeks. Pretty much just played a lot of golf and worked out. Shon Crewe (12:22): Well, and you know how a nickname in golf, you’re famously known now as Wayne-O Draino. How did the nickname come about? Wayne Birch (12:28): I earned the nickname in Moline, Illinois. I guess it was 2016. I was playing on a Wednesday, me, Willy Wilcox – he used to be on the PGA Tour – Scott Marino, Steve Marino’s brother, and a guy named Ryan Bolt. We was all playing at Money Hill in Moline, Illinois. We ended up playing 27 holes that day. And I was beating them most of the day, and so we played the emergency nine and then they started pressing. So it came down to the last hole, and I was just on the fringe. I had like this 30/40-foot putt. Big left to right breaker. And I hit it, went right in the middle, and then they just started calling me Wayne-O Drano from then on, and it just stuck. Shon Crewe (13:16): (laughs) Troy, do you call him that? Troy Merritt (13:19): Yeah, Wayne-O Drano, Drano, WD, yeah, Hey You, whatever comes out of my mouth. Shon Crewe (13:26): (laughs) Yeah, well, and you have a nickname as well, Big Dog, after the great Glenn Robinson. Troy Merritt (13:33): Yeah. That came out as a kid. You know, I didn’t really enjoy the nickname that my mom and dad had for me at the time, so they allowed me to choose one, and I really like Glenn Robinson, the basketball player, and asked that they’d call me Big Dog and they were nice enough to do that, and yeah, my dad will still call me Big Dog to this day. Shon Crewe (13:51): And Wayne, do you call Troy Big Dog or no? I mean, you should. (laugh) Wayne Birch (13:55): Yeah, I call him Big Dog, I call him Pro, I call him T-Roy. I call him the best in the world. Whatever’s coming to the top of my head right there. Shon Crewe (14:05): Troy, you’re eleven years into your professional career now, and how would you say that your game has evolved? Troy Merritt (14:13): It’s become a lot more consistent. My struggles were a lot worse than I would’ve liked early in my career, and now, you know, kind of when the struggle bus comes calling, I’m able to manage it and hop off it much quicker, instead of it being a year or two and now, you know, it might be a day or two or even a couple of hours or even just a swing or two, but it comes every now and then, just being able to manage it a little bit better. You know, starting to obviously mature and grow and being a professional for over ten years now and kind of understanding that things come and go, there’s always highs and lows. Sometimes it’s during a round, sometimes it’s month to month, but just being able to manage my game and like I said earlier, manage the temperament. It helps to get through things a lot easier, and it’s helped me to be on the Tour now for about the last six/seven years in a row. Shon Crewe (15:06): And Wayne, you are looking forward to having your first baby soon. January, is that the due date? Wayne Birch (15:12): Yeah, January 13th. I’m excited and nervous at the same time. Shon Crewe (15:17): You said you’re going to wait to figure out what the sex is. Wayne Birch (15:20): Yes, we’re going to wait. We want it to be a surprise. Shon Crewe (15:23): I love the idea of that. You can get some tips from Troy on good parenting. Wayne Birch (15:28): Oh yes. I’ve been talking to Troy. We were talking all in [Japan], I was like you know, guys, we really don’t talk about being fathers like women. You know, y’all talk about being a mother, what you expect, but guys really don’t talk about that. And I was like man, the only person I’ve been talking to about being a father is Troy because he’s a great father to his two kids, and I watch how their relationship and how important that family is to him and I’m like I’m learning a lot from Troy. I learn a lot from Troy doing golf and off the course as a man and a future father, you know. He loves his boys, and hopefully, I have a son. That’s what I really want. But if I have a girl, I’m going to love her too. But just talking to Troy about being a parent and what to expect and the different type of situations you might be in, you know, it’s been helping me a lot. Shon Crewe (16:23): Well and Troy, what’s some of the best advice that you can offer to him as a dad? Troy Merritt (16:28): Always look to the mom. (laughs) Always listen to the mom. Take responsibility for as much as you can. Share a lot of the responsibilities, you know, whether it be midnight feeding, diaper changes, you know, sitting up with the baby all night. And never yell at each other. (laughs) That doesn’t help. Shon Crewe (16:50): (laughs) Well, the last question for you, this one’s actually for Wayne. Being a professional caddie, winning and making money, you’re in an exclusive space that you’ve definitely earned, but you also happen to be one of four African-American caddies on Tour. Do you think about what you achieved and the role model that you are, especially who kids who need to look up to someone that’s like them in pursuing their dream job? Wayne Birch (17:15): Yeah. I’m very grateful for the opportunity, and I don’t take it for granted at all. I know there’s not many of us out there, and I try to be an example so we can have more of us out there. I try to expose a lot of the kids to the game. I just got off the phone last night with a kid that I helped in Dallas. His name is Brandon Burn. He’s up at Kansas Christian. And he had a couple of questions about golf, so I had to talk to him. It’s unfortunate that the game has changed like that. Before, there used to be a lot of African-American caddies, and now, it’s not. But it’ll move back to that sooner or later. I just try to be the best I can and just lead by example. Shon Crewe (18:03): I appreciate that, and I really appreciate both of you taking the time to come on today and allowing me to take you away from your families for a little bit, so thank you so much. Troy Merritt (18:12): Yeah, Shon, thanks for having us on. Wayne Birch (18:13): Thank you. Shon Crewe (18:14): That was Troy Merritt and Wayne Birch, and as Troy mentioned, they’ll be competing at the RSM Golf Classic, November 21st through the 24th at Sea Island Golf Club. That’ll do it for us. Thanks so much for joining us. It’s The Golf Show with Jim Moore and Shon Crewe on 710 ESPN Seattle.