U.S. JUNIOR AMATEUR
Driving, Chipping & Putting His Way to the U.S. Junior Amateur July 16, 2018 By Jordan Schwartz, USGA

Clay Merchent plays a tee shot at the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur at Baltusrol Golf Club. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

Clay Merchent playing his tee shot at the 11th hole during the first round of stroke play of the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. on Monday, July 16, 2018. (Copyright USGA/Darren Carroll)
Clay Merchent playing his tee shot at the 11th hole during the first round of stroke play of the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. on Monday, July 16, 2018. (Copyright USGA/Darren Carroll)
Clay Merchent playing his tee shot at the 11th hole during the first round of stroke play of the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. on Monday, July 16, 2018. (Copyright USGA/Darren Carroll)

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Clay Merchent may just be 17, but he’s wise beyond his years when it comes to a perspective on golf.

“It’s probably the best activity you can do to learn about yourself and how to go about life,” he said before teeing off in the first round of the U.S. Junior Amateur at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J.

“I know several people – friends of my dad – they don’t aspire to shoot under 90, they just want to be out there and talk business, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Clay was introduced to the game by his father, Mike, when he was 6, and by 9, he decided golf was his calling.

“I just wanted to spend time with my dad and that’s where the passion came from,” Clay said. “Coming out here and playing practice rounds with him and talking about shots and different ways to go around a golf course. He’s really experienced in that, so it’s great.”

Mike and Tenna Merchent own Purgatory Golf Club in Noblesville, Ind., a great training spot for an aspiring young golfer. All that practice helped Clay qualify for the 2017 Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club. Merchent tied for fifth but won the driving portion of the boys’ 14-15 division with a 304.7-yard bomb.

“Just the opportunity to be there was very cool,” he said. “It honestly wasn’t about winning. It really was the only event I’ve ever been a part of where I was just okay being there.”

Participating in such a high-profile event was great preparation for playing in last year’s U.S. Amateur at The Riviera Country Club and this week’s Junior Amateur.

“You have to be able to perform under the gun,” Merchent said. “It was pressure packed. You only get three drives, so you have to make the most of it.”

DCP is a joint initiative founded by the Masters Tournament, USGA and The PGA of America with the goal of growing the game by focusing on fundamentals.

“It’s a good way to get more juniors into golf,” Merchent said. “Not everyone is attracted to playing a four-hour round of golf. If you can get a kid out there to hit three drives, three chips and three putts, it gets them into it and leads them to wanting to play more.”

Merchent, who has verbally committed to playing collegiate golf at the University of Florida after graduating high school next year, captured the 2017 AJGA Junior at Purgatory with a score of 14-under 202 – an achievement he lists as his favorite golf memory.

“Winning my first big event and hugging my dad after it. A lot of hours go into and to see it pay off like that, it’s why you do it.”

Jordan Schwartz is the creative and content lead for the USGA Foundation. Email him at jschwartz@usga.org.