This summer the sports department at the Times Herald launched a new award – the Blue Water Cup.
Using a system of points over the area’s country club events, we kept on eye on which golfer had the best summer. Take it as our version of the PGA’s FedEx Cup standings.
When looking at the résumé of Joe Mericka, it’s hard to think of anyone more fitting as the inaugural winner of the award. He won the first flight of the Elks Invitational, the second flight of the Port Huron Golf Club Invitational and took third at the F.L Riggin Four Ball, giving him 220 points.
Growing up as a lifelong golfer in Port Huron, the decorated 67-year-old has a golf history big enough to fill a museum. Before digging into his summer full of wins, let’s turn the clock back a few decades to the beginning of Mericka’s playing career.
If a young Mericka was a little better at baseball, maybe a successful life of golf wouldn’t have happened.
Mericka and his friends tried out for Little League, and the following day he grabbed the paper to see what team he was picked to. It’s safe to say it probably wasn’t framed or hung up on a fridge in his house.
“I was the only one of my friends that didn’t make a team,” Mericka recalled.
“My dad just started playing at Black River Country Club, and he said ‘I will show you a game you can play yourself. When your friends are done playing baseball, you’ll still be playing golf.’”
There weren’t a ton of youth golfers back then, but the lack of competition didn’t stop Mericka from blooming into a special talent.
He joined St. Clair County Community College’s golf team, putting up a program-record 72 scoring average. From there his career took him down to South Florida on a full ride scholarship for two years.
Among many matches against future PGA players, perhaps his round against Florida’s Andy North was his most memorable as he hit one of his 13 career hole-in-ones against him.
After college, Mericka went on to win some big tournaments, including the Sarnia Invitational – being the first American to win it – and the Kircher Cup. He also took second place against Port Huron PGA pro Joel Peattie in the McDonald Amateur.
However, there was one tournament that sticks out for the wrong reasons. He wanted to qualify for the U.S. Amateur, but a rough day of chipping left him tied for the third and final spot. His opponent holed out from the bunker, and it sank Mericka for a few years after that.
“I just really had trouble recovering mentally from that, because I really wanted to go,” Mericka said. “I stopped playing in a lot of the club championships … I didn’t pick it up again for two or three years.”
Since then, Mericka has played in and won too many area tournaments to count. Even at the spry age of 67, he is still seen as one of the top guys to beat any given weekend on the golf course.
Another successful summer
“Youth in golf will win every time.”
That quote from Gary Player will never fade from Mericka’s memory. The PGA legend said it when he was leading in a tournament against a considerably younger field and was asked about how much experience he plays with.
While Mericka remembers the quote, he didn’t do a good job of validating it with his wins this summer.
However, he did find talent in youth with Mason Motte – his partner in the Elks Invitational victory.
“He’s pretty much been a legend around this area for years,” Motte said. “Just kind of looking on his game and seeing his focus has helped my game personally … and not only is he a good golfer, but he’s an absolutely great guy.”
The most important tournament this summer is the Riggin – the one he helped create more than two decades ago.
“The Riggin is the most important because we always have golf professionals and amateurs in there,” Mericka said. “We wanted a real competitive tournament over the last two decades.”
To cap the summer, he and best friend Cliff Erickson went on to win the Port Huron Invitational second flight by four strokes.
It was a good summer on the course, but hardly out of the ordinary for the lifelong winner.
“Golf has opened up so many doors for me,” Mericka said. “I could spend a whole story talking about how many doors it’s opened.”
Contact Matt Sheehan at (810)-989-6267 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s on Twitter @Sheehan_Sports.
Blue Water Cup standings
220: Joe Mericka
212: Rob McNeill
210: Patrick Cansfield
162: Tom Green
160: Ryan McNamee
144: D.J. Westrick, Tim Burgess
140: Cesar Motis, Tommy Cataldo, Darin Arnett
135: Bobby McKillop
131: John Crisenberry
130: Ed Nadolski, Greg Duva, Mason Motte, Dave Koschnitzke