Pittsburgh -- Senior C.G. Mercatoris (Brookville, Pa. / Brookville) had bogeyed two of the previous four holes in the final round of the 2011 Northeast Conference Men's Golf Championships when he walked to the 17th tee at ChampionsGate Golf Club. As he approached Jerry Stone, he asked the Robert Morris University head coach where he and his team stood in the tournament standings.
After learning he was "maybe two strokes ahead," Mercatoris made up his mind, picked his club, and eyed the flag that stood 145 yards away on the far side of a water hazard.
Mercatoris had already established himself as a standout golfer in his first three seasons at Robert Morris, but his senior campaign has cemented him as perhaps the greatest golfer in school history.
A quick scan of the record book shows he owns four of the top-five season averages and his career average is over two strokes better than anyone else. In 20 years before this season, RMU golfers had accounted for six individual tournament titles. Mercatoris has won four events this season alone.
Prior to this season, however, he struggled to win events. Although he has 20 top-10 finishes, 33 percent more than anyone in team history, Mercatoris never climbed to the top of the leaderboard prior to his senior year.
"This year, I started making some shots coming down the stretch run of tournaments," said Mercatoris. "Figuring out how to close a tournament in college versus high school was a challenge to me. It took a lot longer than I originally thought it would."
After compiling 13 top-10 finishes from the fall of 2007 through the spring of 2010, Mercatoris collected his first career medalist finish by shooting one-over par at the Bucknell Men's Fall Invitational in the team's first tournament of the 2010-11 season.
That finish started a string of five consecutive top-10 showings that also included a victory at Robert Morris' only home event, the RMU Holiday Inn Colonial Classic. His three-under total 141 at the Classic was the lowest 36-hole total relative to par in team history.
Six months later, Mercatoris set the 54-hole record in relation to par carding a score of four-under 212. An opening round four-under par 68, the second lowest round in team history, led him to a first-place finish at the Mount St. Mary's Spring Invitational.
"I put in a lot of time and effort over the last year working out both on and off the course," said Mercatoris. "When you put more time into any sport, you're going to get better. I focused on my short game over the summer - you look at the PGA tour and all those guys can hit it well. The difference between the good players and the great players is the short game. That's the part of the game where anybody can improve as a golfer."
That improved short game can be seen in a scoring average that dropped 2.5 strokes since his junior year. His worst round of the season was a seven-over 79 while eight of 22 rounds came in at par or under. In fact, he has carded 19 rounds of sub-par golf - 12 more than any other player in Colonial history.
Propelled by a silky smooth stroke, his tee shot at the 145-yard par three is on an aggressive line, bringing the water hazard into play on a tight pin location. By the time the ball settles, all Mercatoris has left for a championship-clinching birdie is five feet of green. He sinks the short putt before settling for par on the par-five 18th and a two-stroke victory at the NEC Championship, RMU's first by an individual in 15 years and only the third in school history.
"It depends on the day. How many strokes are you up by, how many are you down by? How are you hitting the ball? It just depends on the situation," said Mercatoris when asked whether he likes to go for the pin or aim for the center of the green.
Mercatoris was actually holding a one-stroke lead on the 17th hole. His decision to go for the birdie, versus settling for par, all but iced the tournament. It took three years, but he had indeed learned how to close out a tournament. On that day, holding that lead, hitting the ball the way he was, Mercatoris went for the win - and cemented his position in Robert Morris golf history.