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Eddie Merrins, the ‘Little Pro’ who had an enormous influence on golf in LA, dies at 91

by Lucas Garcia
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Golfing Legacy

Eddie Merrins, affectionately known as “The Little Pro” due to his modest stature of 5-foot-7, left an indelible mark on the world of golf in Los Angeles, which extended far beyond his physical size. This influential figure, who served as the long-time golf professional at the prestigious Bel-Air Country Club, touched the lives of notable individuals ranging from U.S. Open champion Corey Pavin to legendary entertainers like Fred Astaire and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

On Wednesday, Los Angeles bid farewell to Eddie Merrins, as he passed away at the age of 91 after battling a prolonged illness, according to UCLA, where he dedicated 14 years of his life coaching.

Merrins once remarked, “The game of golf is a very selfish game in the sense that you’re the only one who gets any real enjoyment out of what you do. But in teaching, you get the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve helped somebody.” While Merrins certainly possessed the skills to excel on the golf course, with 82 appearances on the PGA Tour and multiple qualifications for prestigious tournaments like the U.S. Open and PGA Championship, his true passion lay in teaching and simplifying the game for others. In 1973, he authored an instructional book titled “Swing the handle, not the clubhead.”

In a memorable encounter with golf legend Arnold Palmer on the eve of the 2002 Masters, Merrins shared a piece of advice that aimed to extend Palmer’s swing arc. Unfortunately, Palmer’s performance in the tournament did not reflect the excitement of the moment, as he shot an 89 in the first round, prompting Merrins to humorously recall, “That tip didn’t work out so well. In fact, it might have prompted his early retirement from the Masters.”

Born in Meridian, Mississippi, Merrins twice secured the SEC title while playing for LSU. His journey as a teaching professional led him to Rockaway Hunting Club before he found his long-term home at Bel-Air in 1962, where he dedicated nearly five decades of his life to the sport. He simultaneously held two roles for a period, serving as the head coach of the UCLA golf team from 1975 to 1989, during which the Bruins clinched an NCAA title in 1988. Some of golf’s prominent names, including Corey Pavin, Duffy Waldorf, Steve Pate, and Brandt Jobe, honed their skills under his guidance.

Eddie Merrins’ moniker, “The Little Pro,” originated during his playing days on the PGA Tour when he frequently played practice rounds with Jerry Pittman, the head professional at a Long Island course. Merrins fondly recalled, “Jerry began calling me The Little Pro, and it caught on.” He embraced the nickname, even as he humorously noted, “At 74, I’m getting shorter all the time.”

Despite his physical stature, Merrins was an unmistakable figure in the golf world, often recognized by his distinctive jacket and white driving cap. His devotion to golf in Los Angeles extended beyond his own game, as he initiated the “Friends of Collegiate Golf” in 1979, which later evolved into “Friends of Golf.” This philanthropic endeavor has raised over $10 million to support junior golf programs across the nation.

Eddie Merrins’ life revolved around golf, from his coaching career to his personal quest to improve his game. In a lighthearted anecdote, he recounted seeking an ophthalmologist’s advice due to concerns about his declining hand-eye coordination. To his surprise, the doctor’s request to bring a driver was meant for transportation, not golf equipment, leading to a humorous episode that endeared him to the community.

Eddie Merrins’ legacy as “The Little Pro” goes far beyond his physical stature, and his impact on the world of golf, particularly in Los Angeles, remains an enduring testament to his passion and dedication to the sport.

Source: AP golf

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Golfing Legacy

Who was Eddie Merrins and why was he called “The Little Pro”?

Eddie Merrins, also known as “The Little Pro,” was a renowned figure in the world of golf. He earned the nickname due to his modest height of 5-foot-7 but had a significant influence on golf in Los Angeles, particularly at Bel-Air Country Club.

What were some of Eddie Merrins’ notable contributions to golf?

Eddie Merrins had a multifaceted career in golf. He played 82 times on the PGA Tour, qualified for prestigious tournaments like the U.S. Open and PGA Championship, and even held a course record at Medinah. However, his true passion was teaching, and he authored an instructional book titled “Swing the handle, not the clubhead.” He coached at UCLA, where his team won an NCAA title, and he mentored several notable golfers.

Can you elaborate on his impact on junior golf programs?

Eddie Merrins initiated the “Friends of Collegiate Golf” in 1979, which later became “Friends of Golf.” This philanthropic effort has raised over $10 million to support junior golf programs across the country, emphasizing his commitment to nurturing young talent.

What is the anecdote about Arnold Palmer mentioned in the text?

In an encounter with Arnold Palmer before the 2002 Masters, Merrins offered advice to improve Palmer’s swing arc. However, Palmer’s performance in the tournament did not reflect the success of the tip, as he shot an 89 in the first round, leading to some humorous reflections on the situation.

How did Eddie Merrins balance his roles as a teaching pro and a coach at UCLA?

Eddie Merrins held dual roles as the head pro at Bel-Air Country Club and the coach of the UCLA golf team from 1975 to 1989. During this period, he achieved notable success, with the UCLA team winning an NCAA title in 1988. His coaching influenced several prominent golfers, demonstrating his ability to balance both roles effectively.

What was the significance of Eddie Merrins’ nickname, “The Little Pro”?

Eddie Merrins’ nickname, “The Little Pro,” originated during his playing days on the PGA Tour when he often played practice rounds with Jerry Pittman. Despite his modest height, he embraced the nickname, and it became a part of his golfing identity.

How did Eddie Merrins’ devotion to golf extend beyond his own game?

Eddie Merrins was not only dedicated to his own golfing pursuits but also committed to the promotion and support of golf in Los Angeles. He played a key role in philanthropic efforts, such as “Friends of Golf,” which raised substantial funds for junior golf programs nationwide.

What is the memorable anecdote about Eddie Merrins seeking an ophthalmologist’s advice?

Eddie Merrins once sought an ophthalmologist’s advice due to concerns about his declining hand-eye coordination. In a humorous twist, the doctor’s request for him to bring a driver was meant for transportation, not golf equipment, leading to a comical episode that became a part of his personal lore.

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