Eddie Merrins, known as “The Little Pro,” has died in Los Angeles at the age of 91 after a long illness according to UCLA, where he was the golf coach for 14 seasons.
Merrins, the longtime pro at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angles, gave his insights to the game of golf to players such at U.S. Open champion Corey Pavin, Amy Alcott, Ben Crenshaw, Raymond Floryd, Tom Kite, Durry Waldorf, Steve Pate, Fred Astaire, Sean Connery, Hugh Grant, Celine Dion, Jack Nicholson, Jerry West, Ringo Starr, Dennis Quaid, Jimmy Connors, Tom Brady, Marcus Allen, Jerry Rice, Mikhail Baryshnikov and many others.
“Eddie was to golf in Hollywood what Jimmy Stewart was to the movie business,” said CBS commentator Jim Nantz, a member at Bel-Air. “You think about how Jimmy Stewart was part of the fabric of the movie business, and there was something about him that was so gentle and kind and normal and real and family oriented. That’s what Eddie was to golf.”
Said Claue Harmon, who won 15 times as a pro including the 1948 Masters: “Eddie is the epitome of what a golf pro shoulde be.”
The 5-foot-7 Mississippi native played briefly on the PGA Tour before he became Bel Air’s head pro from 1962 until 2003.
“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,” Merrins once said. “But in teaching, you get the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve helped somebody.”
Merrins, who was inducted into the PGA Hall of Fame in 2009, arranged for the great Jack Nicklaus to meet future great Tiger Woods at the age of 15, coached UCLA to the 1988 NCAA Men’s Championship; and wrote a seminal instruction book, Swing the Handle, Not the Clubhead, which was published in 1973.
“As golfers, actors and entertainers are an interesting lot,” Merrins told Golf Digest in 2010. “They’re never satisfied with their games, and after a round, they’re inclined to talk about all the shots they left out on the course.
“Fred Astaire was almost manic in his quest for more distance. Sean Connery constantly checked his positions in the mirror, which I never thought was helpful — I call it a ‘vanity check.’ Jack Nicholson gives the impression that he doesn’t care how he plays, but he does. Hugh Grant became immersed in the concept of the swing being three-dimensional. Celine Dion wanted a full discourse on my ‘Swing the Handle’ philosophy — and she wanted it in 10 minutes.
“Mikhail Baryshnikov fought mightily to improve his grip. Entertainers are perfectionists by nature. They have to be, I suppose.”
Merrins was born on Aug. 4, 1932, in Meridian, Miss., and his mother, Carrie, wanted her son to take piano and dance lessons, which he “avoided like the plague,” which he wrote in his 2006 book, Playing a Round With The Little Pro: A Life in the Game.