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The Enduring Legacy of Eddie Merrins: Remembering the 'Little Pro' and His Monumental Impact on Golf in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES — Standing at just 5-foot-7, Eddie Merrins earned the moniker "The Little Pro," not for his stature, but for the colossal impact he left on the world of golf. The seasoned professional, a fixture at the prestigious Bel-Air Country Club, left an indelible mark that transcended the fairways, touching the lives of luminaries such as U.S. Open champion Corey Pavin, the legendary Fred Astaire, and even ballet virtuoso Mikhail Baryshnikov. Merrins, whose influence extended far beyond the greens, passed away at the age of 91 in Los Angeles after a prolonged illness, as confirmed by UCLA, where he dedicated 14 years to coaching.

In a sport often criticized for its self-centered nature, Merrins stood out for his belief in the communal spirit of teaching. "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," he once remarked. "But in teaching, you get the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve helped somebody."

While Merrins showcased his prowess on the PGA Tour, competing 82 times and qualifying for major tournaments, including the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, his true passion lay in imparting his knowledge. A one-time record holder at Medinah during the Western Open, he chose the path of simplicity in his teachings. His 1973 instructional book, "Swing the handle, not the clubhead," epitomized his philosophy.

Reflecting on a moment with golf legend Arnold Palmer, Merrins emphasized the essence of his approach. "I watch Arnold for a bit, then tell him to swing the handle end of the club and keep the joints free. I just know this is the way to lengthen his arc, and sure enough, Arnold starts hitting some good shots," he recalled. Unfortunately, Palmer's subsequent round at the Masters didn't unfold as anticipated, perhaps even contributing to his early retirement from the prestigious tournament.

Hailing from Meridian, Mississippi, Merrins twice secured the SEC title while playing for LSU. Transitioning into teaching, he assumed leadership roles at various clubs before settling at Bel-Air in 1962, a tenure spanning nearly five decades. Simultaneously juggling responsibilities as the head coach of the UCLA golf team from 1975 to 1989, Merrins guided the Bruins to an NCAA title in 1988.

His impact resonates in the names of those he mentored — Pavin, Waldorf, Pate, and Jobe, among others. The moniker "The Little Pro" originated from his playing days on the PGA Tour, a testament to his stature in the golfing world that far exceeded his physical height.

In the late '50s, Jerry bestowed upon me the moniker "The Little Pro," a title that, to my surprise, stuck like glue. At 5-7, my stature wasn't considered short back then, but as the years rolled on and I hit 74, I couldn't help but notice myself getting shorter by the day — a fact that only added charm to the nickname. Yet, it wasn't my height that made me easily recognizable; it was more the jacket and the trademark white driving cap that adorned me on the greens.

Dedication to golf in Los Angeles defined my life. In 1979, I initiated the "Friends of Collegiate Golf" to champion junior golfers, a movement that later evolved into the renowned "Friends of Golf." Over the years, this initiative has surpassed the $10 million mark, providing crucial support for aspiring young golfers across the nation.

Whether it was a PGA Tour event or a USGA championship, I was a familiar face whenever golf graced the city of angels. My world revolved around golf, encompassing not only the professional circuit but my personal game as well. In a candid "My Shot" feature for Golf Digest in 2010, I recounted a moment of frustration with my own game, prompting me to question the integrity of my hand-eye coordination. Seeking answers, I visited an ophthalmologist, Dr. Robert Hepler, who, in an unexpected twist, advised me to bring a driver for the appointment. Little did I know, his remark was more about securing my ride home than fixing my swing. The incident quickly became a community anecdote, and I found myself at the center of good-natured laughter.

As the final chapters unfold, I remain eternally intertwined with the sport that defined my existence. Beyond the fairways and the accolades, it's the laughter, the camaraderie, and the indomitable spirit of the golfing community that make my journey truly memorable. For those who share in the passion, the greens will forever be a sacred space, and the bonds forged on the course will outlast the swings and putts recorded in the annals of time.

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In the twilight of my golfing odyssey, I find solace in the enduring legacy that transcends the numerical scorecards and tournament titles. "The Little Pro" moniker, coined in jest by Jerry all those years ago, remains a testament to a journey that stretched beyond the fairways, reaching into the hearts of fellow golf enthusiasts and leaving an indelible mark on the sport in Los Angeles.

As the driving cap and the jacket became my unofficial emblems, they symbolized not just my presence on the course but the spirit of camaraderie and laughter that accompanied every swing. From the inception of "Friends of Collegiate Golf" to its evolution into the impactful "Friends of Golf," the endeavor to nurture junior talent has been a source of pride. The millions raised stand as a tangible reminder that the game is not just about personal victories but also about fostering the next generation of golfing talents.

In the tapestry of anecdotes that color my golfing narrative, the visit to Dr. Hepler for a supposed swing ailment stands out as a lighthearted chapter, echoing the laughter that echoed through the golfing community. It serves as a poignant reminder that, in the grand tapestry of life, even the frustrations and mishaps contribute to the rich mosaic of experiences that define a journey.

As I embrace the inevitable shortening of stature at 74, I take pride in a life woven with the threads of passion, dedication, and an unwavering love for the game. The greens have been my sanctuary, and the laughter, my cherished companion. Beyond the gates of Bel-Air and the confines of the course, the bonds forged with players, students, and enthusiasts will endure, echoing the timeless sentiment that in golf, as in life, the journey is as significant as the destination.

With gratitude for every swing, every lesson shared, and every moment of camaraderie, I bid farewell to the greens that have been my canvas. As the echoes of laughter and the clinks of golf clubs fade into the distance, my spirit remains intertwined with the sport that shaped a lifetime.

AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf