Eddie Merrins, ‘The Li’l Pro’ in stature only, dies at age 91

Eddie Merrins, ‘The Li’l Pro’ in stature only, dies at age 91
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Eddie Merrins, the legendary PGA professional who was affectionately nicknamed “The Li’l Pro,” died Wednesday morning in Los Angeles.

The 91-year-old Merrins was the longtime head pro at L.A.’s famed Bel-Air Country Club and later the club’s pro emeritus. He also spent 14 seasons coaching the UCLA men’s golf program, leading the Bruins to their first NCAA title. What he lacked in stature (a generous 5 feet, 7 inches), he was a larger-than-life figure in the game, both as a teacher and philanthropist.

“The epitome of what a golf pro should be,” Claude Harmon once said of Merrins.

Merrins was born Aug. 4, 1932, in Meridian, Mississippi, and was an accomplished amateur player, winning three state amateur titles and a couple of SEC individual crowns while at LSU, where he also was runner-up at the 1952 NCAA Championship. He played over 200 events on the PGA Tour and won twice professionally, but his true calling was teaching. He had stops at Merion Golf Club, Westchester Country Club and Thunderbird Country Club in Palm Springs (under Harmon) before landing his first head job in 1960 at Rockaway Hunting Club on Long Island.

Two years later, Merrins landed at Bel-Air, where he served as head pro until 2003. His students ranged from touring pros such as Corey Pavin and Raymond Floyd, to Hollywood actors, including Dean Martin, Sean Connery and Jack Nicholson. He wrote a book titled, “Swing the Handle, Not the Clubhead.” In 1975, he accepted the job as UCLA’s head men’s golf coach, a position he held concurrently with his main gig at Bel-Air.

“It was like Bear Bryant having to teach chemistry,” wrote sportswriter Jim Murray.

Said Merrins to Golf Digest: “When you’re in love with the game, you can’t get enough of it. You want to be involved in everything you can.”

Bel Air––HANDOUT PHOTO––(L to R) Eddie Merrins, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Tiger Woods, Byron Nelson, Dave Stockton at the Friends of Golf charity tournament in 1992. (Photo by Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Merrins coached UCLA to 64 wins, including a trio of Pac-10 titles and the 1988 NCAA Championship, and produced 16 All-Americans, including Duffy Waldorf, Brandt Jobe and Pavin, whom Merrins once described as “a little 140-pound guy who looked like a refugee from the library. He was competing against football-player types, great athletes who could hit it 50 or 60 yards past him, but in his mind, he was inwardly just as big as they were.”

The same could be said of Merrins, whose charitable contributions were plentiful. He founded “Friends of Collegiate Golf” in 1979 to support junior golf in Southern California. Now known as “Friends of Golf,” the non-profit has raised over $10 million for youth golfers across the country. He also established the first golf scholarship in UCLA history, and he was always willing to give a golf tip – even to golf writers in media centers at a major.

Merrins could always be spotted wearing a white driving cap and tie, his name is on the famous swinging bridge at Bel-Air, and he’s a member of over a dozen halls of fame.

He is survived by his wife, Lisa; two sons, Mason and Michael; daughter, Randy; and his many students.

“Playing is for personal satisfaction,” Merrins once said, “but teaching is a labor of love.”

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