Eddie Merrins, the renowned PGA professional known as “The Li’l Pro,” passed away Wednesday morning in Los Angeles.
At 91, Merrins was the head pro at the prestigious Bel-Air Country Club and later became 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. Despite his small stature (a generous 5 feet, 7 inches), he was a monumental figure in the golf world, revered as both a teacher and philanthropist.
“The epitome of what a golf pro should be,” said Claude Harmon of Merrins.
Born on Aug. 4, 1932, in Meridian, Mississippi, Merrins was a successful amateur player, winning three state amateur titles and a few SEC individual crowns while at LSU. He played over 200 events on the PGA Tour and earned two professional victories, but teaching was his true passion. After stops at Merion Golf Club, Westchester Country Club, and Thunderbird Country Club, he landed his first head pro job in 1960 at Rockaway Hunting Club on Long Island.
Two years later, Merrins found himself at Bel-Air, where he served as head pro until 2003. His students included touring pros like Corey Pavin and Raymond Floyd, as well as Hollywood actors such as Dean Martin, Sean Connery, and Jack Nicholson. Merrins also authored the book, “Swing the Handle, Not the Clubhead.” In 1975, he accepted the position as UCLA’s head men’s golf coach while also working at Bel-Air.
“It was like Bear Bryant having to teach chemistry,” wrote sportswriter Jim Murray.
Merrins told 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.”
Merrins led UCLA to 64 wins, including three Pac-10 titles and the 1988 NCAA Championship, and produced 16 All-Americans, including Duffy Waldorf, Brandt Jobe, and Pavin. Merrins once described Pavin 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, who made significant charitable contributions. He established “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. Merrins also created the first golf scholarship in UCLA history and was always ready to offer a golf tip – even to golf writers in media centers at a major.
Merrins was often seen wearing a white driving cap and tie, his name graces the famous swinging bridge at Bel-Air, and he belongs to 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 said, “but teaching is a labor of love.”
Daniel Miller takes readers to the greens with his passion for golf. He offers coverage of major golf tournaments, player achievements, and insights into the sport’s rich history, making him a trusted source for golf enthusiasts.