LSU Golf Star, Well-Known Golf Pro/Teacher, Eddie Merrins, Passes Away
BATON ROUGE – Former 1950s LSU golf star Eddie Merrins, who was inducted into the LSU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2005, passed away Wednesday in California at the age of 91.
Merrins was a three-time All-American for the LSU men’s golf team between 1952 and 1954.
Merrins was the NCAA runner-up in the national championship tournament in 1952 at Purdue and was the Southeastern Conference men’s golf champion in 1953 and 1954.
The Tigers won the team league title in both 1953 and 1954 in Athens, Georgia and Merrins shot 286 in 1953 and 284 in 1954 to claim the individual title.
Besides Merrins’ runner-up finish in 1952 in the NCAAs, the Tigers finished seventh, third and fourth in his three years at LSU.
Merrins earned national renown after graduating from LSU in 1955, not only playing professional golf but becoming a nationally known teacher and golf pro.
One of only 16 members of the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame, Merrins taught more than 48,000 lessons to a list that spanned the stars of Hollywood as well as many of today’s top pros during a 44-year span as PGA head professional at the famed Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles.
Besides all that, while at Bel-Air, he served 14 seasons (1975-89) as head coach of the UCLA men’s golf team, guiding the Bruins to 60 tournament victories, coaching 16 NCAA All-Americans and winning the 1988 NCAA Championship.
CBS Sports’ Jim Nantz, a longtime close personal friend of Merrins, confirmed his passing to Golfweek Magazine on Wednesday morning in Los Angeles after a long illness. Of Merrins, Nantz told Golfweek, “The famed ‘Li’l Pro’ was a giant in the game.”
Merrins competed in more than 200 professional events, including six PGA championships, eight U.S. Opens and six PGA Professional National Championships. He is the author of “Swing the Handle, Not the Clubhead” (1973), and “Playing a Round with the Little Pro: A Life in the Game” (2004).
He is also a member of the PGA Golf Professional Hall of Fame which was originated in 1940 and recognizes all PGA members who have made significant and lasting contributions to the building of The PGA of America and the game of golf. He was inducted into the PGA Hall of Fame in 2009.
Wednesday on “X”, longtime sports columnist Rick Reilly posted: “Sad to hear about the passing of Eddie Merrins –The Little Pro of Bel Air CC. He taught everybody from Jimmy Stewart to Corey Pavin, competed against everybody from Snead to Nicklaus, and was friends with everybody from Coach John Wooden to Dean Martin. What a life he lived.”
Louisiana native and FOX Sports broadcaster Tim Brando posted the following: “’The Little Pro’ that’s the brand the great Eddie Merrins carried. It’s no secret I’m a golf enthusiast, and after my first trip to Bel-Air, we immediately hit it off. I watched his Swing the Handle videos. Great teacher, great man. He loved all things UCLA & LSU … RIP.”
Merrins had worked at the Merion Golf Club before moving to New York where he became a teaching pro at Westchester Country Club and two years at the head pro at Rockaway Hunting Club on Long Island.
Merrins once told Golfweek that the beauty of his life in golf was that he had spanned so many generations. He knew Walter Hagen and played against Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, and, at age 17, in an exhibition with Byron Nelson.
In 1962, Merrins was named the head professional at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles and became one of the most distinguished teachers of the game during a tenure that stretched to 2003.
Merrins was on hand earlier this summer when Bel-Air hosted the 2023 United States Women’s Amateur championship. Latanna Stone, Aine Donegan and Taylor Riley from the nationally-ranked LSU women’s golf team participated in the event with Stone advancing to the championship match. Along the way, they crossed the famed “Swinging Bridge” that took golfers from the 10th tee to the green. That bridge also is named in honor of the “Li’l Pro.”
Merrins 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.
His 1988 national championship with the Bruins marked the first time a West Coast team had won the title in 35 years, since Stanford in 1953.
Of Merrins, the Golf Channel’s Rich Lerner posted on “X”: “Word that comes to mind when I think of Eddie Merrins is easy. Easy to be around, easy to understand and that’s in part why he was so successful as a teacher, and easy to love. He knew and touched so many in his extraordinary life. RIP Little Pro.”
Merrins was born on August 4, 1932, in Meridian, Mississippi. He won three state amateur titles in 1950, 1953 and 1955, and was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.
Merrins is survived by his wife Valerie, two sons, Mason and Michael, and daughter Randy.