Eddie Merrins, aka the Little Pro, is best known for his "swing the handle" teaching philosophy, but former student Bob May remembers a more lasting lesson from the soft-spoken, diminutive Bel Air Country Club instructor with the vest, tie, tam o'shanter and twinkle in his eye.
"I'm very much an old-school player, and I still think of this as a gentleman's game," May said. "That's what the Little Pro teaches: etiquette and respect. It's why our game is different than the other sports, and I can't think of a better ambassador for the game than Pro."
When he first met Merrins, May was a hotshot 11-year-old junior golfer in Southern California. He had a problem, though. Another junior, Ken Tanigawa, kept beating him. Ken's teacher? Eddie Merrins.
"I figured the only way to get to the bottom of this was to take a lesson from the Little Pro," May said. "I remember my first lesson he only let me hit three balls. I told my dad I didn't want to go back."
But May did go back and was soon rewriting the record books of junior golf in California. His success story is just one of hundreds that Merrins, 75, has authored in a 50-plus-year teaching career that was celebrated at his induction into the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame on Jan. 17 in Orlando.
For Merrins, who played against Sam Snead, Byron Nelson and Arnold Palmer and taught movie stars like Jack Nicholson and George C. Scott, the honor is especially rewarding because he's been elected by his peers, the Top 100 Teachers in America.
"As a teacher, the highest compliment you can receive is being inducted into the World Golf Teacher Hall of Fame," Merrins said. "When my son told me the news, I welled up a little they were tears of joy. It's very humbling and satisfying."
He first picked up the game as an 11-year-old in Meridian, Miss. A polio scare kept him home from camp one summer and some friends invited him to play at the local country club. He got hooked bad, giving up football and baseball. His father, who was in the lumber business, didn't play, but he and his wife joined the local country club to feed their son's golf jones.
Merrins was good enough right away to play with the older members. A few years later he was good enough to play (and beat) Snead and Nelson in exhibition matches. Then he got good enough to win the SEC Championship at Louisiana State. Finally, he was good enough to finish runner-up to Palmer in an amateur tournament.
"I remember that Sam Snead had the most beautiful sense of rhythm," Merrins said. "Being around him was mesmerizing. You'd still feel his rhythm the next day. When I played with Arnold, I was leading with 10 holes to play. I played the next seven holes one under, but Arnold played them seven under.
"I always say that I was the first to see Arnie's charge," Merrins said.