Quick Round with Eddie Merrins

By Randall MellFebruary 5, 2010, 12:51 am

No teacher is more at home among stars than Eddie Merrins.

In the sartorial splendor of a bygone era, with his trademark tie and Tam O’Shanter cap, he will move comfortably among the biggest names on the driving range during the first round of the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles.

In some respects, Merrins defies the laws of the universe. Stars revolve around him. Affectionately known as “The Little Pro,” he has been a teacher to some of Hollywood ’s biggest stars. Merrins is the head professional emeritus at Bel Air Country Club, a special place he has called home since 1962.

In the world of entertainment, Merrins’ reach is far and wide among those who love the game. He was the pallbearer at the funeral of Ray Bolger, the actor who played the scarecrow in the 'Wizard of Oz.' Merrins also taught one of the Beatles, Ringo Starr. His students have included Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, George C. Scott, James Garner, Jack Nicholson, Will Smith, Hugh Grant and Celine Dion.

Merrins, 77, is at home in special places. He has played the Los Angeles Open at Riviera 16 times. After making a name for himself as a top amateur in Mississippi, he landed his first teaching job at famed Merion Golf Club. He played in more than 200 PGA Tour events, back when you needed a club professional job to make ends meet. He decided to devote himself to teaching when he took the head professional’s job at Bel Air 48 years ago. His “Swing-the-Handle” philosophy is documented in books and videos and his methods detailed at www.eddiemerrins.com.

With the PGA Tour in Los Angeles this week, I caught up with him for a Quick Round:

Of all the movie and TV stars you’ve seen play, who’s the best?

I think Jack Wagner (Melrose Place, General Hospital) is still considered the best player in Hollywood. Thomas Gibson (Criminal Minds) is a very good player, scratch to 2-handicap.

Does Jack Nicholson have game?

Jack Nicholson, if you look at the handicap board, it probably reads 10. In reality, if he had to count every stroke, there’s no telling what he might shoot, but he’s a good player. He’s won three or four member-guests. It’s not often he plays 18 holes, though. He’ll play nine holes with Joe Pesci or a couple of his cronies.

You saw Fred Astaire play. I’ve read that you said he was manic in his pursuit of distance, but how about his rhythm? Did his rhythm as a dancer translate in his golf swing?

When he walked into the grill room, he didn’t actually walk. He glided. He was a beautiful man to observe, a gentleman in every sense. He was athletic, with the dancing and golf. He played pretty darn well. There was a movie where he danced around 12 golf balls and made 12 swings in a row, hitting the balls as solidly as you could with perfect balance. Yes, he had beautiful rhythm.

The former Los Angeles Laker, Jerry West, is making his debut this week as the tournament director of the Northern Trust Open. He is also a member at Bel Air. What does his game reveal about him?

At one point, he was truly a 2- or 3-handicap. I think in the back of his mind, when he retired from basketball, he thought he could make the switch and play competitive golf at the highest levels, either on the Tour or as a top amateur, but he never gave himself the chance. He has so much pride, he can’t stand to play poorly. If he entered a competition and shot 80, it would drive him up a tree.

As great an athlete as he was, he was well suited to basketball, not necessarily golf. You can use your emotions in basketball, to make a play, steal a ball or make a shot. You don’t have to contain your emotions the way you do in golf.

You’ve helped PGA Tour pros win over the years. Stewart Cink gave you credit for an idea that helped him win at Hartford just two years ago. Tell us about that.

I saw him here at Riviera that year, and we talked about the psychology of winning and he said something about the conversation lodged in his mind. We talked about how there’s a difference between goals and rewards. Most players confuse rewards to be goals, like winning a tournament. Winning a tournament is not a goal but most people make it a goal. You don’t win trying to win. You win taking certain steps. You win playing shots, playing the hole, playing the round relative to par. If you do a good job at that, the winning comes.

You were part of two of the greatest duels with Tiger Woods in major championships. You taught Bob May, who lost in a playoff to Tiger Woods at the PGA Championship at Valhalla in 2000. And you helped Rocco Mediate, who lost to Woods in a playoff at the U.S. Open two years ago. How tough was it going through that twice?

I remember standing at the little tented area at Torrey Pines at the back end of the golf shop where players signed their scorecards on Sunday, and NBC’s Mark Rolfing and Roger Maltbie came over and congratulated me on Rocco winning the U.S. Open. I thought Rocco was going to get me even after Bobby’s loss, but no sooner had they said that and this huge roar erupted around the 18th green. Superman made another putt.

In both cases, with Bobby and Rocco, they were eyeball to eyeball with Tiger, but they weren’t really doing what the average person surmised. It’s not like they were playing head to head. They were into the science of the game, relating to par on the golf course as well as they could. They were like great stage performers. In both cases, with Tiger, they were not out there trying to beat each other, but playing off each other. Bobby and Rocco were playing the best they could. Ordinarily, that would have been good enough to win, but they were playing Superman.

Speaking of the science of the game, if I were a mad scientist seeking to construct the greatest player ever, whose swing would you recommend I copy? Who had the greatest swing you’ve ever seen?

Sam Snead. He had the most natural and effective golf swing. People ask me who the greatest player was, and I say Snead. That doesn’t mean he was the greatest champion, but he was the best at playing the course relative to par. Byron Nelson might have hit the ball straighter, and I think Hogan was the best striker. To me, Nicklaus is the epitome of what a champion should be. In time, Tiger Woods might knock him off the box and he will deserve all the credit he gets.

Whose short game would I want?

I go back to the old days. It could be Paul Runyan or Jerry Barber or Doug Ford. Doug had a fantastic short game. Today, all these guys have great short games.

Who was the best out of the sand?

Gary Player.

Who was the best putter?

I was asked to do a piece once listing golf’s best putters. I had Ben Crenshaw No. 1, Bobby Locke No. 2, Dave Stockton No. 3, Billy Casper No. 4 and Jerry Barber No. 5. I had Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus warming up in the bullpen.

The best mind?

Ben Hogan, close second would be Tiger Woods, and Jack Nicklaus. Those are the guys who concentrated better than anyone else in making the ball go from point A to point B. When they had to come up with a shot, they came up with a shot.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.


Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.


Masters victory


Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative


Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ


Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket


Man of the people


Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief


Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together


Ace at 17th at Sawgrass


Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018


Departure from TaylorMade


Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade


Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'


Victory at Valderrama


Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

Getty Images

Montana parents can't watch kids play high school golf

By Grill Room TeamDecember 11, 2017, 9:47 pm

Well, this is a one new one.

According to a report from KTVQ in Montana, this line in the Montana State High School Association rule book all but forbids spectators from observing high school golf in that state:

“No spectators/fans are allowed on the course except for certain locations as designated by the tournament manager and club professional.”

Part of the issue, according to the report, is that most courses don't bother to designate those "certain locations" leaving parents unable to watch their kids compete.

“If you tell a parent that they can’t watch their kid play in the Thanksgiving Day football game, they would riot,” Chris Kelley, a high school golf parent, told KTVQ.

The report lists illegal outside coaching as one of the rule's chief motivations, but Montana State women's golf coach Brittany Basye doesn't quite buy that.

“I can go to a softball game and I can sit right behind the pitcher. I can make hand signals,” she is quoted in the report. “I can yell out names. I can do the same thing on a softball field that might affect that kid. Football games we can yell as loud as we want when someone is making a pass or a catch.”

The MHSA has argued that unlike other sports that are played in a confined area, the sprawling nature of a golf course would make it difficult to hire enough marshals to keep unruly spectators in check.

Meanwhile, there's a lawyer quoted in the report claiming this is some kind of civil rights issue.

Worth note, Montana is one of only two states that doesn't allow spectators on the course. The other state, Alaska, does not offer high school golf.

PGA Tour suspends Hensby for anti-doping violation

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 8:02 pm

Mark Hensby has been suspended for one year by the PGA Tour for violating the Tour’s anti-doping policy by failing to provide a sample after notification.

The Tour made the announcement Monday, reporting that Hensby will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

The statement reads:

The PGA Tour announced today that Mark Hensby has violated the Tour Anti-Doping Policy for failing to provide a drug testing sample after notification and has been suspended for a period of one year. He will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

Hensby, 46, won the John Deere Classic in 2004. He played the Web.com Tour this past year, playing just 14 events. He finished 142nd on the money list. He once ranked among the top 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking but ranks No. 1,623 today.

The Sunshine Tour recently suspended player Etienne Bond for one year for failing a drug test. Players previously suspended by the PGA Tour for violating the anti-doping policy include Scott Stallings and Doug Barron.

The PGA Tour implemented revisions to its anti-doping program with the start of the 2017-18 season. The revisions include blood testing and the supplementation of the Tour’s prohibited list to include all of the substances and methods on the World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list. As part of this season’s revisions, the Tour announced it would also begin reporting suspensions due to recreational drug use.

The Tour said it would not issue further comment on Hensby's suspension.

Good time to hang up on viewer call-ins

By Randall MellDecember 11, 2017, 7:40 pm

Golf announced the most massive layoff in the industry’s history on Monday morning.

Armchair referees around the world were given their pink slips.

It’s a glorious jettisoning of unsolicited help.

Goodbye and good riddance.

The USGA and R&A’s announcement of a new set of protocols Monday will end the practice of viewer call-ins and emails in the reporting of rules infractions.

“What we have heard from players and committees is ‘Let’s leave the rules and administration of the event to the players and those responsible for running the tournament,’” said Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of rules and amateur status.

Amen.

The protocols, formed by a working group that included the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and the PGA of America, also establish the use of rules officials to monitor the televised broadcasts of events.

Additionally, the protocols will eliminate the two-shot penalty when a player signs an incorrect scorecard because the player was unaware of a violation.



Yes, I can hear you folks saying armchair rules officials help make sure every meaningful infraction comes to light. I hear you saying they make the game better, more honest, by helping reduce the possibility somebody violates the rules to win.

But at what cost?

The chaos and mayhem armchair referees create can ruin the spirit of fair play every bit as much as an unreported violation. The chaos and mayhem armchair rules officials create can be as much a threat to fair play as the violations themselves.

The Rules of Golf are devised to protect the integrity of the game, but perfectly good rules can be undermined by the manner and timeliness of their enforcement.

We have seen the intervention of armchair referees go beyond the ruin of fair play in how a tournament should be conducted. We have seen it threaten the credibility of the game in the eyes of fans who can’t fathom the stupidity of a sport that cannot separate common-sense enforcement from absolute devotion to the letter of the law.

In other sports, video review’s timely use helps officials get it right. In golf, video review too often makes it feel like the sport is getting it wrong, because timeliness matters in the spirit of fair play, because the retroactive nature of some punishments are as egregious as the violations themselves.  

We saw that with Lexi Thompson at the ANA Inspiration this year.

Yes, she deserved a two-shot penalty for improperly marking her ball, but she didn’t deserve the two-shot penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard. She had no idea she was signing an incorrect scorecard.

We nearly saw the ruin of the U.S. Open at Oakmont last year, with Dustin Johnson’s victory clouded by the timing of a video review that left us all uncertain if the tournament was playing out under an incorrect scoreboard.

“What these protocols are put in place for, really, is to make sure there are measures to identify the facts as soon as possible, in real time, so if there is an issue to be dealt with, that it can be handled quickly and decisively,” Pagel said.

Amen again.

We have pounded the USGA for making the game more complicated and less enjoyable than it ought to be, for creating controversy where common sense should prevail, so let’s applaud executive director Mike Davis, as well as the R&A, for putting common sense in play.

Yes, this isn’t a perfect answer to handling rules violations.

There are trap doors in the protocols that we are bound to see the game stumble into, because the game is so complex, but this is more than a good faith effort to make the game better.

This is good governance.

And compared to the glacial pace of major rules change of the past, this is swift.

This is the USGA and R&A leading a charge.

We’re seeing that with the radical modernization of the Rules of Golf scheduled to take effect in 2019. We saw it with the release of Decision 34/3-10 three weeks after Thompson’s loss at the ANA, with the decision limiting video review to “reasonable judgment” and “naked eye” standards. We’re hearing it with Davis’ recent comments about the “horrible” impact distance is having on the game, leading us to wonder if the USGA is in some way gearing up to take on the golf ball.

Yes, the new video review protocols aren’t a panacea. Rules officials will still miss violations that should have been caught. There will be questions about level playing fields, about the fairness of stars getting more video review scrutiny than the rank and file. There will be questions about whether viewer complaints were relayed to rules officials.

Golf, they say, isn’t a game of perfect, and neither is rules enforcement, though these protocols make too much sense to be pilloried. They should be applauded. They should solve a lot more problems than they create.