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.

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Hataoka leads Minjee Lee by one at LPGA Volvik

By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 12:54 am

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - After losing in a playoff last weekend, Nasa Hataoka is making another bid for her first LPGA Tour victory.

Hataoka shot a 4-under 68 on Friday, and the Japanese teenager led by one stroke over Minjee Lee after the second round of the Volvik Championship. Hataoka, who is coming off the first two top-10 finishes of her LPGA career, made seven birdies at Travis Pointe Country Club. She began her round on No. 10, and her best stretch came toward the end, when she birdied Nos. 4, 5 and 6.

''I'm really comfortable playing the LPGA,'' the 19-year-old Hataoka said through a translator. ''I've really got confidence now.''

Hataoka made the cut nine times in 17 starts as a rookie in 2017, and she has made significant strides of late. She tied for seventh at last month's MEDIHEAL Championship and nearly won a week ago at the Kingsmill Championship in Virginia.

Hataoka finished the second round in Michigan at 9 under. Lee (69) was also solid Friday. Gaby Lopez (68), Jodi Ewart Shadoff (70) and Lindy Duncan (70) were a stroke behind Lee in a tie for third.

Hataoka did not make a single bogey in last week's three-round tournament, and she didn't have any in the first round in Michigan. She finally made a few Friday, but that didn't stop her from taking sole possession of the lead.

''I kind of feel like not really perfect, but I just kind of try to (be) aggressive,'' she said.


Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship


Lee, who lost by one stroke on this course last year, is in contention again.

''I guess the fairways are pretty generous and I think the greens are a little bit on the trickier side to read,'' Lee said. ''As long as your iron shots are pretty solid, I think you're going to be in good position around this golf course.''

Lee birdied the first two holes, and the only blemish on her scorecard Friday came on the par-5 14th. After missing the fairway to the right, she hit an aggressive shot out of the rough that went straight toward a water hazard well in front of the green. She settled for a bogey after taking a drop.

''I thought the ball was sitting OK in the rough, but it must have been a bit funny, or underneath it,'' she said. ''I made a mistake. I thought it was good enough to hit 3-wood there.''

Lee lost last year in Michigan to Shanshan Feng, but Feng will have some ground to make up in her attempt to repeat. She shot 69 on Friday but is still eight strokes behind the leader.

Ariya Jutanugarn was 6 under after a second consecutive 69.

Lopez made only six pars in the second round, tied for the fewest of the day, but her eight birdies and four bogeys put her near the top of the leaderboard.

''It was a little bit of an up and down,'' she said. ''There's so many opportunities out here to make birdie, that the most important thing to do is just to be patient, to be in the moment and not to get ahead of yourself. I think I came back from a couple mistakes that I did.''

In contrast to Lopez, Brittany Lincicome parred all 18 holes Friday and made the cut at 1 under. Paula Creamer (71) triple bogeyed the par-4 13th. She followed that with an eagle on the very next hole but missed the cut by a stroke.

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Childhood rivals share Sr. PGA lead

By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 12:00 am

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. - Kevin Sutherland and Scott McCarron have been rivals since their junior golf days around Sacramento, California. The two old friends were back at it Friday at the top of the Senior PGA Championship leaderboard.

''It's honestly, nothing new for us,'' said Sutherland who played in the third-to-last group and birdied his last two holes for a 5-under 66 to match McCarron at 8 under.

McCarron had a 68 in the morning wave to emerge from a championship record group of six tied for the first-round lead.

Sutherland was last year's Charles Schwab Cup winner with his only senior win coming in the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship, while McCarron has six PGA Tour Champions wins, including a major at the 2017 Senior Players Championship.

''We are both (Northern California) guys, played in high school, junior golf, on tour and it seems like a lot on the Champions Tour,'' Sutherland said. ''We were in the last group on Sundays a lot last year. Scott played so well and had an incredible year, and I had a great year, too.''

Sutherland's lone PGA Tour victory came at McCarron's expense in 2002 at La Costa in the Accenture Match Play Championship, when he beat McCarron 1 up in the 36-hole final. As youngsters they played on opposing high school teams located about an hour apart and met often in state tournaments as well as on the California junior circuit.

''It's been happening for 30 years, wait 35 years now, I guess,'' Sutherland said. ''Playing together on a Saturday is a little different. We're both still trying to get in position to win.''

Jerry Kelly shot a 65 to join Tim Petrovic (69), Chris Williams (68) and Joe Durant (67) at 7 under. Durant tied for second last week in the Regions Tradition, also a major championship.


Full-field scores from the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship


McCarron feels like he is just starting to warm to the task this year. He had to replace his clubs, including a favored putter damaged beyond repair in air transit two months ago.

''I've been putting with a back-up putter I had, but it just didn't feel quite right,'' he said. ''I changed last Sunday at the Regions Tradition and started putting better on Sunday. So I'm using this one again this week and seem to be putting pretty good with it.''

McCarron said the Harbor Shores course played a little tougher in light winds in the second round. He made six birdies and three bogeys.

''I would just like to have a couple of those bogeys back,'' he said. ''But we're in a good position going into the weekend.''

McCarron came to the press center after his round and walked in on a press conference where course-designer Jack and Barbara Nicklaus were being honored by sponsoring KitchenAid with the establishment of a local college scholarship program in their name.

McCarron, who said he has idolized Nicklaus since his youth, played media and asked Nicklaus what he ate when he was near the lead going into the weekend of a major championship.

Nicklaus said if you play well one day, eat the same thing the next day.

''But no hamburgers, or you will play like hamburger,'' he said.

Stuart Smith, the Reno, Neveda, club pro who was tied for the lead after the first round, missed the 36-hole cut with a second-round 83.

''I'll take the 66, 83 and enjoy the 66 yesterday,'' he said. ''You put this one down to just plain old golf. It's a nasty game we play sometimes. Glad I have a day job.''

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Wise, Simpson both miss cut at Colonial

By Nick MentaMay 25, 2018, 11:34 pm

The two most recent winners on the PGA Tour, Aaron Wise and Webb Simpson, missed the cut at the Fort Worth Invitational on Friday.

Wise and Simpson both came up short of the 2-over total by a shot following rounds of 70-73.

Wise was safely inside the number before playing his last four holes in 4 over par with two bogeys and a closing double following a trip into the water at the par-4 ninth.


Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos


Simpson, making his first start following his Players triumph, similarly struggled coming home, bogeying three of his final six holes.

Other notables who won't be around for the weekend at Colonial include Xander Schauffele (+4), Jason Dufner (+5), Patrick Cantlay (+6), Smylie Kaufman (+13), and Sam Burns (+13).

This is Kaufman's 11th consecutive MC and his 15th in his last 16 starts.

Jason Seaman and Kristi Hubly Seaman

Sr. PGA caddie learns of nephew's heroism in school shooting

By Tim RosaforteMay 25, 2018, 10:33 pm

Tracy Hubly caddied for her husband, club pro Chris Starkjohann, on Friday at the KitchenAid Senior PGA and learned after their round that her nephew was credited with helping stop the school shooting at Noblesville West Middle School in Indiana.

Jason Seaman, a 29-year-old science instructor and seventh grade football coach at the school, took three bullets but survived as what his aunt called a hero.

“You hear the stories about these shootings and I think about Parkland and the officer that was trained but didn’t go into the school,” Hubly said. “It’s really shocking to think it comes close to your family, but it does."

It’s not unusual for Hubly to caddie for her husband, a teacher at Carlsbad Golf Center and coach of a PGA Junior League program in Southern California. Hubly, who works in the pro shop at Emerald Island Golf Course in Oceanside, Calif., was on the bag when he was low golf professional at the 2009 Senior PGA Championship held at Canterbury GC. 

Starkjohann, 61, missed the cut at Harbor Shores with rounds of 76-79—155 and was heading to the Colorado State Open.

 “I didn’t hear about it until after my round was done,” Starkjohann said. “Everything happened after I got in.”