In golfing circles, Eddie Merrins, head professional at Bel-Air Country Club, is know as "Little Pro." Little because he is small in stature, pro because he earns his living in golf, particularly as one of the game's top teachers.
In one of his other roles, that of head coach of the UCLA men's golf team, he has brought his professionalism to bear on a program that has had a tough time trying to achieve the stature of such "big" sports as football, basketball, tennis and track.
When Merrins took over at UCLA in 1975, golf, a so-called non-revenue sport, apparently was not at the head of the line when it came to funding athletic programs. Since the line between money and success is about as direct as a tap-in putt, golf has not achieved the national reputation of many other UCLA sports.
3 Pac-10 Titles
Under Merrins, the Bruins have won three of the last four Pacific 10 Conference championships and have made four straight appearances at the NCAA Tournament, including this year. Until Merrins, UCLA had never won a conference championship in 27 years under his predecessor, Vic Kelley, and the team had never gone to the NCAAs.
Merrins said that one of the big reasons golf was not a UCLA glamour sport was that it used to be "a weak sister, and its budget was quite limited."
He said another reason was that Kelley, head coach from 1948 through 1974, was actually a part-time coach who had to squeeze in time for the golf team with his duties as UCLA's full-time sports information director. Kelley retired as head sports publicist in 1981 and is vacationing from his current job as director of the UCLA Athletic Hall of Fame.
Didn't List Golf Coaches
Golf doesn't seem to have had much of an impact in the athletic program until the last decade. In "UCLA on the Move," a history of the school from 1919 through 1969, the only mention that golf gets is just that, a mention as one of 18 sports the school had in 1968. In the book's appendix, golf coaches are not listed among athletic coaches.
According to records of the UCLA sports information office, Kelley, who served as a senior assistant coach from 1975 through 1982, was very active in collegiate coaching circles. He is a member of the National Golf Coaches' Hall of Fame, was the originator of the Southern California Intercollegiate Championships and served as chairman of the 1968 NCAA Tournament and was president of the Golf Coaches Assn. of America in 1969-70.
Teams Were Winners
And his UCLA teams were winners. They had an overall record of 204-140-9, mostly in dual meets, and produced three players who received honorable mention for All American: Terry Hartshorn in 1965 and 1966, Larry Benson in 1969 and Pete Laszlo in 1970. Another, Don Truett, was a second-team All American in 1972 and received honorable mention the year before.
But the records do not show any conference championships for Kelley's teams, or any appearances in the NCAA championships--though, a spokesman said, some of his players probably played in the individual competition at the NCAAs.
Merrins said that fund-raising "is critical" to the success of a college golf program. So he helped form an organization called the Friends of College Golf, a worldwide network of about 400 boosters, who not only raise funds for UCLA golf but also have enough left over to give grants for golf to other colleges, junior colleges and high schools.
Has Had More Help
Merrins is quick to point out that he has had a lot more help than Kelley did, including professional David Smith, a native of England who has been his assistant pro at Bel-Air and a paid UCLA assistant coach for the last two years. Ray Snyder, a retired UCLA professor of kinesiology, continues to serve the team as a volunteer coach, as he did under Kelley.
The UCLA coach said he has also received volunteer coaching help from former UCLA players such as Chuck White and John Grund, who is now on the pro tour, and from Norm Nedelman, an assistant pro at the Palos Verdes Golf Club.
The time he can give to the UCLA team wouldn't be his to give, he said, unless he had the blessing of the board of directors at Bel-Air Country Club, UCLA's home course. The Friends of College Golf, whose president is former Western Airlines chairman Art Kelly and whose chairman is attorney John Anderson, have been invaluable, according to Merrins.
UCLA Golf on Upswing
So, with more than a little help from his friends, Merrins has had UCLA golf on the upswing.
"In the last seven years," Merrins said, "we've won more tournaments (more than 50) than any school in the country and produced more all-Americans (15)." First-team all-Americans were Jay Delsing in 1982, Steve Pate in 1983 and Corey Pavin in 1979 and 1982. Delsing was a second-team selection in 1983, as were Chuck White in 1978 and Mickey Yokoi in 1982. The rest received honorable mention.