My Shot: Eddie Merrins

Continued (page 2 of 4)

There are three ways to putt. You can stroke it smoothly, in the style of Ben Crenshaw and Phil Mickelson. You can hit it somewhat abruptly, like Gary Player and Arnold Palmer. Or you can roll it with a firm stroke, which is how I'd classify Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Regardless of how you choose to do it--it's a choice, and I'm not about to change your putting personality--you must roll the ball. You must make the ball come off the clubface rolling smoothly. There is no compromising on that. When you practice, work on making the ball roll better. That's what matters. That's what will get you holing more putts.

Hitting up through the ball is fatal with the irons, of course, but it's a mistake with the driver, too. The urge to hit up is so powerful, many golfers do it even when they consciously try not to. It's the most common mistake in golf. Now, have you ever stood on the tee waiting your turn to play, and you swipe at a cigarette butt, broken tee or something else just lying there? You have to swing level to hit it, right? Well, that's how you want to hit your driver. Try to knock the tee over with your swing. Just knock it out of the ground. This is how you hit the ball solidly and find the distance and accuracy you've been looking for.

My pet peeve in golf is an unusual one: I can't stand the sight of telephone poles. They're such a common sight everywhere you go that many people don't even notice them, but I'm cursed with noticing and disliking every one of them. They're a blight on the American landscape, yet to some people they're invisible. They'll complain about an artificial waterfall but make no mention of this huge, ugly telephone pole within 30 yards of where they're standing. I don't get it. If I ever designed a golf course, the first thing I'd do is bury every telephone wire within a mile of the property.

I grew up playing at the Northwood Country Club in Meridian, Miss. From the time I was 11 until I finished high school, I rarely missed a day going there. Northwood was a short course, and I learned to shoot low there. That experience made me a big believer in encouraging kids to play from the forward tees or even closer. Let them get used to shooting low scores; it will make them less fearful of shooting low when they get older. Fear of going low is a hard thing to overcome. It's best not to let that fear take root.

When I became the men's golf coach at UCLA in 1975, one of the first things I noticed was the way a lot of coaches told their players to leave the driver in the bag on short, tight holes. I instinctively knew that was the wrong thing to do with a player at the developmental level. When you get a player like Duffy Waldorf, who is a long, straight, fearless driver of the ball, you don't want to disrupt that. If I told Duffy to reach for his 1-iron, it would insinuate that he can't drive the ball very well after all. It's like giving Samson a haircut. When we won the NCAA Championship in 1988, the golf course was very tight, and the other teams predictably hit irons off the tees all the way around. We hit a lot of drivers and had a huge tactical advantage.

At UCLA it was important for our players to have access to the best courses in the Los Angeles area. When we were extended the privilege, it was important that we show our appreciation. So I had our players carry little bags of sand around with them and fill divots as they went. These bags were quite visible, so the members could see them. I also had each player repair five ball marks every time he walked onto a green. [Corey] Pavin, [Tom] Pernice, Waldorf, [Scott] McCarron, [Brandt] Jobe, [Steve] Pate, [Jay] Delsing--they all filled a lot of divots. The practice was good for our players, surprised and delighted the members, and it surely was good for the golf courses. If you know of high school or college golf teams looking for a welcome sign at the nicer clubs in town, this is one way they'll find it.

Jerry West [NBA Hall of Famer] is a long-time member at Bel-Air and a wonderful player. Jerry at one time was a plus-2 handicapper and once shot 28 on the back nine, six under par. It remains the only time a member has broken 30 on the back nine, and for the day he shot 65. When Jerry retired as a player at age 35, he had plenty of time to develop into an outstanding amateur golfer. I truly feel he could have played at the highest level. But Jerry has too much pride. I don't think he was willing to put himself in a position where he might shoot a high score and become embarrassed. The lesson is, there is no other way but to put your feet in the fire. You just have to play your way through those tough experiences early on, however humiliating they might be. It's hard for the perfectionist or the self-conscious person to do.

I played in eight U.S. Opens, six PGA Championships and a number of PGA Tour events. I wasn't a great champion by any measure, but I tried hard, I enjoyed it, and I did make a living. For a time I held the course record at Medinah. I shot 66 there in the 1962 Western Open. I was paired with Lloyd Mangrum and Ken Venturi that day. A year later, I was paired with Lloyd again, this time at Bel-Air, and I shot 66. Lloyd saw two of the best rounds of my life. Until the day he died, he thought I was one of the best players he'd ever seen. He couldn't understand why I wasn't tearing the PGA Tour apart.

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