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Remembering four PGA Champions who recently passed


Popular PGA Tour player Andy Bean, with 11 tournament wins (and 15 runner-ups) passed away in October at age 83. The 6’ 4,” 220-pound gent with a baritone southern accent, was from Lafayette, Georgia, and played golf at the University of Florida. Among his Gator teammates were former TV golf analyst Gary Koch and Fred Ridley, the current chairman of Augusta National Golf Club. Bean won five college tournaments with one NCAA National Championship and three consecutive All-American honors. Bean eventually played in 588 PGA Tour tournaments while collecting those 11 wins. After turning 50 in 2003, he won three times on the PGA Champions Tour. He was affectionately known by players and writers alike as “gentle giant,” and someone who always had time for fans. He is survived by his wife Debbie and his three daughters.

If the name Ivor Robson doesn’t strike a bell, you may never have watched the Open Championship (aka “British Open”). From 1975 to 2015, Robson was the iconic starter on the first tee at every Open Championship for 41 consecutive years, with his unmistakable smooth UK voice as he addressed the crowd “on the tee, game number 22,” followed by player introductions.  Robson, from Moffat, Scotland, started his Open starter career at Carnoustie in 1975, and retired after the Open at St. Andrews in 2015. He also worked for the DP World Tour and at Ryder Cups. Most impressively, Robson never took a relief break from the first tee time to the last – that’s eight hours – at 41 straight tournaments. Upon his retirement, Robson mused, “It’s been a wonderful career (and) a great honor. To the professionals, it’s been great fun being here with you.” Robson passed in October at age 83. R&A CEO Martin Slumbers noted that Robson’s voice was “instantly recognizable and synonymous with the Open Championship for players and millions of fans worldwide. (All) will share in our sadness.” Robson is survived by his wife of 61 years.

Longtime golf professional, teacher and coach, Eddie Merrins, affectionately known as “The Li’l Pro,” sadly died in November. He was 91. An outstanding collegiate player at LSU, he won the SEC title twice, in 1953 and ’54. As a professional, he competed in over 200 PGA Tour events with two wins: the 1961 metropolitan PGA Championship and the 1961 Long Island Open. Merrins is best remembered for his tenure as UCLA’s cherished golf coach. During his 14-year tenure at UCLA, he coached 16 All-Americans, including Corey Pavin, Steve Pate, Tom Pernice, Jr., Duffy Waldorf, Scott McCarron, Bob May and Brandt Jobe.  In 1962, Merrins was named the head professional at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles and became one of the most distinguished teachers in the game during the 42 years that stretched to 2003. Merrins was inducted into the PGA Hall of Fame in 2009. He once told Golfweek that the beauty of his life in golf was that he had spanned so many generations. He wrote a super instruction book titled, “Swing the Handle Not the Clubhead.”

Don January, who played professional tour golf from 1954 to 1987, died in May at age 93. He was Texas through and through, having been born in Plainview, raised in Dallas and later being part of four NCAA national championship golf teams from 1949 to 1953 at North Texas State. As a pro, he won 10 PGA tournaments, including the 1967 PGA Championship, beating Don Massengale in an 18 hole playoff. After turning 50 he won 22 PGA Senior Tour (now PGA Champions Tour) events. In 1976, at age 47, he won the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average for the year on the PGA Tour. January became an instrumental force in golf, pushing to remove the “Caucasians only” clause in the PGA of America charter.    

Once, after signing his scorecard at a Senior Tour event, he told an interviewer, “I’m just a damned old pro from Dallas who was lucky enough to have a swing that lasted for a while.” In his day, January was regarded as a player whose game seemed to be on autopilot, with a swing as rhythmic and languid as a violin virtuoso. Commenting on January’s longevity, Curtis Strange, winner of two consecutive U.S. Opens, observed, “Ol’ Don got better with age, just like the bourbon he drank. A true man’s man.”