The recent passing of Vance Heafner brought back some sweet memories of the charismatic golfer, not just thoughts about his effort to play professional golf but recollections of when we were both in school at NC State and even before that. Vance was 58 when he passed away Wednesday after a noted career as an amateur and professional golfer.
As an avid golfer, I could relate to Vance's love to play the game. I first met him at junior competitions and
high school tournaments. During my
senior high school year, the sectional qualifying for the state tournament was
at Duke University. Vance was there as a high school sophomore and had an
imaginative golf game. It rained hard that day at Duke, and half of one green
was under water; the pin was located under the flood. All players were awarded
an automatic two-putt once reaching the green but were allowed to attempt
to make the first putt. My first try raced hard toward the hole only to stop
short once it hit the water in front of the cup. Vance played it differently,
striking the ball with a wedge, hitting from a part of the green not under
water, sending it through the air and holing out in the cup surrounded and covered with water. Birdie!
In 1974, Vance was a college sophomore and a rising star on the Wolfpack
golf team. I was in my first of four senior years and was sports editor of the
Technician, the student newspaper, and I covered the golf team. That spring, Vance
tied for the individual title in two intercollegiate events, the Big Four
Tournament and the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, both within a week of
each other. Following are the articles I wrote about Vance after each of his
Technician / April 17, 1974
Heafner comes through for State golf
By Jim Pomeranz
Vance Heafner started
playing golf at the very young age of seven, to his best recollection.
He began beating the
little white ball around local golf links in the early 1960s and has progressed
from a real true to life “duffer” to one of the Wolfpack’s and the ACC’s top
It was approximately
in 1968 that the Cary resident began his conquest of an individual golf title.
That was the year, at the age of 14, that Heafner began playing competitive
It was not until just
last year, though, that the then State freshman won his first crown. That was
the Raleigh City Amateur tournament.
But, now there is
another feather to add to his cap.
For the past week,
the blond-headed golfer has been competing along with six other Wolfpack
golfers and those from the other Big Four schools in the annual four-round
gathering of the North Carolina ACC institutions.
And even though Wake
Forest won the team crown 32 strokes ahead of second place State, 2083-2115,
Heafner played well enough over four different courses to pace the Wolfpack and
take home a tie for the top spot. He shared the individual honors with the
Deacons’ David Thore.
third with 2154, and Duke held down last place at 2199.
The first round,
played at the Deacons’ home course of Olde Town Country Club, saw Heafner fire
a one over par 73 and fall three shots back of first place and teammate Ken Dye
The State sophomore
had probably what was his best chance to shoot a sub-par round as the Big Four
tournament moved to MacGregor Downs which is Heafner’s home course. But his
attempt at par or better fell short by three strokes over the par 71 layout.
Heafner’s 74 dropped him five shots back of the top spot then held by Thore.
Thore shot two
consistent rounds of 72 and 70 in as many days and seemed on his way to first
alone. But the Duke University Golf Course, one of the toughest courses in the
state, got in his way. An even par round there could have almost assured him of
Thore shot 75 over
the par 71 course, and Heafner took advantage with a one under par 70.
“I played real good
at Duke,” Heafner said. “It was one of the most solid rounds I’ve had all year.
I hit the ball well, and I putted pretty good. I had two birdies and only one
bogey, and that was on the last hole.”
So, headed into the
final round at Carolina’s Finley Golf Course, Heafner and Thore recorded
identical scores and a head-on match was set. But neither golfer could budge
past the other. Each shot an even par 72 and tied for first place.
“At Carolina, I
putted real good but didn’t hit it all that well,” Heafner explained. “I had
two bogeys, and they were on the last two holes.”
Heafner played golf
every day. And his excellent golf shows the practice.
“I play 18 holes
about six out of seven days,” he said. “And I usually hit balls or practice
putting on the other day.”
And his want to play
a good game of golf has brought him to realize the necessity of participating
in more than just local tournaments.
“I get better
experience playing in bigger tournaments,” Heafner stated. This year as in past
years the tall sophomore will play in the North-South tournament at Pinehurst
and the Southern Amateur. He also plans to qualify for the Kemper Open in
Charlotte and the U.S. Open.
Golfers, even though
much of their ability is raw talent, have a coach. In Heafner’s case, as is
also the case of the remainder of the State golf team, it’s Richard Sykes, a
class A member of the professional Golf Association.
“He (Sykes) helps me
if something mechanical in my swing is really wrong,” he explained. “But as far
as telling me how to hit, he does not do that. He helps me a lot mentally. He
builds confidence before a match.”
Last year Heafner
averaged 76.1 strokes per round and just for the Big Four Tournament he
averaged just over 72 strokes per course. So, with the ACC tournament scheduled
April 22-24 at Sanford’s Carolina Trace rapidly approaching, the Wolfpack looks
good in Vance Heafner for a top notch finish.
Technician / April 26, 1974
Heafner achieves ‘greatest thrill ever’
By Jim Pomeranz
was walking toward the eighteenth green in the final round of the annual ACC
golf tournament here at Carolina Trace Wednesday. The State sophomore trailed
Wake Forest golfer Bob Bynum by two shots before teeing off on the last hole
and an individual title for the Wolfpack golfer seemed too far off to even
Bynum had hit an
incredible approach shot out from among some trees and was only 25 feet past
the pin and just off the green. Heafner’s approach had come to rest pin high
and only 20 feet away.
State golf coach
Richard Sykes began to talk about the type of golf Heafner had played for the
three day tourney.
“He’s played some
pretty good golf. I’ll tell you that,” Sykes praised. “The turning point was
that par five over there.”
Heafner had been just
one shot behind Bynum and took a bogey on the sixteenth hole while the Deacon
sank an eight-footer for birdie. But Heafner picked up a stroke on the
individual tourney leader with a par on the seventeenth hole. And, picking up
two more on the last hole seemed just too impossible.
“He’s had a pretty
good week’s work with first in the Big Four and second in the ACC,” Sykes
But, Sykes was a
little too fast with his words. Heafner sank his birdie putt, and Bynum missed
a four-footer for par and co-champions were crowned for the single player
Wake Forest still won
the tournament with a three day total of 1158. Carolina finished second at 1182
and the Wolfpack held down third place with 1187. Maryland, Clemson, Duke and
Virginia, in that order, rounded out the field.
But State should
still be very proud. Proud for Heafner. He was the complete story for the
“It has got to be the
greatest thrill I’ve ever had,” the tall blond smiled. “I thought I would have
to make two on the last hole to win.”
But he didn’t have to
eagle the 408 yard long hole; birdie was just enough. It was one of the few
holes Heafner had finished under par for the whole tournament. His three rounds
of 74-76-74 were some of the toughest he had played in quite a while.
“It was a real good
test of golf,” he said about the 7,007 yard long Trace layout, “but not under
the conditions we played it. The ground was hard, and the greens were slick. It
is too hard for a collegiate tourney. You play so much defensive golf here. The
fairways are so hard that you just try to keep from hitting a bad shot instead
of going after the good shot.”
During the whole
tournament no one was able to shoot an even par round. Seventy-three was the
tournament’s lowest score.
Since Sykes had been
a little too fast with his words about the eventual winner, the third year
coach soon changed his tune.
“I’m tickled to
death,” he boasted. “Vance has turned out to be quite a player. He has just
worked hard to get to where he is now. He was not the junior golfer that others
have been. He has not known as much as other golfers. He’s worked hard with
what he’s got, and he’s started being good. There’s really no telling just how
good he’ll be, or how far he’ll go. I’ve kidded him in the past about dying
fast when he sees the clubhouse. But this time he didn’t give up.”
The first two days of
the tourney Heafner had bogeyed both of the last two holes, but on the final
day he stuck right in there and finished with a great par and a great birdie.
“He’ll be a lot tougher in the future,” Sykes predicted.
For his great finish,
Heafner will most likely receive an invitation to play in the NCAAs, and
there’s good reason for it. “What they want are the good players,” said Sykes.
“And that’s what Vance is.”
Vance Heafner was a good college golfer, especially in 1974, besting
players like Wake Forest’s Curtis Strange and Jay Haas and UNC’s Skip Dunaway. Vance
won the Carolinas Open professional tournament that year as an amateur. In
1977, he won the North Carolina Amateur, and, the same year, he played on the Walker
Cup team, winning three matches in leading the United States to victory. He won other notable amateur competitions.
worked his way to the professional level, chasing fame and fortune on the PGA
Tour, the Nationwide Tour and the Champions Tour. Vance made the cut 157 times on
the PGA Tour and won a PGA tour two-man team event. When he turned 50, health
issues had slowed his ability to compete regularly. He had a solid, not great,
professional golf career, and, all the while, he was never a member of the
Professional Golf Association. He last professional golf job was as Director of
Golf at Prestonwood Country Club in Cary NC.
As I write this, all we know is that Vance might have had a heart attack
which might have been related to other health issues, lifetime health issues. He
was just 58-years old. With many good friends looking out for him, giving him
support, a place to live, and work, and to convalesce from a terrible fall that
left him nearly unable to play the game he so much loved, Vance seemed to be on
the road to recovery, maybe. His friends had high hope for him, but now he’s
gone from us, leaving only memories, some good and some not so encouraging.
Like many athletes and non-athletes alike, even with lots of resources and
a golfing ability many would love to have, Vance had demons in his life, and,
unfortunately, he probably let them get the best of him; the demons were probably
just too much. Maybe the demons finally won out with Vance. All that said, when I hear his name, I’ll not
let the demons get in the way of what I recall about Vance Heafner. I’ll always
remember those days in college, in 1974, when he played golf for NC State. And,
he won. Back-to-back; one week to the next. The Big Four and the ACC. He was a winner, a good player. That’s the best kind of memory.