Former NC State golf coach Richard Sykes, who headed program for 46 years, dies at 78

Chip Alexander

Former N.C. State golf coach Richard Sykes, whose tenure with the Wolfpack lasted 46 years, has died. He was 78.

Sykes first became the Pack’s golf coach in 1971 and headed the program until his retirement in 2017. Inducted into the Golf Coaches Hall of Fame in 2001, he coached 34 All-Americas including former PGA Tour winners Tim Clark, Carl Pettersson and the late Vance Heafner.

Sykes had six players win ACC individual championships, and Matt Hill was the NCAA individual winner and the consensus national player of the year in 2009.

Sykes was honored four times as ACC coach of the year and guided the Pack to the school’s first ACC title in 1990. His teams won more than 50 tournament titles and made 24 NCAA appearances.

A 1968 N.C. State graduate and former member of the golf team, Sykes was a golf pro at Wendell Country Club before taking the Wolfpack job. In addition to coaching the golf team, he also served as assistant athletics director for golf operations at NCSU and oversaw the completion of Lonnie Poole Golf Course, which became the Pack’s home course in 2008.

Sykes, popular among his coaching peers, was known for his wit, his many amusing stories and one-liners — and his glass eye.

Sykes lost an eye at age 5 while playing with a toy bow and arrow with friends. He once quipped that when he was nervous on the course during a tournament, he only needed to lift one hand to cover his (good) eye. He once startled another school’s golf team in a restaurant by tapping his glass eye with a butter knife.

Sykes once joked that golf coaches have it “tough,” saying their job was to drive the team van to the golf course, hand their players a new sleeve of golf balls and tell them to hit ‘em straight.

More seriously, he said the job entailed more than golf instruction.

“We’d be better off being called a golf manager,” Sykes told The News & Observer in 2011. “We do teach but not that much. It’s more about how to live because golf is such a mental game. You have to be able to put things in the right order and have the right priorities. It’s about knowing what makes each person tick.”

When he retired in 2017, before a big gala at NCSU’s Reynolds Coliseum, Sykes told The N&O he had few regrets about his career. He then added some Richard Sykes humor:

“I regret I got old this fast. I read somewhere that ‘age is undefeated.’ I gave it a hell of a run for its money.”