N.C. State's Richard Sykes, retiring after 46 years, leaves behind stories to last a lifetime

Richard Sykes retires NC State @PackMensGolf

N.C. State's Richard Sykes, retiring after 46 years, leaves behind stories to last a lifetime

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N.C. State's Richard Sykes, retiring after 46 years, leaves behind stories to last a lifetime

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the April 24, 2017 digital edition of Golfweek Magazine.

Richard Sykes came to N.C. State in 1962 to run track, took the job of men’s golf coach and never left. The one thing Sykes learned to do faster than run the 100-yard dash: dish out one-liners.

“Oh god, every trip was a comedy,” said former player Bowen Sargent, now men’s coach at Virginia.

Like the time a 38-year-old Sykes raced a former player down the hall at the Carolina Hotel at Pinehurst and got to running so fast
he put his hand through a wall. The adjoining room was occupied by Texas players.

Sykes told that story recently to a group of well-wishers gathered in Reynolds Coliseum to celebrate his 46 years as men’s coach at
N.C. State. The 72-year-old Sykes, one of the game’s great characters, will lead his team into the NCAA postseason one last time before stepping down.

“I had no idea people thought this much of me,” Sykes told his wife, Pam, of the attention he has received.

Devon Brouse, who for decades coached at rival North Carolina before moving to Purdue, called Sykes “an icon” in college golf.

“Probably can’t say this about all coaches,” Brouse said, “but he’s always had the best interest of college golf at heart.”

Track brought Sykes to Raleigh, but he was determined to be a football player. A knee injury during football practice cut both careers short, so he joined the golf team.

After college Sykes took a job at Wendell Country Club, where the golf team practiced.

When Al Michaels, who coached golf and had a position with the football team, was named interim head football coach, Sykes was asked to look after the golfers.

He got $200 that first year, along with football and basketball tickets. The next year N.C. State hired Lou Holtz to lead the football team, and Sykes stayed on as golf coach.

For 10 years it was a part-time arrangement, with Sykes still working as a club pro. When he went to practice, Pam looked after the pro shop.

Sykes was restricted from recruiting outside North Carolina until 1988. Sargent, a two-time honorable-mention All-American from
Brentwood, Tenn., was the first to cross state lines.

“He called me his first foreigner,” Sargent said.

Sargent came to N.C. State because of Sykes’ infectious personality and helped deliver the first, and only, ACC team title in Wolfpack
history.

Sargent can remember the scene on the 18th hole in 1990 like it was yesterday. He rifled a 1-iron to 10 feet on the closing par
5. With Clemson already in the house, Sykes approached his player.

“If you get that (eagle) putt to the hole, I’ll kill you,” Sykes said. “You two-putt, we win.”

Sargent hung it on the front edge.

“Our whole mission that year was to win a championship for him,” said Sargent, who turned pro but thinks he played his best golf in
college under the feel-good philosophy of Sykes.

In 46 years Sykes led the Wolfpack to 53 titles and 12 NCAA championship appearances as a team. The father of four was inducted into the Golf Coaches Hall of Fame in 2001. His most notable alumni include PGA Tour winners

Carl Pettersson and Tim Clark.

“I truly believe I wouldn’t have played the PGA Tour if it wasn’t for you, coach,” Pettersson said in a tribute video. “I owe you a helluva lot.”

Clark’s path to N.C. State started with a phone call from Nick Price, who recommended another player, whose father ultimately
recommended Clark.

When Sykes picked up Clark from the airport on the day after Christmas, he couldn’t wait to get to the range to see what he’d gotten.

Never mind that there was snow on the ground, a first for the young South African. Clark took his clubs out of the travel bag, and lo and behold, there were covers on his irons.

“How many good players have you seen with covers on their irons?” Sykes asked a reporter. “By God, what have I done now?”

To his relief, Clark began a near-perfect pattern on the range in freezing temperatures.

Sykes decided everyone on the team needed iron covers.

Some of the greatest Sykes stories center around the glass eye he’s had since age 5. He was playing with a bow and arrows his parents
had bought for him. When he called timeout to collect his arrows, his playmate didn’t comply.

Sykes pulled out the arrow from his right eye and spent several months recovering.

But as with everything else, Sykes learned to make the most of it.

On road trips he’d put the glass eye in a salad or a water glasses to get a rise out of waitresses and his team.

Nolan Mills, the 1983 ACC champion, can still see Sykes at the Schenkel Invitational staring down Georgia’s team while tapping his
glass eye with a butter knife.

“You could hear it across the room,” he said. Mills’ son, Nolan Jr., won for a second time this spring at the Wolfpack Spring Open, Sykes’ final home tournament. The team won by 13 shots.

“I think it’s awesome that it doesn’t matter if you made a bogey or a birdie,” said Nolan Jr., a sophomore. “He’s still going to tell you the same joke when you walk off the hole.”

Sykes had a sit-down with Nolan Jr. in the beginning of the spring season. Told him his father didn’t turn into the player he was until the spring of his sophomore year.

Nolan Jr. left the meeting inspired.

Sykes might take a Viking cruise through Europe in retirement. He
devours World War II history. He’d like to feel the mist off Niagara Falls and ride in a stagecoach.

Pam, known as “Sug” by the players, tells her husband of 42 years
that he’s “in training to relax.”

That won’t happen, of course, until after the postseason. Sykes
said he misjudged his team’s fatigue factor after a busy spring break. They came out flat at the General Hackler Championship
and were dead last when the final round was canceled due to weather. That killed their ranking, said Sykes, who believes his 39th-ranked Wolfpack is more of a top-25 team.

As for ending his career at the NCAA Championship in Sugar Grove, Ill., Sykes said: “We’ll be there.”

A strong one-liner from the legendary coach. But it’s no joke.

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