Friends remember golfer Vance Heafner

Friends applaud Charlotte golfer for his love of the game and commitment to family.

chip.alexander@newsobserver.comSeptember 27, 2012 

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Vance Heafner hits during the Rex Classic at the Prestonwood Country Club in Cary in 2004.

2004 NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

— Those who knew Vance Heafner best want to remember him as a man with an easy smile who loved his family and loved playing golf.

Heafner, who died Wednesday at 58, had some serious health issues.

"But the Vance I’ll always think of was a good person, who as a young golfer had to compete very hard to be a good player and went on to have a good, outstanding career," Roger Watson, a member of the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame, said Thursday.

Watson was a golf professional at MacGregor Downs Country Club in Cary when Heafner played as a teenager against Scott Hoch, Wes Minton, Tom Reynolds and other juniors. Hoch, Minton and Reynolds each won state medalist honors for Broughton High, but Heafner was more the late bloomer.

"Vance was always very competitive, a very good player and a good guy, too," Hoch said Thursday. "When you grow up like we did, playing against each other at MacGregor, you get to know a lot about a guy. Vance always had a good way about him."

Heafner, who was born in Charlotte, had a rich golf pedigree. His father, Clayton Heafner, was an accomplished PGA Tour player who competed on U.S. Ryder Cup teams and twice was runner-up in the U.S. Open.

Clayton Heafner died in December 1960, when Vance was 6. Vance soon moved to Cary, where Watson said he was raised by an aunt and uncle, attending Cary High before joining the golf program at N.C. State.

"Vance was named for his father and would enter junior events as ‘Clayton Heafner,’ using the name to get in," N.C. State golf coach Richard Sykes said. "He learned how to play by getting his brains beat in. But by his sophomore year in college, he had become a very good player."

Good enough to win the ACC championship. In 1974, Wake Forest had a powerhouse team led by Curtis Strange and Jay Haas that won the NCAA title. But Heafner was the ACC medalist.

Heafner became the Wolfpack’s first golf All-America in 1974. Two years later, he was the school’s first three-time All-America.

"I remember by ’74 Vance was telling friends he’d be a (PGA) tour player," Sykes said. "And he had a pretty good career for someone who wasn’t projected to do much as a junior golfer."

Heafner won such prestigious amateur events as the Porter Cup and Eastern Amateur, and took the Carolinas Open title as an amateur. He also was a member of the winning 1977 U.S. Walker Cup team.

Heafner and Hoch joined the PGA Tour in 1980. Both won quickly – Hoch in the 1980 Quad Cities Open, and Heafner at the 1981 Walt Disney World National Team Championship with Mike Holland.

Heafner would not have the kind of PGA Tour career that Hoch achieved – the Disney was Heafner’s only tour victory. By the early 1990s, Heafner was at Cary’s Prestonwood Country Club, where he served as director of golf for more than 15 years and competed in the SAS Championship.

Heafner left the club four years ago and attempted to get involved in other golf projects. But diabetes and heart ailments took their toll on him, and he suffered a severe head injury in a fall a couple of years ago that required a lengthy recovery.

"Vance has been like a son to me but he wasn’t the same the last eight years or so," Watson said. Heafner’s sister, Donna Heafner Allen, said her brother "was a wonderful person who got sidetracked a bit along the way." She said he had good days and bad the past few years, adding that "his body was just tired."

Hoch said some of Heafner’s old friends attempted to contact him, offering to help in some way. Hoch said it was frustrating the calls were not returned.

"But we all probably could have made a better effort to reach out," Hoch said.

More recently, Heafner began feeling better. He was often at Wildwood Green Golf Club in Raleigh, playing golf again, giving golf lessons and walking two to five miles a day, Watson said.

"He was playing with the members and the staff," Wildwood Green golf pro Jeff Engelhaupt said. "One guy said he had a stretch where he had like five birdies in a row. It seemed like he was back on track."

The cause of Heafner’s death has not been determined, but Watson said Heafner died of a heart attack.

Heafner and his wife, Paige, had two daughters. Funeral arrangements have not been completed.

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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