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Jets weren't even public when Heafner got started

In the course of whiling away a day too hot for golf, I was burrowing through a mound of papers when I came across a column written for the old Charlotte News in 1939 by Burke Davis, who would later become a famous author.

It was about Clayton Heafner, the Charlottean who was 24 at the time and a rookie on the pro golf tour, having given up his job in the Schoenith candy factory here to see if he could make a living with his clubs.

Thought you might like to see how things have changed.

Heafner had played in 16 tournaments when Davis caught up with him and had won approximately $1,000. Total. But he said it was enough to keep him going because his expense for a three-day tournament was about $50.

Heafner was just back from a swing out west that almost didn’t happen. He said he had left the Florida tournaments to head for the West Coast but almost didn’t make it because his money was running out.

"I got to Houston with 10 bucks in my pocket," he recalled, "and shot 77 in the first round. I tried to get some money from home and couldn't. I had to win some, and with a high score like that, I was just out of it.

"But I had a 66 in the second round and finally won $186 there. That was enough to get me to California."

By car, of course. That's how the pros traveled at the time. Heafner shared a car with two other pros. Private jets? There weren't even public jets then.

Henry Picard, a South Carolinian, was the leading money winner that year with $10,303. Heafner was impressed.

"This Henry Picard now is the best competitor in the game," he said. "If he ever gets a stroke out in front, my money's on him from there on.He bears down."

Picard would win 26 times in his career.

"Sam Snead has the greatest game I've ever seen, and more natural ability," said Heafner. "Some of these days he's going to really burn 'em up. I'm looking for him to score 260 or 265 one of these first tournaments."

Snead, in case you haven't been paying attention, won 82 times.

Heafner said, "Most folks think we play the finest courses in the country, but we usually get the sorriest courses in town because the good 'uns won't let us play there."

The big blond was looking for a job as an assistant pro somewhere. He wanted to learn the business side of the game. That's how it was back then. Pros worked at clubs and were essentially part-time tour players.

Turned out Heafner didn't need a job. He won six PGA Tour events, was twice runner-up in the U.S. Open and played on three Ryder Cup teams and never lost a match. In 1948, he won money in 22 of 24 tournaments and his stroke average of 70.43 was second only to Ben Hogan's in the battle for the Vardon Trophy, emblematic of the tour's best scoring average.

At Heafner's funeral in 1961, a fellow professional looked at the grave and said, "There lies the fellow who brought big-time golf to the Carolinas."

It wasn't easy.