Even before R.H. Sikes won twice on the PGA Tour, the unassuming golfer from Springdale had a glittering amateur career that included the 1963 individual championship for the University of Arkansas.
Sikes won that title at Wichita Country Club but had to travel farther to win the 1961 U.S. Amateur Public Links at Rackham Golf Course in Detroit and the 1962 “Publinks” at Sheridan Park in Towanda, N.Y.
Bobby Baker, who played for Arkansas from 1974-78, later reached the “Publinks” semifinals himself at Portland, Ore., in 1980.
“There was a guy there named Bob Dwyer from the USGA Executive Committee, and when he saw I was from Arkansas he asked if I knew R.H. Sikes,” Baker said. “Well, I had seen R.H. play an exhibition at Rosswood Country Club in Pine Bluff with Doug Sanders, Frank Broyles and Darrell Royal when I was 11 years old.”
Dwyer and his wife took Baker and Jack O’Keefe of Arkansas out to a salmon dinner in Portland for old times’ sake.
“Mr. Dwyer said R.H. had gone up to his wife after one of his ‘Publinks’ rounds and asked, ‘Ma’am, are y’all fixing to eat?’” Baker said. “They had never heard anyone use the word ‘fixing’ like that. So they took him out to eat.”
The slender Sikes, of modest means, had a part-time job bagging groceries at Fairway in Fayetteville. He carried his own golf bag all six matches in Detroit, where he became only the third golfer to win both the qualifying medal (70-65—135) and the match play title. In the semifinals he beat John Schlee, who later was runner-up to Johnny Miller in the 1973 U.S. Open.
Also in 1961, Sikes reached the fifth round of the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach, Calif. He repeated that accomplishment in 1962, losing in the fifth round to eventual champion Labron Harris Jr.of Oklahoma State in 21 holes at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina.
Sikes later played an exhibition match with Harris at Springdale Country Club, where R.H. had honed his remarkable chipping and putting skills as a youngster.
Bill Agler, longtime pro at Fayetteville Country Club, recalled, “There was a sign at SCC when Highway 71 was two lanes: ‘Home of R.H. Sikes.’ I just know that R.H. and his brother L.C. were always very nice, low-key guys.”
Golfers at SCC, including Sikes’ older brother J.D. and younger brothers L.C. and Danny, became even prouder when R.H. won the 1963 NCAA title and then reached the finals of the U.S. Amateur at Wakonda Club in Des Moines, Iowa, that summer, leading future PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman 3-up before losing the 36-hole final 2 and 1.
Richard Crawford of El Dorado, taught by Hogan Rountree, had won the 1959 and ’60 NCAA titles for Houston, followed by Jack Nicklaus of Ohio State in 1961 and Kermit Zarley of Houston in 1962.
Don Rountree, Hogan’s son who is the pro at Prairie Creek Country Club in Rogers, said, “R.H. is the best putter I ever saw in person. He would plumb-bob. It was phenomenal. He won the Oil Belt at El Dorado Country Club three times, and he used to make one 12-footer after another on a slope of the practice green there. And there was no comparison to how good the greens are today.”
Sikes was named Putter of the Year and PGA Tour Rookie of the Year by Golf Digest in 1964, the year he won the Sahara Invitational in Las Vegas. He added the Cleveland Open title in 1966 at age 26, gaining the sponsorship of Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell.
In 1969, Sikes tied for first over 72 holes in the IVB Classic in Philadelphia, but Dave Hill won the playoff.
Though he never smoked, Sikes has a lung condition at 79 that makes conversing difficult, but many of his admirers were eager to talk on his behalf for this story.
Baker said about the 1967 exhibition in Pine Bluff, “R.H. striped the ball down the middle, hit the greens and shot an easy 68. Sanders shot a 72. Doug wore orange and gave a pair of orange patent-leather shoes to Royal after the first nine, then changed to a green outfit and shoes. R.H. wore a gold shirt with gold and black shoes. He outplayed Doug and out-dressed him.”
Sikes became good friends with Tom Weiskopf and Bert Yancey on tour and partnered with Homero Blancas to win a match in the CBS Golf Classic, sinking a 20-foot birdie putt on the last hole. Arnold Palmer flew his plane to pick up Sikes for an exhibition in Springfield, Mo.
But R.H. never forgot his roots.
Longtime SCC member Hickory Morton said recently, “I used to work in radio and TV repair, and I worked on R.H.’s mother’s TV but only charged her for parts. Well, when R.H. would come home from the tour he’d give me three or four dozen Titleists and four or five gloves. We wore the same size glove. He took care of me. He also gave me a lot of instruction on putting.”
Morton, 89, recalled, “I remember reading in Golf Magazine that when R.H. had won $475,000 he was 19th in all-time money winnings at that time. I used to watch him hit 100 practice balls with a 5-iron, and you could cover them all with a bedsheet. He had good, soft hands.”
The late Wayne Meeks, pro for years at Hardscrabble Country Club in Fort Smith, once said to Don Rountree, “If Bobby Locke was the best putter of all time, R.H. had to be second.”
This reporter, not long after taking up golf in 1956 at SCC, saw R.H.’s short-game prowess up close. On the old par-4 first hole, which no longer exists, Sikes hit a chip shot from behind the green that skidded with every little bounce to a stop beside the hole. Then he walked confidently to the next tee and bombed a drive long and straight. My dad; my uncle Richard Grant of Arlington, Va.; and I became R.H. fans for life.
Longtime SCC member Jarrell Williams, who played football at Arkansas while Sikes was at the UA, once sneaked onto SCC at the second tee to fulfill a golf class taught by then UA track coach Ab Bidwell.
“I signed Tex Gage’s name on it,” Williams recalled. “He was the pro at SCC. Coach Bidwell gave me a bad grade. Tex knew we were sneaking on.”
Williams, a football coaching legend for his Springdale High teams, became good enough at golf that he won the Chick-A-Tee Invitational at SCC, a historic tournament that Sikes had won with three 63s when it was called the Rodeo of the Ozarks.
But Williams said recently, between practice shots at SCC, “I knew I would never be a golfer when I played the old eighth hole with R.H. one time. It was a par 3, about 180 yards, toward the old highway. R.H. said, ‘See that leaf on the green? I’m going to cut this shot off that leaf.’ His ball landed about an inch from the leaf and bit right there. I just shook my head.”
Jim McCord of Fayetteville, a former high school state golf champion who played for Arkansas from 1964-68, said, “R.H. is the only golfer I know who could duck-hook a wedge shot around a tree on command. He had that loop in his swing, but I played with him all three days when he shot those 63s at SCC. I shot 70 each day, and it felt like 90. He was such a nice guy, a gentleman.”
Sikes’ college coach, Ellis Bogan, was the pro at FCC when Arkansas played Southwest Conference matches there. Bogan established Paradise Valley Athletic Club in Fayetteville in 1967, and Sikes often visited him when he returned to Northwest Arkansas from the tour.
Gage, by that time a regular at PVAC, told friends that R.H. began to struggle on tour after trying to gain distance off the tee. Also, Palmer once playfully said to Sikes, “I see you’ve finally learned how to miss a five-foot putt.”
Sikes also had a painful bone growth on his wrist. He read inspirational books and received tips from Nicklaus about concentration — things he said Nicklaus never revealed publicly.
But the late Bo Baumeister, a former UA golf stalwart, once told Agler, “R.H. said he wasn’t going back to the tour until he could hit the ball the way he wanted again.”
Sikes had some success on the Japanese golf tour and learned the language well enough that he conducted some tours for Japanese players in the United States, including at Augusta National Golf Club, where R.H. had played in seven Masters.
R.H. enjoyed taking his daughter Angie, who lives in Fayetteville, to the Masters. He sometimes sold classic golf clubs on Washington Road, a few blocks from where John Daly annually hawks his golfing wares from his RV during Masters week.
Sikes, like Palmer, often tweaked his own clubs.
Rountree, 71, remembered, “R.H. carried a Wilson 8802 putter, but one time at El Dorado he came in with a Spalding Cash-In putter with a crook in it, and he put a round grip on it. He had the most beautiful grip you ever saw. He put both putters in his bag, and he would use the 8802 for certain distances and the Cash-In for other distances. Golf Digest did a story on his technique.”
Crawford’s ball-striking was the best he ever saw, Rountree said, but Sikes’ was great in his heyday also.
“R.H. could hit 75 to 100 balls in a small circle,” Rountree said, echoing Morton and Williams.
Baker is happy his family made the short drive from Fordyce to Pine Bluff to see Sikes at Rosswood, which no longer exists.
“Before that match, R.H. and Doug hit these practice balls that almost collided in mid-air,” Baker said. (Palmer and Nicklaus actually pulled that off once.) “I had this Instamatic camera. Darrell Royal saw me and had someone take our picture together. I still have it. Scorecards, too.”
Royal edged Broyles, both shooting in the mid-70s. Broyles later played an exhibition at Bella Vista Country Club with Sikes, Hogan Rountree and Bogan.
In 1972, when PVAC played host to the SWC Golf Tournament won by Ben Crenshaw of Texas, Sikes was an interested spectator.
Hearing that Crenshaw had made a double-bogey on the old second hole, R.H. kidded the future two-time Masters champion, “I hear you had stump trouble.”
Crenshaw atoned with two eagles at No. 17 on the same day, shooting 6-under-par 207 in the 54-hole event. Afterward, Crenshaw chatted with Sikes about whether he should turn pro after his junior year. Crenshaw did a few weeks later, after winning his third NCAA individual title, this one shared with teammate Tom Kite.
Sikes’ NCAA title was Arkansas’s first — before Broyles’ 1964 football ascent, John McDonnell’s 40 track or cross country titles, Nolan Richardson’s 1994 basketball championship, Pat Serret’s and Peter Doohan’s NCAA tennis doubles crown, Lance Harter’s and Chris Bucknam’s track titles and Stacy Lewis’ women’s golf title.
As Sikes would say, UA golf is “fixing” to try to add to the total at The Blessings.
Print Headline: Sikes is an Arkansas golfing legend for good reason