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Richard Sykes Remembered for Storied Coaching Career

Longtime golf coach Richard Sykes, a five-time ACC Coach of the Year and member of the Golf Coaches Hall of Fame, died Sunday.

Richard Sykes standing next to a golf cart.
Richard Sykes is remembered as a legend in the golf world.

To hear Richard Sykes tell it, his promotion to NC State men’s golf coach in the fall of 1971 was just a bit of happenstance.

Sykes, a 1968 NC State graduate with a degree in recreation and parks administration, was a 26-year-old volunteer assistant for head golf coach and football defensive coordinator Al Michaels, while also serving as the assistant pro at the Raleigh Golf Association near NC State’s campus.

When head football coach Earle Edwards unexpectedly retired not long before the start of the 1971 season, Michaels was elevated to interim football coach. He stepped down as golf coach and Sykes took over, becoming the youngest head coach in school and Atlantic Coast Conference athletics history.

“That was the big interview process I went through to become the head coach,” Sykes said in 2017. “I happened to be standing there when they needed somebody.

“We all thought it would be a one-semester thing and it turned into a lifetime job.”

Sykes spent a total of 46 well-decorated years as the leader of the Wolfpack before he retired following the 2017 spring season. Sunday morning, the longest-serving coach in any sport in NC State athletics history died at his home in Wendell, North Carolina, not long after returning from the Wolfpack’s home football victory over Connecticut. He was 78.

During his coaching career, Sykes led the Wolfpack to its only ACC championship in 1990, 12 NCAA championship appearances and 24 NCAA regional appearances. He coached 49 All-ACC golfers, 34 All-Americans, six ACC individual champions, two ACC Players of the Year, and 2009 NCAA individual champion Matt Hill.

Sykes was a five-time ACC Coach of the Year and, in 2001, he was elected into the Golf Coaches Hall of Fame.

“He was among the very best at getting someone to smile,” current men’s golf coach Press McPhaul said. “It’s an understatement to say he’s going to be missed.”

Sykes was well known throughout the golf world, not just by his own players, primarily because of his affable personality and unique story-telling abilities.

“He was such a good person and a great coach to all of us who played for him,” said former PGA Tour professional Carl Pettersson. “I couldn’t tell you how many guys over the years have come up to me and said they wished they had played for Coach Sykes.

“He will be missed by so many. He was a legend in the golf world.”

Pettersson, a native of Gothenburg, Sweden, who attended high school in Greensboro, was one of many professional players who played for Sykes at NC State. Others included Tim Clark, Marc Turnesa, Garth Mulroy, Hank Kim, Jeff Lankford, Kelly Mitchum, Vance Heafner, Justin Walters, Matt Hill and Albin Choi.

For years, Sykes was the director of game-day operations for Reynolds Coliseum, a side job that put him on the sidelines for regular-season and post-season basketball games played at the on-campus arena. A lifelong fan of basketball, he attended the late Everett Case’s famed basketball school at Fairgrounds (Dorton) Arena as a child and was acquainted with every Wolfpack basketball coach from Case forward.

“Coach Sykes was much more than our head men’s golf coach,” said NC State Director of Athletics Boo Corrigan. “He was a passionate leader, educator and builder of young men. He had an infectious personality and I don’t know of anybody that spent time with Coach Sykes who didn’t leave with a good story.”

After leading his program for four decades without a home course, Sykes was instrumental in raising funds and awareness for the Lonnie Poole Golf Course, an Arnold Palmer Design Company course on Centennial Campus.