R.H. Sikes, first Razorback to win NCAA title, dies at 83

R.H. Sikes tees off at the Springdale Country Club in this file photo from the 1960s.

R.H. Sikes, the first University of Arkansas athlete to win a national title, died Thursday at the age of 83.

Sikes, of Springdale, won the 1963 NCAA individual golf championship at Wichita (Kan.) Country Club and in 1964 embarked on a PGA Tour career that featured two victories.

An outstanding putter, Sikes won the 1961 U.S. Amateur Public Links title at Detroit, carrying his own golf bag in all six matches. He repeated that title at Towanda, N.Y., in 1962, again carrying his own clubs.

Sikes was runner-up to Deane Beman at the 1963 U.S. Amateur.

Born Richard Horace Sikes in Paris on March 6, 1940, Sikes learned to play golf at Springdale Country Club, where his older brother J.D. Sikes and younger brothers L.C. Sikes and Danny Sikes also played.

Sikes played in 17 major championships from 1962-71, including 7 Masters Tournaments — 3 as an amateur and 4 as a professional.

He won the 1964 Sahara Invitational at Las Vegas, where Jack Nicklaus was the runner-up.

Later that year, Sikes was named Putter of the Year and PGA Tour Rookie of the Year by Golf Digest.

In 1966, Sikes won the Cleveland Open with a total of 16-under 268, thereby gaining the sponsorship of Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell.

Three years later at age 29, Sikes finished tied for first place in the IVB Classic at Philadelphia, but Dave Hill won the playoff.

Sikes played the PGA Senior Tour from 1990-92. He also played and promoted golf in Japan, and coached the UCLA women’s golf team. He enjoyed attending the Masters Tournament with his daughter, Angie.

“He was a phenomenal dad,” Angie Sikes said.

Sikes tied for fifth place in the 1965 PGA Championship and tied for 14th in the 1967 PGA. He was 12th in the 1966 British Open at Muirfield Golf Club.

Despite a lung condition that made speaking difficult, Sikes attended the 2019 NCAA Golf Championships at the Blessings Golf Club in Johnson.

He recalled a lunch conversation he had with Ben Hogan at the 1966 Colonial Invitational at Fort Worth.

“I told Mr. Hogan I was having trouble hitting my 6-iron,” Sikes said. “He said, ‘R.H., you can’t hit any of your clubs.’ ”

An understandably motivated Sikes got up from the table and spent the rest of the tournament run-up at the practice range.

“I finished second that week,” Sikes said, grinning.

His total of 281 was one stroke higher than that of the Colonial winner Bruce Devlin.

“I once read in Golf magazine that when R.H. had won $475,000 he was 19th in all-time PGA Tour winnings,” said Hickory Morton, 93, a longtime Springdale Country Club member. “I used to watch him hit 100 practice balls with a 5-iron and you could cover them all with a bedsheet.”

The late Wayne Meeks, the pro for years at Hardscrabble Country Club in Fort Smith, once said, “If Bobby Locke was the best putter of all time, R.H. had to be second.”