Golfer Dan Sikes: 'Unsung Hero' of U.S. Golf Tours

Dan Sikes was a 6-time winner on the PGA Tour in the 1960s. But his impact on golf was far greater than his tournament successes. Behind the scenes, Sikes helped create the modern PGA Tour and, later, the Champions Tour.

Full name: Daniel David Sikes Jr.

Date of birth: December 7, 1929

Place of birth: Wildwood, Florida

Date and place of death: December 20, 1987 in Jacksonville, Florida

Nickname: Called "Lawyer Dan" by some of his fellow pros, "the Golfing Lawyer" by some in the media during his career.

Sikes' Tour Wins

Dan Sikes is credited with six wins on the PGA Tour: Sikes also won three times on the Champions Tour: (*Sikes tied with Miller Barber — due to poor weather there was no playoff, they were named co-champions)

In the Majors

Sikes never played the British Open, but had Top 10 finishes in each of the other three majors. His first major was the 1962 U.S. Open and his last the 1975 Masters. His best finish was a tie for third at the 1967 PGA Championship, followed by solo fifth at the 1965 Masters. He had five Top 10s total in major championships, the last a tie for sixth at the 1973 PGA Championship.

It is a little ironic that Sikes' best showing was at the 1967 PGA, a tournament that a Sikes-led coalition of top players threatened to boycott (see following section). Sikes was the third-round leader and began the final round with a 2-stroke lead. But he shot 73 in that final round and wound up tied for third with Jack Nicklaus, one stroke out of a playoff.

Sikes' Behind-the-Scene Influence On Tours

Sikes is arguably one of the most-influential tour players in golf history who was never a major star and that most fans today have never heard of. He played key roles in leading tour players away from the PGA of America and into the formation of the modern PGA Tour, and in creating the Champions Tour.

Sikes' potential for leadership was recognized early by his peers on tour when, in 1963, just his third year on tour, he was voted onto the Tournament Players' Committee. At the time, the tour was part of the PGA of America, and the Tournament Players' Committee was one of the only ways the golfers had input into tour operations.

His peers were impressed with Sikes' legal background as well as his willingness to commit to something he believed in. (In the early 1960s, Sikes defied the segregation laws then in place in his hometown of Jacksonville's golf scene by showing up to a local golf course with African-American pros Ted Rhodes and Pete Brown and daring the course to stop him from playing with his friends.)

By 1967, Sikes had become chairman of and spokesman for the committee, as tour players' grievances with the PGA of America grew. The PGA, at that time, treated tour players the same as it treated club pros: They were required to, for example, attend business classes on running pro shops and acquire certifications as club pros. The tour players wanted to simply play tournaments and operate as independent contractors. They also wanted a hand in which tournaments joined the tour and how they operated, and a bigger share of television money.

When the PGA of America nixed a potential Frank Sinatra-hosted, high-dollar tournament, tour players had enough. Sikes led them (with Arnold Palmer's and Jack Nicklaus' support) in threatening to boycott the 1967 PGA Championship if their complaints weren't addressed.

Only a couple weeks before the tournament, the PGA gave in on several points. In 1968, the players were able to create the Tournament Players Division, an automonous organization. With Sikes pushing all along the way, the Tournament Players Division became the PGA Tour in 1975.

Eulogizing Sikes at his funeral, 1968 Masters champion Bob Goalby said of the players' breakaway from the PGA to govern themselves, "It never would have happened without Dan ramrodding it. With his law degree, he was smarter than the rest of us. He helped get the regular tour off the ground."

Sikes later served on the new PGA Tour's Tournament Policy Board. In 1980, Sikes helped create another tour, the Champions Tour. The senior circuit came into being at a meeting on Jan. 16, 1980, attended by Gardner Dickinson, Sam Snead, Julius Boros, Don January, Goalby and Sikes.

Sikes, in the early 1970s, had also taken up the cause of PGA Tour caddies, helping improve working conditions and opening up more opportunities for them.

At Sikes' funeral, Goalby explained:

"He was the impetus behind both (the PGA Tour and Champions Tour). He loved the game of golf and gave himself to it. He was an unsung hero."

More About Dan Sikes

Sikes had a temper on the golf course and could be a prickly character off it — but he was loyal, friendly and interesting to those he let into his circle. Sikes was once described by the Jacksonville newspaper as "abrasive and kind, guarded and gentle, aloof and interesting," and, the paper noted, Sikes "was frequently betrayed by a balky putting stroke."

As a golfer, Sikes' strength was his driver. Peter Alliss wrote of him, "Sikes favored low, drawn shots, and was both a long and a consistent player, having a pause at the top of his swing." That pause at the top of his swing is something that really stood out about his game.

Sikes' pause was "followed by strong action from his long legs, to hit one towering draw after another off the tee, followed by lasered iron shots," according to the Jacksonville newspaper.

"One of the greatest compliments I heard was when Jack Nicklaus called (Sikes) one of the best drivers that he'd ever seen. From a physical standpoint, what I remember from the times we played is his tee shots were long and straight. He was also a fierce competitor. He hated to lose and just never quit on a round." — PGA Tour player and Jacksonville native Mark McCumber

Sikes played college golf at the University of Florida from 1951-53, in 1953 becoming the school's first All-American in the sport. That same year he received entry into the PGA Tour Jacksonville Open, his first appearance on the tour. Sikes graduated with a degree in business administration.

He then spent several years in the United States Army, and won the 1955 All-Army Championship golf tournament. After getting out of the military, Sikes entered Florida's College of Law. While in law school, he won the 1958 U.S. Amateur Public Links, a USGA championship.

He got his law degree in 1960, but decided he had a greater potential to earn more money, more quickly, playing golf. Sikes turned pro that year and his rookie year on the PGA Tour was 1961.

Sikes' first brush with PGA Tour victory was at 1962 Houston Classic, where he played an 18-hole playoff against Jack Nicklaus and Bobby Nichols. Nicklaus was eliminated after 18, but Sikes and Nichols were still tied. Nichols beat Sikes on the 19th hole.

It was only one more year until victory No. 1 arrived, however: Sikes beat Sam Snead by one stroke to win that 1963 Doral Open. The next year Sikes was runner-up to Pete Brown in the Waco Turner Open, the tournament in which Brown became the first African-American golfer to win an official-money PGA Tour event.

The year 1967 was Sikes' best: He had two wins (including his hometown Jacksonville Open), was third at the PGA Championship, and had two runner-up finishes (including to Nicklaus at the Westchester Classic). He was a career-best fifth on the money list.

Sikes finished in the Top 60 on the money list (the threshold at the time for avoiding Monday qualifying) from 1962-71 plus 1973. He was eighth in 1968, and had Top 20 money-list finishes in 1965 and 1969. Also in 1969, he was part of Team USA in the Ryder Cup.

Sikes didn't win after 1968, but lost a playoff to Lanny Wadkins at the 1973 Byron Nelson Golf Classic, and posted his final runner-up finish in 1974. For his PGA Tour career, Sikes made the cut in 367 of 422 tournaments played, had 12 second-place and nine third-place showings, and 94 Top 10 finishes. His final appearance in a PGA Tour tournament was at the 1981 Bay Hill Classic.

After helping create the Champions Tour, Sikes spent several years among its better players. He finished in the Top 10 on the senior money list from 1981-85, winning three times. In all, Sikes made 82 senior tour starts, finished in the Top 10 38 times, and was runner-up six times.

He played three Champions Tour events in 1987, the last at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, before health problems forced him to stop. Years of heavy drinking took their toll (despite friends and family staging two interventions).

In December of 1987, Sikes was experiencing stomach pain. He was admitted to a Jacksonville hospital, where doctors discovered internal bleeding. Emergency surgery was performed, but Sikes slipped into a coma. He died two days later, only 58 years old.

Sikes is a member of the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame and of the Jacksonville Sports Hall of Fame.

Popular posts from this blog