Clayton Heafner: Golfer Won on Tour, Renowned for Temper

golfer Clayton Heafner tees off circa 1942

Clayton Heafner was a PGA Tour player from the late 1930s into the early 1950s. A four-time winner on tour, he twice came close in U.S. Opens before settling for second. Many stories are told about his on-course temper. One of Heafner's sons also was a PGA Tour winner.

Full name: Clayton Vance Heafner

Date of birth: July 20, 1914

Place of birth: Charlotte, North Carolina

Date and place of death: December 31, 1960, in Charlotte, North Carolina

Nicknames: Clay, The Colonel, The Candy Kid (because he once worked in a candy factory)

His Biggest Wins

Heafner is credited with four official victories on the PGA Tour:
  • 1941 Mahoning Open
  • 1942 Mahoning Valley Open
  • 1947 Jacksonville Open
  • 1948 Colonial Invitational
He also won several other tournaments, including three run by the Carolinas Section of the PGA of America:
  • 1939 Carolinas Open
  • 1940 Mid-South Better-Ball Championship (partnered by Ed Oliver)
  • 1950 Carolinas PGA Championship
  • 1953 Carolinas Open

In the Majors

Clayton Heafner never won a major championship, but twice he came close in the U.S. Open: He had two runner-up finishes.

Heafner tied Sam Snead for second place in the 1949 U.S. Open, one stroke behind the winner, Cary Middlecoff. Heafner entered the third round tied for fourth, three off Middlecoff's lead. But Heafner scored 73 in the final round to Middlecoff's 75 (Snead had a 70) to finish at 287 to Middlecoff's 286.

Heafner and Middlecoff played the final round together in 1949, and Heafner had the lead after their 11th hole. But he double-bogeyed the 12th hole. Heafner climbed back into a tie for the lead with a birdie on the 13th, but followed that with a bogey on the 14th. He finally had a 6-foot birdie attempt on the final hole to force a playoff, but missed.

In the 1951 U.S. Open, Heafner finished solo second, two strokes behind champion Ben Hogan. Heafner was tied for fifth place (so was Hogan), two behind the leaders, following the third round. In the final round, Heafner had one of the best scores of the day, a 69. Unfortunately for Heafner, Hogan had the best score of the entire tournament in the final round, a 67. Hogan finished on 287, Heafner on 289.

Those were two of six career Top 10 finishes in majors by Heafner. He tied for fifth (by losing in the match-play quarterfinals) in the 1949 PGA Championship. He tied for seventh in The Masters in 1946 and 1950, and tied for eighth in the 1949 Masters.

Heafner's first appearance in a major was in the 1939 U.S. Open, in which he finished 16th. His 66 in the third round was the lowest score of the tournament that year. Heafner's final start in a major was the 1953 U.S. Open, in which he finished 26th. Heafner never played in the British Open.

More About Clayton Heafner

There are many stories told about Clayton Heafner's temper. Probably the best-known is the one about how he walked off the first tee in a tournament angry over something the first-tee announcer said. He threw his clubs in his car and started the drive to the next week's tournament. But the accounts differ over the cause. In some versions, the announcer mispronounced Heafner's last name (saying "Heefner" rather than "Heffner"). In another, the announcer referenced the fact that Heafner had once climbed a tree to play his ball out of the branches, and Heafner retorted, "Well, I won't give myself the opportunity this week," and was gone.

He was a big man for his time in golf, 6-foot-2 and around 230 pounds. Perhaps the reddish-blonde hair on his head helped feed the stories about his temper, given certain "hotheaded" stereotypes about gingers.

According to the 1975 The Encyclopedia of Golf, "Heafner was once described as the angriest man in golf." After one poor round, he allegedly used one of his clubs to shatter the windows of his car. He is alleged to have run into crowds to confront hecklers on more than one occasion. He broke clubs in anger or frustration during rounds. He was once suspended by the USGA for bad behavior, but reinstated after writing a letter of apology.

These stories and others like them have often led Heafner to be referred to as "fiery" and a "fierce competitor." Arguably, he had the most famous temper on the tour before the emergence in the 1950s of "Terrible" Tommy Bolt. But Heafner was popular enough with his fellow pros that he was voted onto the PGA's Tournament Committee.

Once, when asked about Heafner's "ill-temperedness," Jimmy Demaret joked that Heafner was:

" ...(T)he most even-tempered man I know: He's mad all the time."
It was in the late 1930s that Charlie Sifford, then a teen-ager but later the first African-American to receive PGA Tour membership and a Hall of Famer, began caddying for Heafner. Sifford once told Golf Digest that "more than once (Heafner) fired me on the front nine and rehired me on the back nine."

"Now, Heafner was a big man and had a temper, too," Sifford related decades later. "... one day I made the mistake of playing him for $2, which was more money than I had in my pocket. When he closed me out and I told him I didn't have the $2, he picked me up and in front of all these people, carried me over to a water hazard, and threw me in. Splash! Talk about embarrassing — I never played for more money than I had in my pocket again."

Heafner started making appearances on the PGA Tour in the late 1930s, beginning with four starts in 1938. He had his first runner-up finish (to Ralph Guldahl) in the 1939 Greater Greensboro Open. That was the first of multiple times Heafner was denied victories by superstars and future Hall of Famers: He was second to Byron Nelson in the 1940 Miami Open and 1942 Tam O'Shanter National Open; to Lawson Little in the 1940 Los Angeles Open; and to Sam Snead in the 1941 North and South Open. At that 1942 Tam O'Shanter, Heafner lost an 18-hole playoff to Nelson, 71 to 67.

But Heafner got his first pro win in 1939 in the non-Tour Carolinas Open, followed by PGA Tour victories in the Mahoning Valley Open in back-to-back years, 1941-42.

Heafner served in the U.S. Army from 1943-45, but after World War II, as the PGA Tour got back to full strength, his appearances on the leaderboard kept coming.

At the 1947 Jacksonville Open, Worsham was ahead by one stroke with a putt to win on the final green. But at address he noticed a slight movement of his golf ball. Heafner called a penalty on himself, which dropped him into a tie with Lew Worsham. Their 18-hole playoff ended with them still tied, so they continued into sudden-death holes. Finally, Heafner prevailed on the third hole, the 21st-overall playoff hole.

His biggest win was the 1948 Colonial National Invitation, which he won by six strokes over runners-up Ben Hogan and Skip Alexander. Heafner capped off that victory by making a 90-foot putt on the last green.

Heafner didn't win again on the PGA Tour after that, although he had some Carolinas PGA wins left. But he did make two Ryder Cups after that last PGA Tour victory, and was unbeaten in four matches.

In the 1949 Ryder Cup, Heafner partnered Demaret in foursomes in a 4-and-3 victory over Charlie Ward/Sam King. In singles, Heafner beat Dick Burton, 3 and 2.

In the 1951 Ryder Cup, Heafner and Jack Burke Jr. won their foursomes match over Max Faulkner/Dai Rees. In singles, Heafner halved with Fred Daly. Heafner led that 36-hole match, 3-up at the 18-hole mark. But Daly clawed back to reach 1-down with one hole left. On the final green of the match, Daly laid a stymie that Heafner wasn't able to overcome, and Daly won the hole to tie the match. The stymie was abolished from golf just six weeks later, and some sources claim this was the last-recorded stymie in a major golf competition.

After making just seven starts in the 1953 PGA Tour season, Heafner retired from tour play. He never played in another tournament event.

Heafner's official career stats suggest that his win total of four doesn't properly indicate his talent. He made 198 starts on tour and finished in the Top 10 in more than half (100) of them. Heafner also had 13 runner-up finishes and 13 third-place showings, with 49 total Top 5s.

His best finish on the year-end money list was ninth, which he achieved in both 1948 and 1951.

Late in 1951, Heafner bought the Eastwood Golf Club in his hometown of Charlotte, N.C. When he retired from the tour, he focused on running the club full-time — and he made more money doing that than he had playing the tour.

But the day after Christmas in 1960, Heafner suffered a heart attack. He died less than a week later, only 46 years old.

The Heafner family, which included three children by that time, continued to run Eastwood Golf Club for many years. One of his sons was Clayton Vance Heafner Jr., known to everyone as Vance Heafner. Vance became a PGA Tour player himself, with one victory on tour in 1981. That makes the Heafners (as of this writing) one of 10 father-son pairs in golf history to both record PGA Tour victories.

Clayton Heafner is a member of the Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame, North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, and Greater Charlotte Sports Hall of Fame.

(Book titles are affiliate links; commissions earned)
Alliss, Peter. The Who's Who of Golf, 1983, Orbis Publishing.
Associated Press. "Clayton Heafner, Golfer, Dies," New York Times, January 1, 1961,
Brenner, Morgan. The Majors of Golf, Volume 2, 2009, McFarland and Company.
Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame. Members, Clayton Heafner,
Conner, Floyd. Golf's Most Wanted, 2001, Brassey's Inc.
Elliott, Len, and Kelly, Barbara. Who's Who in Golf, 1976, Arlington House Publishers.
Graffis, Herb. "Swinging Around Golf," Golfdom, Jan. 3, 1952,
North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. Hall of Famers, Clayton Heafner,
Pace, Lee. "100 Years of the CPGA," Carolinas PGA, Players, Clayton Heafner,
Scharff, Robert. Golf Magazine's The Encyclopedia of Golf, 1970, Harper and Row.
Sommers, Robert T. Golf Anecdotes, 1995, Oxford University Press.
Steel, Donald, and Ryde, Peter. The Encyclopedia of Golf, 1975, The Viking Press.
Yocum, Guy. "My Shot: Dr. Charlie Sifford," Golf Digest, Aug. 6, 2007,

Popular posts from this blog

Ryder Cup Captains: The Full List