Jesse Haddock led Demon Deacons to three national titles

All these years later, when he’s competing in a tournament and facing a difficult shot, Wilmington pro David Thore recalls the words of his coach at Wake Forest, the legendary Jesse Haddock.

"Trust your swing. Trust your stroke. Trust you’re hitting the right club."

Haddock died Wednesday in Winston-Salem. He was 91.

From 1962 to 1993 - with a two-year hiatus when he departed to coach at Oral Roberts University - Haddock turned the Demon Deacons into a national powerhouse. Building on the foundation laid by Arnold Palmer in the 1950s, Haddock capitalized on a cache of scholarships allowable in an era before the NCAA limited programs to 4.5 per team.

He used them wisely, signing future PGA Tour stars like Lanny Wadkins, Curtis Strange, Jay Haas, Scott Hoch, Billy Andrade, Gary Hallberg and dozens more who played the game at the highest level for a period of time or worked in the industry.

"Coach Jesse Haddock, legendary golf coach at Wake Forest passed this morning," Strange wrote Wednesday on Twitter. "He made a difference in my life and many others. He gave me my greatest gift, an opportunity to play at Wake. RIP my friend."

Thore joined Strange and Haas in the Wake lineup in the mid-1970s, starting alongside them in 1975 when they cemented their claim as the greatest college team in history by winning a second consecutive national championship. The Demon Deacons won 12 of 14 tournaments that season, including a ninth consecutive ACC title and rolled to a 33-shot NCAA win, setting a record that stands today.

"I tell people all the time, he was (acclaimed sports psychologist) Bob Rotella before there was one," Thore said. "Nobody gave him credit for knowing much about the golf swing, but he had such an eye for each player on the team. What he could do if we weren’t playing well, is tell you this is what you’re doing a little different with your ball position, alignment … and more times than not, whatever he told you worked."

Haddock was a tough love, old-school coach who understood how to communicate to each individual but expected them to compete as a team. His players dressed sharp and treated their opponents with respect and understood if they couldn’t be on time, be early.

The players probably learned a colorful word or two in their four years and heard quirky reminders such as "your eyes are bouncing," when they were struggling on the greens.

"He was such a positive person," Thore said. "If you weren’t playing very well, he’d tell you, ‘you’re a great bunker player. If you hit it in the trap, you’re going to get it up-and-down.’ When he met us at the turn he didn’t want to see us walking on our heels with our head down and dragging our bag."

Decades before text messages and constant communication, Haddock had a reliable social network informing him which players might be hanging around with the wrong crowd or slacking off in class. Winston cigarette in hand, coffee in the daytime and scotch at night, Haddock was an institution on and around the Wake campus. He knew everyone, from a restaurant waiter to the school president, and was at ease talking to either.

Jack Nance, the longtime executive director of the Carolinas Golf Association, played for Haddock in the late 70s and early 80s, then spent a year-and-a-half as a unofficial assistant coach. He cherishes those mornings he spent sitting in Haddock’s office, learning and listening to him talk about life and people.   

Nance and his teammates often laughed after exiting one of Haddock’s 30-45 minute team meetings when the coach had rambled on seemingly in 15 different directions.

"But he always had a theme to everything," Nance said. "How he came up with some of these nuances we never knew. But he pieced it all together."

Everything was earned under Haddock’s regime. The team held multi-round qualifiers each spring and fall to determine which five players would travel to compete in the tournaments. After future Tour pros Hoch and Hallberg tied for the last spot in one qualifier, Haddock sent them out to play 18 holes of sudden death on the day the team was to depart. He and the other four Deacons were waiting in the Old Town Club parking lot when the golfers finished. Hoch arrived first.

"What did you shoot, Scott?" Haddock said.

"66"

"All right, well get in the van."

"Well, Gary shot 65," Hoch replied.

"Then, we’ll see you when we get back."

The fierce competition at home led to excellence on the road. Still, the Deacons sweetest victory under Haddock came close to campus at Bermuda Run CC in the 1986 NCAA Championships. Led by Andrade and Len Mattiace, the Deacs stormed from 16 shots back and overtook four teams in the final round to earn the school’s third national championship.

"That one meant a lot to him," Nance said. "Validating him as a golf coach."

A couple of years after he graduated from Wake, Nance was playing in an amateur tournament with a player who had competed against him at a rival school. The player asked Nance, "what did he tell y’all that was different? 

"I can’t explain it," Nance told him. "It’s an art. He was born to be a coach and a leader, knew what buttons to push. You teach that to anybody. He was born with a gift to coach and mold people and wasn’t afraid to do it."

The $4.5 million Haddock House, an elite golf facility for the Wake men’s and women’s golf teams, was dedicated in his honor in 2016. Haddock and his family attended. The Wake legends and alums return semi-annually for a pro-am that raises funds for the programs. Haddock’s wife of 68 years, Kay, was by his side when he passed, according to the Winston-Salem Journal. 

Dear Mr. Fantasy

The PGA Tour heads east across I-4 this week to Orlando for the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Palmer was the first great golfer to play at Wake Forest, of course, and his tournament has re-emerged in recent years as one of the premier events on the circuit, attracting a stellar field in the lead up to Augusta as the modern generation understands the impact Palmer made on golf and people throughout his outstanding life.

In particular, the King’s contributions paved the way for the mammoth purses the modern professionals play for each week. The champion at Bay Hill on Sunday will collect $1.6 million - Palmer earned $1.86 million in his illustrious career, missing only 20 cuts in 478 starts from 1955-1973. Amazing.

Our PGA Tour fantasy squad, Greensky Shortgrass, is looking for four players who can make the cut and cash a large check this week, on the heels of an interesting but not altogether terrible performance last week at the Valspar.

For the first time this season, our team was shorthanded heading into the weekend as three of six roster members missed the 36-hole cut. On the flip side, the trio that played all four rounds, played well. A certain Tiger Woods led the effort with a runner-up finish and he leads the roster at Bay Hill. It’s a no-brainer. He’s only won there eight times, including a remarkable four-in-a-row in the early 2000s.

Marc Leishman, a two-time winner and defending champion, is another obvious selection to slip on the red cardigan sweater as the sun slips behind the grandstands Sunday afternoon. Jason Day has returned to form and we’ll go outside the box somewhat with Tyrrell Hatton, who has a top-five finish at Bay Hill on his resume. Kevin Kisner, who let the tournament slip away late a year ago, and Keegan Bradley, flashing signs he may be returning to form, are waiting on the bench. 

With only three tournaments remaining in this segment of PGA Tour Fantasy Golf, the Greensky Shortgrass boys are bound to ride higher in the standings, but remain stuck in sixth in the Caddyshacks group of 695 participants.