I write this blog with a very heavy heart due to the loss of my father, best friend, and mentor. On September 12th at 2:50 p.m., Hugh Royer, Jr. passed just 8 days after we learned he had cancer. At his memorial service, the realization of how many lives my father influenced in his career hit me like a ton of bricks. To see 300+ people from all over the state of Georgia come to St. Paul United Methodist church in Columbus on a Tuesday afternoon confirmed the kind of person my father really was. The following article was written and published in the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer by Mr. Guerry Clegg, it’s longtime independent sports writer:
Hugh Royer III had just lapped the field in the 1986 Southeasten Amateur, finishing at 20-under par — still the tournament record — to beat Allen Doyle by five strokes. Amid the congratulations off the 18th green at the Country Club of Columbus, “Little Hugh” was greeted by his dad.
“If you hadn’t double-bogeyed 14, you’d have had a good tournament,” Hugh Royer Jr. told his son.
At the time, Little Hugh probably just shook his head and thought, “Whatever.” Now, at 50 years old and himself a golf instructor, he recalls such stories with fondness. Such stories have been the coping mechanism for the Royer family, as they remembered Pro Royer, who died Friday only weeks after being diagnosed with lung, bone and lymph node cancer.
Little Hugh heard his dad’s words. But he also knew what his dad was really trying to say. And that was …
“I’m mighty proud of you, son. I love you.”
But that wasn’t Hugh Royer’s way.
“He was harsh,” Little Hugh said. “I loved him to death. He was my hero. But if my dad wasn’t messing with you, then he didn’t care about you. He was always giving you a jab. Sometimes it came off wrong. But I saw that man literally give the shirt off his back to help somebody get by. He was always helping people, giving them clubs or shoes or something, and they never knew where it came from.”
Royer was a skillful player, surviving 14 years on the PGA Tour, mostly on the strength of his putting. Even in his last years, when he needed a scooter to get around, a friend took him to a green. Royer dropped a ball down on the green and drained a putt from 25 feet. The biggest putt of his career came on the 15th hole in the final round of the 1970 Western Open. Royer had a testy eight-footer to maintain his one-shot lead over Dale Douglass. He made it, and three holes later wrapped up his only PGA Tour victory.
Royer also won five other minor pro events, including the 1959 St. Charles Open in his first pro event. He made the cut in four majors — twice each in the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship. He won three Georgia PGA tournaments and the 1968 Georgia Open.
But it was as a teaching pro after his playing career that Royer made his mark. Countless players in Columbus in the ’70s and ’80s turned to Pro Royer for help.
With Earl Bagley serving as the official head coach and Royer as the swing coach, Columbus State developed something of a Division II golf dynasty. They won five national championships from 1978 through ’97. They finished in the top three 16 of 21 seasons. Royer’s credibility around the state helped the Cougars find and recruit players.
“He was a wonderful teacher,” said Bagley. “He knew as much about the golf swing as anyone can imagine. His greatest strength was working with really good players. Most of them had small things that a lot of teachers didn’t pick up on. He had an eye for it.”
What Royer didn’t do was spare anyone’s feelings. Some who didn’t know him mistook this for arrogance. But those who knew him understood he that he cared deeply about helping players, especially juniors. He had thousands of little sayings, such as:
“If I tell you a grasshopper can pull a plow, you better go hitch his butt up.”
“He dresses like Doug Sanders, but plays like Colonel Sanders.”
“It doesn’t take long to warm up a Rolls Royce.”
“You might not like what he had to say. But he was rarely wrong,” Little Hugh said.
“He didn’t sugar coat it,” said Jenny Holder, who learned under him and later worked with him at Bull Creek.
“He was tough on all of us,” said Tra Dykes, his nephew who later played for him at Columbus College. “But he was tough on us because he cared. It took a little maturity to understand that. He rode our fannies. If we were sitting on our butts, then he was on us.”
Royer was demanding, yes, but never overbearing.
“You never really got a pat on the back,” Dykes said. “But when you played bad, he never beat you up.”
Royer’s legacy was the success of his players — Johnny Hammond, Wright Waddell, Ricky Smallridge, Mike Miller to name the most prominent.
“He was who you went to see if you were trying to get better,” said Stan Copelan. “After you worked with him, you always thought you were better and felt you would play better the next round.”
“He was the Pro. You were going to learn what he had to say. He was going to take care of you.”
— Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
I played professional golf and worked hard to get to the PGA Tour to follow in my father’s footsteps. Little did I realize, at the age of 50, I would be following in his footsteps as a golf instructor. It is my only hope that I can teach as well as he did, influence so many lives, and carry on his legacy.
CHEERS TO THE LEGEND!