Roy Pace made mark on PGA Tour on way to LA Tech Athletic Hall of Fame
by Nico Van Thyn
Roy Pace played on the PGA Tour for 10 years and the experiences — getting to play alongside Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and others, and sometimes posting better scores than them — were memorable.
His pro career is one reason he is going to be inducted into the Louisiana Tech Athletic Hall of Fame. So is his spectacular record as a Tech golfer from 1960 to 1963.
Add his lifelong dedication to the game — as a player, club pro and instructor — and Pace is in an exclusive category at Tech.
He is fittingly, some six decades after he was a three-time individual conference champion and leader of four consecutive team championship teams, the first golfer chosen for this Hall of Fame.
No golfer from Tech played nearly as long on the PGA Tour. His success and money winnings were moderate — one Tour victory, 15 top-10 finishes, 225 tournaments (163 made cuts), playing in five U.S. Opens and one U.S. Senior Open — but he found his career path.
Now 80, he has been a teaching PGA pro for 45 years, and found his target audience as an instructor in Texas, Connecticut and Florida.
This is the latest honor in a life and career full of them, including induction in the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame and a decade (2004-13) as recognition by Golf Range Magazine as one of the top 50 instructors in the country.
To this day, he is giving golf lessons — with an emphasis, as he has for years, on young players — in and around Longview, Texas, his hometown, where he operated several golf venues. He and wife Sandy live in nearby Hallsville.
For almost two decades, he co-owned and directed the Alpine Target Golf Center, located just across the street from where he first learned the game at old Alpine Golf Club.
A few years ago, Pace — in a video — said, “I still have a strong passion for teaching, whether it is a beginner or scratch player or a Tour player. I enjoy the challenge of trying to improve their golf game.”
A December 1963 graduate of Tech as a mechanical engineering major, his life major is golf.
He was the star player in an era when Tech won 10 Gulf States Conference titles in 12 years (1953-64). Pace was the individual conference champion as a freshman in 1960, junior in 1962 and senior in 1963, and placed third in 1961 when teammate Joe Thomas finished first. (Tech had the GSC’s individual medalist eight years in a row.)
Also in his time at Tech, Pace set the course record at Ruston Country Club with a 10-under-par 62.
He was recruited to Tech by Joe Aillet, the legendary head football coach-athletic director and also golf coach, a knowledgeable instructor.
Coming out of Judson Grove High School — just outside Longview — Pace went from young baseball player to an impressive, and promising, golf game.
He was headed for North Texas State University, but a desire to study engineering and a connection through a friend of his father led him to Louisiana Tech. When Aillet offered a Tech golf scholarship, Pace said, “It was perfect, the combination of the engineering school and a good golf team.”
“He was fantastic,” Pace said of Aillet. “He was a note taker, and he had some theories about the golf swing. He paid attention to little things. But he didn’t over-coach. He was easy-going and enjoyed being close to the golfers. It was different from football; it was so much bigger, he could not get as close to his football players.”
Aillet’s friendship with PGA Tour stars Jay and Lionel Hebert also helped Pace.
“Jay came up to give us [Tech golfers] lessons,” Roy recalled. “When I signed up for the PGA Tour, he was signed my papers … two PGA pros had to verify that you could play.” And Jay Hebert, “became a mentor to me.”
By the time he finished at Tech, he also had won 18 amateur events in East Texas.
His original financial sponsor for the Tour was a group of Longview and Ruston men headed by Wendell “Chief” Benningfield, owner and course manager of Longview’s public course and Pace’s first golf teacher.
But the first two years were a struggle. With the rigid qualifying process on the PGA Tour in the mid-1960s — only 60 yearly exemptions, and automatic next-week spots for only the top 25 weekly finishers — Pace had to endure many Monday qualifying rounds.
“I made a few checks,” he recalled, and he led one tournament in California with nine holes to go, but faded. “So I felt I needed more experience, and a way to make some money.”
So he dropped from the Tour and took an assistant pro position at Wee Burn Country Club in Darien, Connecticut — a state he liked after Tour visits there. He mixed teaching with competition and won back-to-back Connecticut Open titles in 1966-67 and the Westchester (N.Y.) Open in ’67.
When he returned to the Tour, on his own money, he had more consistent success — and his lone PGA Tour victory.
That was the 1971 Magnolia Classic in Hattiesburg, Miss., a year after he had finished second there. Played the same week as the Masters, it was the corresponding event for non-Masters qualifiers.
Two months later, he made the U.S. Open cut for the first time and finished 60th. He won money in two more majors, both in 1974 — the U.S. Open (placed 61st) and PGA Championship (63rd).
At Winged Foot (near New York City) in 1974, he got a great start and was on top of the leaderboard after nine holes.
His fondest memory of his PGA Tour time was “getting to play with Palmer and Nicklaus, and becoming friendly with them,” he said. “I made a putter and gave it to Arnold.” Palmer used that putter in tournaments.
While still a Tech student and an amateur, he qualified to play in the 1963 New Orleans Open, and his opening-round 73 beat both Palmer and Nicklaus by one shot. “That was fun,” he said of that result. (He made the cut and wound up with the best score among eight amateurs.)
He was in Nicklaus’ group for a 1970s round at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, N.C. Pace’s first drive went down the middle and Nicklaus’ opening drive was a duck hook. Pace’s second shot was straight and landed on the green; Nicklaus’ second hit a tree and wound up in a bunker. “I’m thinking that I’m off to a good start and he’s all over the place,” Roy recalled.
“Then he holed out [from the bunker, for birdie], and I two-putted [for par].” So much for advantage.
Paired with Palmer on the same course in another year, Roy said, “We got a standing ovation on every hole.” He did not assume the ovation was for him. But “I made a birdie on the last hole to beat his score.”
Near the end of his PGA Tour time, in the mid-1970s, he met — through a golf pro friend, naturally — Sandy, then an airline stewardess from California. They’ve been married for 46 years and have two children (Justin and Sari) and two granddaughters.
The need for steadier income, and a desire to teach, led him back to Wee Burn as head pro in 1976. It became a 23-year stay and the start of the fulltime teaching career. More than 20 of his assistants became head pros.
When he was inducted into the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame with a “Distinguished Golf Achievement” award in 2014, he was described as having “established his national reputation as an energetic and tireless teacher with an unrivaled passion for the game.”
With the Wee Burn position, he also spent seven years during the winter months as club pro at John’s Island Country Club in Vero Beach, Florida, and it was in that city where he and partner Ted Sheftic operated and were a teaching team at the Pace-Sheftic Golf School for 36 years (only the recent pandemic forced its closure).
In 1986, his book Target Golf was published.
“We use targets to teach the short game … and I use video and a lot of technology,” he said in a promotional clip on YouTube. “I’m a believer in training aides that help with alignment, swing tempo and direction.”
He also patented a teaching aid for the putting stroke and developed “Pacer” putters — five models — which sold all over the country and helped some PGA Tour event winners.
In 1999, it was time to go south for good.
“I didn’t want to retire in the East and I’d bought some property [near Longview],” he said. “I wanted to settle back in Texas. It was time.”
He took over a driving range, oversaw construction of the Alpine Target Golf Center; the “Divine 9,” a lighted par-3 course; and “Wee Links,” a six-hole short course for kids.
The “Wee Links” had 8-inch cups, smaller golf balls, and simulated bunkers, hazards, fairway rough and small greens. And he “played along with the kids to evaluate their games.”
He twice was named East Texas PGA Teacher of the Year, among several honors for his work with kids.
Tempest Golf Club in Gladewater named him a “Legend of East Texas Golf.”
He was the organizer and first president of “The First Tee of Pine Woods” program for youngsters that started in 2005 and remains head of instruction.
In promoting the First Tee, Pace called on his PGA Tour ties and recruited many big-name pros to come to Longview for fundraisers.
“The thing they did in Longview that was smart was getting Roy Pace involved,” Lee Trevino told the city’s newspaper in 2011. “We played on the Tour together. He’s a very good friend. … It’s wonderful what they’re doing. The guys they need to thank are Roy Pace and the local guys. They do it year-round. … I take my hat off to them.”
At Tech, Pace helped recruit a fellow East Texan, John Morris (of Pittsburg), whom he had met playing an amateur event in the summer of 1962.
“If I was paired with him, I must have been playing pretty good because he was always on or near the top of the leaderboard,” said Morris, now the Cooke County (Gainesville, Texas) Court at Law judge. Pace recommended Morris to Coach Aillet; a visit to Tech and a scholarship offer followed a year later.
“Roy was the reason I went to Tech,” Morris said. “He had a lot of influence with Coach. No wonder. You can see his outstanding record there.”
At one time in recent years, Pace reportedly gave more than 200 lessons and free “tuneups” per year.
“His teaching philosophy was very simple,” Morris said. “Take a proper grip. Set up correctly. Swing back and through. He gave me a lesson on my short game several years ago.” And they played together in the First Tee fundraiser event a couple of years ago.
“Roy is an outstanding person with a welcoming personality,” Morris added. “How else could a boy from rural East Texas become a legend in golf in the state of Connecticut? He has devoted his life to the game he loves and has enjoyed every day of it.
“… His word is true and he has never forgotten the opportunity that Louisiana Tech and Coach Aillet gave him.”
Pace remains a competitive player on occasion, in the past decade entering North Texas PGA pro-pro events, partnered with old friend and PGA Tour player Jacky Cupit (also an East Texan). Pace has played in tournaments at Southern Trace Country Club in Shreveport three times and at Tech’s home course, Squire Creek in Choudrant.
He also has aided in Tech-related golf outings at Squire Creek and, asked by Coach Matt Terry, visited with Tech’s teams.
“I’m thrilled; I didn’t have any expectation,” he said of selection to the Tech Athletic Hall of Fame. “It never entered my mind. Matt Terry had mentioned it; I’m sure he helped promote me. I feel really honored. But I feel I did something to earn it.”
INDUCTION INFORMATION: This one in a series of features on Louisiana Tech’s 2021 Hall of Fame Class. The induction ceremony will be held Friday, Oct. 7 inside the Thomas Assembly Center on Karl Malone Court (was postponed in 2021). Tickets are still available to the event for $50 per ticket or $400 for a table of eight. They can be purchased HERE. For more information, contact Championship Resources assistant Tyler Ross at 318.497.7265 or email@example.com.
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