Obit: Ex-PGA Tour, Champions Tour player Marion Heck dies at 81

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Greg Hardwig, Naples Daily News
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Marion Heck’s last name was simply fitting.

He was a heck of a guy. And a heck of a golfer to those who knew him.

The Fort Myers Beach, Florida, resident died Saturday at the age of 81, following a varied career that included 56 events on the PGA Tour, 69 more on the PGA Tour Champions, and so many others.

Former tour player Nolan Henke of Fort Myers was part of a group text of golfers exchanging messages about Heck after learning of his passing.

“All of these conversations were either beginning or ending with ‘He was such a great guy,'” Henke said. “It’s somebody that you want to model your life after.”

“He was the consummate professional, and obviously a great player, but just a good guy overall,” said Fort Myers’ George McNeill, a PGA Tour player.

“He was a wonderful person who was very humble and he was a winner,” City of Fort Myers director of golf Rich Lamb said.

Heck moved to Southwest Florida in 1959 and was a constant at almost anything involving golf. He played in a handful of PGA Tour events as an amateur from 1962-67, and then as a pro from 1971-77. He gave up professional golf after that, later telling the Chicago Tribune it was due to “lack of talent.”

Marion Heck, who played in 125 events combined on the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions, died at the age of 81.

Heck taught golf for five years and later gave professional golf another shot, qualifying for the PGA Tour Champions (then the Senior Tour) in 1990. He had two top-10s and eight top-25s in his Senior Tour career.

Heck wasn’t just a tour player. He was active throughout the state. He won the South Florida PGA Senior Section Championship in 1991 and 1992, and he won the Florida Senior Open Championship at The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club, where he played out of, in 1993, 1996 and 1997.

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“He was just one of those guys you wanted to be around,” South Florida PGA Section executive director Geoff Lofstead said. “He just was a fun guy. Every time you saw him, he was in a good mood, and he was obviously a great player. More than anything, he was a great person to be around.

“He loved to play the game, and he played it at such a high level for so long.”

In the 2002 Yuengling Open, which has had many sponsor names over the years like Beck’s and Coors Light, Lamb paired Heck with three of his amateur buddies from the Tampa area. “The three guys from Tampa approached me after the round, they seemed disgruntled about their pro,” Lamb said. “They were rattling my chain.”

Heck, who was 62, had nearly shot his age, firing a 64. He also shot a 72 and at age 72 in the 50th annual tournament in 2012.

Heck won the Yuengling Open in 1966-67, becoming the second — and still the last — to win it back-to-back. Heck won the event again in 1969, 1975 and 20 years later in 1995.

Henke remembered another Yuengling Open story. They were playing Fort Myers Country Club, before it was renovated several years ago, and arrived to No. 7, a par 3.

“Marion, how many hole-in-ones do you have?” one of their playing partners asked.

Heck thought about it for a moment.

“I have seven,” he said. “On this hole.”

When McNeill won the Yuengling Open for the first time in 2002, he was playing with Heck, who also was in contention. Heck’s nickname for McNeill was “Fly.”

“Fly, if I can’t win it, I want you to win it, so play good,” Heck told him.

“He couldn’t have been more encouraging,” McNeill said. “He was the first one to say ‘Congrats.'”

Make no mistake, Heck was gracious and kind. But he could play.

Lamb was new to town in 1977 and ended up facing Heck in the Southwest Chapter PGA Match Play. Lamb shot 37 on the front nine at Palmetto Pines in Cape Coral. And he was 8 down. Heck had shot a 28.

“Marion eventually beat me 9 down with 8 to play,” Lamb said.

When Derek Lamely, an FGCU star who also played on the PGA Tour, first met Heck, they were playing a “game” at Lochmoor Country Club.

“I didn’t know who he was,” Lamely said. “I was a little snot-nosed kid. And he whipped me up and down, back and forth. It was awesome. I mean I didn’t like it at the time, but looking back on it, he was awesome.”

And they were friends for life after that. That happened a lot with Heck, who was the kind of person to look out for the up-and-comers.

“He would always be very encouraging a lot of us younger guys that played with him,” McNeill said. “It’s a competitive game obviously between each person, but he was more than encouraging and tried to help us all out.”

“That man never paid a greens fee in his life,” Henke said, chuckling. “He knew everybody. I’d come home from college and we’d go play. I didn’t have a lot of money. He’d call me and say ‘Hey, we’re going out at Fiddlesticks today.’ He took me under his wing and got me out to play different places. He really helped me in that respect.”

Greg Hardwig is a sports reporter for the Naples Daily News and The News-Press. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter: @NDN_Ghardwig, email him at ghardwig@naplesnews.com.