The local golf scene took quite a hit on Thursday.
Joe Meade, one of the most talented golfers Northeast Tennessee has ever produced, died of a heart attack early Thursday morning.
According to friends, Meade checked into Laughlin Memorial Hospital in Greeneville with chest pains and suffered a fatal heart attack.
The 43-year-old Meade had a certain zest for life, the kind not usually associated with the sport of golf. He played hard and those who knew him best say he lived hard as well. He definitely marched to the beat of his own drummer, which made him one of the most colorful golfers our area has ever seen.
Anybody who ever played with Meade was unlikely to forget the experience.
“He was a very misunderstood person,” longtime friend Todd Ricker said. “Joe had a good heart. He had a really good heart. Not a lot of people knew that. He was a great guy. He was a free spirit.”
It wasn’t unusual for Meade to have a few crumpled beer cans in the basket on the back of his cart as he competed in local tournaments. He sometimes wore a headband while he played and, years ago, shot a 68 while barefoot in a Tri-Cities PGA pro-am at Buffalo Valley.
But underneath the flamboyant outer shell was a tremendously talented golfer and a seriously friendly guy. He was always quick with a smile and encouragement to other golfers. He could hit shots that would impress even his fellow competitors. And when his putter got hot, few could beat him.
“As far as golf goes, there weren’t too many guys around here who had his talent,” Graysburg Hills pro Steve Munson said. “There are some guys making a living playing that don’t have his talent.”
Meade, avid fan of the Green Bay Packers, was a member of Greeneville High School’s 1983 state championship team and briefly attended ETSU. He tried his hand at professional golf, earning a Nationwide Tour card twice and playing in a couple of PGA Tour events. He competed on several mini-tours and traveled all over the world to play.
He regained his amateur status a few years ago and returned to the local tournament scene, always hovering near the top of the leaderboard and winning several events. He twice captured the Tillinghast Invitational at Johnson City Country Club.
“He’s definitely one of East Tennessee’s great characters in golf,” said Jim Richardson, the director of the Tillinghast. “He’ll be missed from all of our invitationals. Any time you had an invitational, one of the first things people asked was, ‘Is Joe Meade playing?’ He was always gonna be right up there in contention.”
Meade, who had been caddying on the Nationwide Tour for Josh Broadaway this year, said he was thinking about turning professional again when he reached the age of 50 so he could take a crack at the Champions Tour. “If I make it that far,” he once joked.
“It’s kind of a wake-up call that we’re not invincible,” Richardson said. “Joe seemed to be one of those people. ... He always had the appearance of being bulletproof. Nothing fazed him. But we’re not invincible.”
Meade was never accused of being patient, on the course or with his clubs. If something wasn’t working right, it could be replaced at any moment. Even at the time of his death, he had a set of irons on their way to his house via eBay.
“He came by my house yesterday to pick up a set of irons because his new ones hadn’t come in yet,” Ricker said. “He looked fine. He might have been a little pale, looking back. But he seemed fine.”
After getting the clubs from Ricker, Meade headed on to Graysburg Hills Golf Course, where he once worked as an assistant pro. He was going to play a practice round for this weekend’s Graysburg Amateur. Munson, Graysburg’s pro, was in the group.
“It was the first time I played with him since I don’t know when,” Munson said. “He was fine, absolutely fine. I think he shot two or three under and he was ready to go.”
Word of Meade’s death spread quickly Thursday.
“It was super shocking to hear,” said Chris Wynne, who competed against Meade for several years. “It definitely brought tears to my eyes.”
Wynne related a story how Meade’s encouragement helped him get over a particularly bad round at a recent tournament. Wynne, one of the area’s top golfers, shot 80 on the opening day of the Lonesome Pine Invitational in Big Stone Gap, Va., and admitted to being pretty embarrassed.
“Joe came up to me on the 18th green and said, ‘You know what? You’re a hell of a golfer. Everybody has a bad round once in a while,’ ” Wynne said. “For him to say that to me made me feel so much better. I just shot 80 and that was really nice of him to tell me that.”
Wynne shot 68 the following day.
“Joe had his fair share of problems just like everybody else, but he was one of the nicest guys I ever met,” Wynne said. “His love for golf was unbelievable. He’s gonna be a loss for the game. He was colorful, but not in a way that made anybody dislike him. Everybody I know enjoyed Joe. He got carried away a little at times, but he was a great person to be around.”
Ricker, also a former pro, traveled with Meade during their days on the mini-tours.
“We went everywhere together,” Ricker said. “We were even supposed to go to Colombia to play, but that fell through. But we traveled a lot. You get to know someone real well that way. He really was a good guy. I am really gonna miss him.”
Joe Avento is a sports writer for the Johnson City Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.