Death shocks golfer's family

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Pro golfer Stiles Mitchell was found dead on Saturday. Back problems had hampered the career of the Waynesboro, Ga., native, seen here in 1995.

Former Nike Tour winner Stiles Mitchell returned to his hometown of Waynesboro, Ga., six weeks ago to seek help for a chronic back problem that kept him away from competitive golf for more than two years.

 

"He was here to get himself straightened out so he could get back to playing golf again," Tommy Mitchell said of his younger brother.

The man nicknamed Big Daddy because of his prodigious drives and outgoing personality won't get that chance.

Stiles Mitchell, 42, was found dead in his bed at about 1:30 a.m. Saturday by his mother, Jane, according to Tommy Mitchell. Stiles had been staying with his mother in a house behind Tommy Mitchell's house in Waynesboro.

A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. today at Waynesboro's First United Methodist Church. Mitchell will be cremated.

An autopsy will be performed because of Mitchell's age. Tommy Mitchell was told it could take two months for the results, but he believes the cause of death was a heart attack.

"That's all I can figure; that his heart gave out on him," Mitchell said. "He'd let his health get away from him because he couldn't exercise because of his back."

Mitchell said his brother, who was 6-foot-3, had put on weight recently and was about 275 pounds at the time of his death.

Once his back was better, Mitchell Stiles had planned to return to Baton Rouge, La., to continue working as vice president for sales at a construction company and try tournament golf again.

The sudden death stunned those who knew him. Waynesboro's Wade Marchman played golf with Stiles Mitchell on Friday at Waynesboro Country Club. Mitchell quit after nine holes.

"He wasn't feeling well," Marchman said. "But it came as a shock to me that he died that night. I knew he was in bad health but I figured he would be in the pro shop the next morning telling jokes."

Marchman said Mitchell was in so much pain from his back and swollen ankles that he "couldn't have walked 18 holes. He could hardly move. He could hardly get out of the cart to get to the green."

Mitchell was a natural talent who briefly attended Georgia Southern University. He went on to play various pro golf tours, winning on the Hooters Tour in 1997 and the Nike (now Nationwide) Tour in 1998. He played in a number of PGA Tour events by making fields through Monday qualifying -- playing twice in 2006.

"He's the best that ever came out of (Waynesboro)," Marchman said.

Tommy Mitchell said his brother was listed as the driving distance leader of all the pro tours in the country in the late 1990s.

"He was an extremely long hitter," Marchman said. "He excelled even though he never went through the junior tournament ranks. All of a sudden, he's on tour."

Martinez amateur Mike Jackson remembers playing with Mitchell in his prime at Augusta Municipal Golf Course.

"He drove the greens on Nos. 8 and 9, which are par-4s," Jackson recalled. "I told him, 'Stiles, this is the last time I ever play golf with you.' ... He hit the ball so far."

Jackson recalled Mitchell as "always being jovial."

"He was a very good friend of mine and I'll miss him," Marchman said. "There was only one Big Daddy, I'll tell you that."

Tommy Mitchell said he's received calls from all over the country and that there has been an outpouring of support.

"People here are really sad that Stiles is no longer with us," he said.

Reach David Westin at (706) 823-3224 or david.westin@augustachronicle.com.

 

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