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Column: Let's not forget the Willie McRaes of golf

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 13, 2014 at 5:53 pm •  Published: June 13, 2014

PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — His name is pinned to his cap. There are more embroidered on the back of his caddie coveralls.

Sarazen, Hagen, Palmer and Crenshaw.

Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon and Ford.

That's just a small sampling of those who've been fortunate enough to have Willie McRae on their bag.

None of them got special treatment from this American treasure.

Because everybody does.

"Who's the best guy I ever caddied for?" McRae asks. "Everybody. Everybody is somebody, regardless of what they've done or what they're going to do.

"I have a saying," he goes on. "I don't like nobody, but I love everybody."

Time to return some of that love at the U.S. Open.

For those who don't know McRae and other African-American caddies, they were, quite simply, the backbone of a game that long treated them as second-class citizens but never stole their love for the sport.

McRae started caddying at Pinehurst when he was 10 years old. He's still at it today, 71 years later, the only concession to his advancing years being that he's allowed to take a cart onto the course to haul the bags.

He sees no reason to quit looping.

"I love the game and I love people," he says.

McRae caddied at the last U.S. Open held at Pinehurst No. 2 in 2005, but not being able to walk 18 holes with a 40-pound bag on his back kept him from taking part this time around.

But he knows this place better than anyone. Just ask Justin Rose. The defending Open champion was able to go out with McRae for a practice round before the crowds converged on the sandhills of North Carolina.

"He was part of the Pinehurst experience for me," Rose says. "His knowledge on the golf course is unbelievable. Any time you are within 6 or 8 feet of the cup, most guys can read putts, most caddies can read putts. But where Willie was amazing was if I was short of the green and I was playing to a pin that was 30 feet on, he would say, 'OK, land this 2 yards right of the hole. It's going to go left, right, then left again.'"

McRae was a pretty good player in his own right — good enough, he is convinced, to have played on the PGA Tour if given a fair shot. He remembers playing at desegregated courses while serving in the Army, "shooting 62 or 63, taking money off all those colonels."

He never got a chance to show what he could really do.

It wasn't until 1961 — 14 years after Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers — that Charlie Sifford became the first African-American to receive his PGA Tour card. By then, McRae was approaching his 30th birthday. Frankly, the thought of playing professionally never really crossed his mind. Growing up in the segregated South, he knew his lot in life: carry the bags of white golfers without complaint.

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