The first thing that you gotta do, you gotta be nice to people.

If they say something you don’t like, let it go in this ear and out that ear. Why are you gonna get mad? You ain’t paying them; they’re paying you!

If he asks you what club is it, and I tell him a 7 iron, and he says, No, I want to hit a 6, I’m gonna let him hit the 6. I told one guy to hit a 7 iron. He took out a 6 and knocked the ball over the green. He said, You was right. I said, No, the bag was right.

•••

You’ve got maybe 10 or 12 different types of people. Well, three really: good, better, and worst. Back in the day, you had people who thought they owned you and the golf course. But now, times have changed so much, people are a whole lot different. Younger people and middle-aged people are a whole lot better than they were back in the ’40s.

But I never had no problems. I always knew where I was at all times. And I knew what to expect and what not to expect. Even though we [white and black kids] didn’t go to school together, we were together every day after school. We used to go to their house, and they’d come to our house. We’d eat at their house, and they’d eat at ours.

Everybody’s famous. Everybody’s somebody. It don’t make no difference what you’ve done; you’re still somebody. I don’t try to classify one person over another. Michael Jordan and all those guys might have a lot of money and so forth, but they ain’t no better than nobody else.

•••

The main thing is setup. You got to be ready to hit the ball before you start back. It don’t make no difference how fast you go back as long as you get it back.

The reason why a lot of guys hit a duck hook, they bring this left arm in there like a chicken wing, over the top. But you’ve got to keep the left arm stretched out.

I’m not too worried about the swing, as long as they get it back in the right channel. You got a lot of crazy-looking swings, but that ain’t got nothing to do with it, as long as you keep that arm stretched out.

•••

I was out with a man one time who threw his club up in a tree, over there in the swamp on No. 5 on the 12th hole. He said, You going up to get it? I said, No, I’m not getting paid for climbing trees. I said, You threw it up there. If you want it, you better go get it. I guess it’s still up there.

Ain’t no use in throwing a club. The club ain’t done nothing to you. You’re the one who hit the ball.

•••

caddyEvery once in a while you’ve got to bring a joke in, make them laugh, help them focus.

There was a guy driving 65 in a 55-mile-per-hour zone. Highway patrolman looked and said, I should give this guy a ticket, 65 in a 55, but let me see how fast he’s gonna get. So he gets up to 120. Highway patrolman pulls him over: Hey, fella, I was gonna give you a ticket for 65 in a 55. Now I gotta give you a ticket for 120. What’s your problem? The guy took his hat off and scratched his head: Tell you the truth, 20 years ago, a highway patrolman took my wife. And I thought you were bringing her back.

•••

I had some ladies on the 1st tee one time. One of them looked at me and said, “Willie?” I said, “Ma’am?” “What’s wrong with my game?” I said, “Miss, I’m going to tell you. You’re too close to the ball after you hit it.” She died laughing. They came back for 15 years and I caddied for them. You get so many people coming back who want you again.

•••

I had [pro golfers] Justin Rose and [Hunter] Mahan just before the U.S. Open, and I taught them how to read the green. They asked me, “Willie, which way does the grain go?” I said, “The grain goes from east to west. The grass has got to be going toward the sun when it comes up. If it don’t, it’ll burn the root out. And if you notice, when they cut the cup in the morning, the east [edge] is rough. And the rest of the cup around there is sort of smooth. Most of it’s common sense.”

One of them said, “There ain’t no other caddies out here on the [PGA] tour that told me nothing like that.” I said, “Well, they don’t know. They can’t tell you what they don’t know.”

If you can’t be a drawing card — if people don’t want you the next day — you’re in bad shape.

•••

McRae is also a preacher and sings in a gospel quartet.

This was 50 years ago. I had some white lightning and grapefruit juice. And the hangover ain’t bad, but that hang-around, when it hangs around about two months, and every time you take a drink of water you feel bad again … Something told me, why don’t you go back home, I got work for you to do, get back in the church. I want you to preach.

Sometimes when I’m down and out, I like to sing.

Your grace and mercy
Brought me through
I’m living this moment
Because of You

That sounds pretty good, huh?

•••

I imagine I’m the oldest caddie in the world. As long as you feel good and in your right mind, you might as well go ahead and work. You’ll die when your time comes.

My wife’s getting on me now about not taking her out and teaching her how to play. So my son [Paul, a golf instructor at Pinehurst] agreed to help me teach her. She’s 72. It’s gonna be pretty good.

This story was published on

Tomlinson is a contributing writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com. He spent 23 years as a reporter and local columnist for the Charlotte Observer, where he was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in commentary. His stories were chosen for the books “Best American Sports Writing 2012″ and “America’s Best Newspaper Writing.”