89-year-old Ernie Proctor stands on the 18th green with legendary Pinehurst caddie Willie McRae.
By ALEX PODLOGAR
ERNIE PROCTOR STOOD ON THE 18TH TEE OF PINEHURST NO. 2, a golf course just 20 years older than he. His 83-year-old caddie, the legendary Willie McRae, asked Proctor which club he wanted.
“Three wood,” said Proctor, ready to swing a golf club for the first time in at least, he says, 20 years.
McRae ambled around the bag and reached for the 3 wood. But as the caddie extended his right arm – an arm that has pulled clubs for presidents, celebrities, superstar athletes and in events such as the 1951 Ryder Cup and 1999 U.S. Open – Proctor changed his mind.
“Ah, let’s hit the driver,” Proctor said.
McRae happily obliged. “Now you’re talkin’.”
McRae set the ball on the tee. After a warmup swing, Proctor addressed the ball. After one last glance up a fairway all of the game’s greatest legends have walked, Proctor took the driver back.
“Yessir!” McRae sang. “That’s a beaut! A beaut!”
Off the tee in the air, the ball came to rest about 100 yards away, right in the middle of the fairway.
Ernie Proctor tees off the 18th hole of Pinehurst No. 2 as caddie Willie McRae looks on.
IT’S NOT OFTEN McRAE, who’s been caddying at Pinehurst for seven decades, loops for someone older than himself. But that was the case on Wednesday when Elmcroft Senior Living resident Ernie Proctor, at a spry 89 years old, came to Pinehurst to feel young again. As part of Second Wind Dreams, a nonprofit organization helping assisted living people an opportunity to fulfill a dream experience, Proctor was able to play the 18th hole of No. 2 under a brilliant Carolina blue sky.
Joined by his wife Erica, Proctor met McRae in front of Pinehurst’s storied clubhouse, walked through the hallway lined with vintage photographs, and settled into a golf cart alongside McRae, who regaled his golfer with stories of Ben Hogan, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. McRae was a frequent golfing partner of Earl Woods while the two were stationed together in the Army.
“Forty years ago, they used to call me a tiger,” Proctor told McRae. “Now they call me, ‘Cubby.’”
Joking aside, Proctor needed little assistance as he made his way to Pinehurst’s famed practice range, Maniac Hill. Side-by-side, Proctor and McRae hit wedges together, bantering about long ago days in the Army. Wearing a U.S. Kids Golf cap, Proctor spoke of his favorites, from Woods to Mickelson to Spieth to the U.S. Kids golfers he used to watch outside his window at his home in Pinehurst.
“Oh, I love seeing the kids,” he said.
PROCTOR DIDN’T NEED TO HIT any more shots up the 18th. He asked McRae to pick his ball up, and the two rode slowly up the fairway toward the 18th green. There, McRae pulled the putter and a couple of golf balls, setting Proctor up to roll a few putts. McRae gave him the line, and Proctor nearly holed the second putt he tried from about 20 feet.
“Ooooohh!” Proctor sighed, his knees buckling like a tour pro’s. “That’s a good one right there,” McRae beamed. “Looks like you’ve done this before.”
After a few more putts, the gentlemen doffed their caps and shook hands. Proctor visited the Payne Stewart statue, then retired to the veranda and a rocking chair, a cold drink in his hand, watching as the golfers came through.
Moments before his tour of the 18th, a large corporate group had finished play on No. 2 for the day. Many of them watched Proctor from the veranda as he putted on 18, and came over to him as he rocked the April afternoon away.
Proctor shook hands, he smiled, and he asked of each and every person who came up to him, “What’d you shoot?”
He’d ponder each score, nod his head, and, more than once, let his company know he once had an ace on the 9th hole of No. 2.
On this day, it was an easy memory to recall.