Willie McRae and the Ryder Cup at Pinehurst

After 73 years spent caddying on Pinehurst No. 2, Willie McRae is rarely wrong about golf.

But at the first tee on a brisk November morning in 1951, an 18-year-old Willie McRae made the wrong read.

“I don’t get it,” McRae recalls saying in his memoir, On the Bag. “Not only is he itty-bitty, but he damn near died in that car accident a couple of years ago. How they think he’s gonna be able to get the job done?”

Ben Hogan_RC(Tufts) (1280x861) (2)

Willie McRae, at far left, caddied in Ben Hogan’s group during the 1951 Ryder at Pinehurst No. 2. (Photo Courtesy of the Tufts Archives – May not be used without permission)

McRae was talking about, of course, the great Ben Hogan, who had won in Pinehurst three times in the North & South Open, including his first PGA Tour win in 1940, which might’ve saved Hogan’s career.

“He got up on the first hole and said, ‘Have a nice round. When he finished, he said, ‘Have a nice day.’ He shot 32-34. I said, ‘Yeah, he can play.'” -Willie McRae on Ben Hogan

But McRae, who’s trusted his eyes on No. 2 for seven decades, couldn’t see how the diminutive Hogan could possibly still compete with the world’s best players on the terribly difficult No. 2, which was playing to 7,007 yards for the 1951 Ryder Cup.

It didn’t take long for McRae to change his mind.

“He got up on the first hole and said, ‘Have a nice round,'” McRae told ESPN of that first Ryder Cup round. “When he finished, he said, ‘Have a nice day.’ He shot 32-34.

“I said, ‘Yeah, he can play.'”

Looking back 65 years later, McRae believes Hogan’s Ryder Cup 66 may have been the best round he’s ever seen on Pinehurst No. 2.

“I couldn’t stop raving about that itty-bitty fellow at home that night,” McRae writes.