Caddying at the Greenville Country Club as a teenager, Willie Richardson had the good fortune to come under the tutelage of a DeWitt Walcott Jr., who offered valuable instruction.
Born in Hollandale, Miss., and raised in Greenville, Walcott attended the University of Mississippi for three years, before joining the United States Army in 1942. A sports enthusiast with an abiding love for the game, Walcott won several amateur events in Mississippi and mentored dozens of teens in the Greenville area for most of his life. He passed away in 2003.
“My dad would hit balls before work in the morning and then after work at night,” said his son DeWitt Walcott III, a graduate of Greenville High School in 1964, who lives in Austin, Tx. “You’d have a bag of 80-100 balls. Willie would shag balls for my dad and then my dad would shag balls for Willie.
“From the beginning, Willie showed a tremendous natural ability to play golf,” said Wolcott.
Those instructions shaped a game that was fundamentally sound in all phases.
“Whatever lessons Willie got from Walcott were definitely helpful,” said Judge Reuben Anderson, a close friend of Richardson. “He was always so fundamentally sound in everything he did.”
Despite the rigorous pounding during his football career, Richardson never underwent surgery. His good health and southern climate enabled him to get on the course almost daily.
Richardson’s quartet included Anderson, Paul Covington and A.D. Jones. Through their many travels to golfing tournaments, Anderson was able to see how many lives Richardson impacted, across the state.
“I didn’t know Willie until he came back to Jackson,” said Anderson, who was the first African American Supreme Court Justice in Mississippi [1985-90], the first black to graduate University of Mississippi Law School (1967) and first black President of the Mississippi Bar Association. “I guess facilitator would be a good word to describe Willie; he was a very unique individual. He had a special connection to coaches at all the colleges in the state. He was a big brother and mentor to so many in athletics and business. He helped a lot of people get started in city government. He was involved with many non-profit and fundraising projects. He always worked to make things better in Mississippi.
“He ran for Mississippi’s Department of Transportation Commissioner, in the early 1990s, and Johnny Unitas came down to campaign for him.
“Willie had an incredible memory, he never forgot a name or place. He always felt blessed and had a unique perspective on life.
“In my 30 years as friends, I never knew him to have an argument or falling out with anyone. He was very committed to Jackson State and helped the school as much as possible.”
His easy stroke and nimble touch on the course never faltered.
“It was a bad day if Willie didn’t shoot his age,” said Anderson. “He shot 74 the Friday before he passed away. He had a great swing and was always consistent with his chipping and putting. I don’t think his skills ever diminished a bit in 30 years!”
There were many avid black golfers in Mississippi, but most of the courses were restricted until the 1980s.
“We had a strong group of black golfers and caddies in Jackson, going back to the 1950s,” said Anderson. “There were guys here who caddied for Calvin Peete and Raymond Floyd.
“We played what we called the Chitlin Circuit. The better courses didn’t open up until the 1990s.
“For competition we’d go to Natchez, Miss. Vicksburg, Miss., Birmingham, Ala., Mobile, Ala. and Baton Rouge, La. The public courses there were much better. We’d play two days, Saturday and Sunday. There would be a full field with 90 guys, but only three-four guys could compete with Willie. I’d say he won 50 percent of the tournaments. We did that until almost 2010. He won a lot of the charity events as well.”
In 1992, Judge Anderson brought Richardson with him to The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, 12 miles south of Jacksonville, Fla. The Monday after the tournament concluded, Richardson played for Jim and Mark McCumber to assess his game.
“They were impressed with Willie and wanted him to give the PGA Senior Tour a shot, but with his work schedule it just wasn’t going to work out,” said Anderson.
Seth Schwartz is a freelance writer in Chicago. He can be reached email@example.com