Over the weekend, the great Billy Casper passed away.
Casper, although overlooked throughout most of his career, will go down as one of golf’s pillars of success. Winning 51 times on the PGA Tour (7th on the All-time list), Casper added 3 major championships to an illustrious career.
But one has to remember the era in which he played.
Casper played his career prominently through the 50s, 60s and 70s. He was merely a side note to the Palmer, Player, Nicklaus focus. During the 1960s, he won as many tournaments as Palmer and Nicklaus. He played during the end of the Hogan-era and played through the upstart of Tom Watson’s time. Casper wrote a book about this time called “The Big Three and Me.”
Yet, he never received the same notoriety as any of them.
Known for his wizardry with the flat stick, Casper was a feared putter on Tour.
Ben Hogan, Casper’s idol, once asked him for a putting lesson saying to Casper one time after a round, “If you couldn’t putt Billy, you’d be selling hot dogs outside the ropes.”
Perhaps the comment was as much a dig at Casper’s weight as it was a form of compliment from the great Hogan. He didn’t revere anyone, yet took notice to Casper’s expertise. Later, Hogan would approach him again, humbling himself asking, “Billy, how do you putt?”
It was a feeling felt mutually amongst all of Casper’s competitors.
For those who remember Arnold Palmer’s great collapse at the 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic, Palmer led by 7 strokes heading into the final nine holes. The winner is oft-forgotten. The answer tends to evade even the wisest of golf fans.
It was Billy Casper.
The win was equally as much a comeback as it was coined a choke.
It was Casper’s heart which willed him back into contention and ultimately, victory the next day in an 18-hole playoff. It was his second U.S. Open championship, a win Casper would cherish as it was Walter Hagen who said winning one Open could be considered luck, but winning a second is validation.
It took Casper 14 years playing the PGA Tour to make $1 million in career earnings. Players in today’s era can attribute their $1 million victories to the road paved by some of the greats of the 50s and 60s, including Billy Casper. He took pride in the fact that golf started to grow during his prominence on Tour. He truly loved the game.
He also shared his affinity for golf with his affinity for man.
A devout Mormon, Casper was actively involved in the Mormon church in his home in Utah. Known for his caring ways, Casper would give hugs to almost anyone whom he considered close– and the list was extensive.
Tiger Woods would often succumb to a hug from the legend.
He was a charitable man who wore a smile as proudly as he wore his church suit. His legacy in the game both on-and-off the course is one we hope is not easily out of mind.
At age 83, Billy Casper died at his home, surrounded by his family. He died after a long bout with heart issues.
But for those who knew him well, heart issues were the least of Casper’s problems.
PGA TOUR Tribute to Billy Casper: