Meet Golf Champion & Legend Billy Casper the “Write” Way…

This edition of Golf Writer Andy Reistetter’s exclusive series entitled “Meet Golfers the Write Way” features someone you likely know of but don’t know enough about. Reistetter was fortunate to have time with Billy Casper along with his writers James Parkinson and Lee Benson for a one-on-three interview at this year’s PGA Show (2012). Here are some quotes and perspectives that you will not find in their recently published book “The Big Three and Me.” Join Reistetter as he goes back past the modern Tiger era to time when Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player dominated the game of golf.

What an opportunity to meet and interview Billy Casper at the 2012 PGA Show.

What an opportunity to meet and interview Billy Casper at the 2012 PGA Show.

There was a sense of revival at this year’s PGA Show. Golf 2.0 promoting friends, family and fun! If you like, play it forward, play a few holes and play with 8-inch cups. My sense of golf was revived at the Show but not for any of the above reasons. The flame was reignited because I met Billy Casper and now understand Billy Casper more than ever.

Some would say Billy never got his dues. In today’s vernacular, Billy did not go “viral” like Palmer, Nicklaus and Player did as “The Big Three”. I knew he was a golfing legend before I met him. A quick book count in my golf library has Palmer at 18, Nicklaus at 12, Player at 10 and Casper at 6. The point being I have all six of the books ever written on Casper and not sure about the others. Now here comes another much needed Casper book that in essence tells the whole story.

Host Matt Adams interviewing Billy Casper on the main stage at the 2012 PGA Show.

Host Matt Adams interviewing Billy Casper on the main stage at the 2012 PGA Show.

The Casper story is a simple one and he would tell you as he did me that there were four turning points in his life. The first one was the day he became a caddie at age 11. The second was when he stayed in Chula Vista as a high school senior when his mother moved to Los Angeles. This decision led to securing his lifelong love affair with his wife Shirley. The third key was when he decided to lay up on the par-3 third hole at Winged Foot in the 1959 U.S. Open. He pitched up and made a par-3 every round and won his first of three majors by one stroke at age 27. The fourth turning point in his life came when he and his young family joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and committed to tithing 10% of his winnings on tour. A bold move in 1966 when “Giving Back” and “Together, Anything’s Possible” were not officially promoted PGA TOUR initiatives.

Why lay up on a par-3? “I played the way I felt inside,” was Casper’s response to me. The same could be said for his life as he lived it from the “inside-out.”

The reality is Casper was inspired by Ben Hogan. His caddie job led him to a mystical encounter with Hogan at age 15 at San Diego Country Club. Both men were rags-to-riches lore of the PGA TOUR. As his idol Casper naturally adopted Hogan’s demeanor- quiet, focused, and controlled. He was the opposite personality of Arnold Palmer, though no better or no worse a person, or golfer. Palmer, then Nicklaus was the star of the tour’s venture into television during the decade of the 1960s.

The book is well written and has the right format to tell the story of Billy Casper.

Jim Parkinson, a lawyer by day makes the case utilizing statistics for Casper’s golfing greatness in the prologue.  Casper’s 51 wins is 7th on the all-time list. He is behind Nicklaus (73) and Palmer (62) and ahead of Player (24). “Buffalo Billy” won at least one tournament per year from 1956 to 1971, one shy of Nicklaus and Palmer’s record streak of 17 years. He has played in more Ryder Cup matches and won more points than any American.

Billy Casper competing at age 78 in the 3M Championship in 2010. Photo Credit: Michael Cohen/Getty Images.

Billy Casper competing at age 78 in the 3M Championship in 2010. Photo Credit: Michael Cohen/Getty Images.

As the foreword notes, Jack himself in his autobiography noted, “the trio (of Palmer, Nicklaus and Player) should really have been a quartet. This is not a new realization as Al Barkow noted the same conclusion in the 1989 book History of the PGA TOUR: “the most celebrated group of Tour pros during this period (1960-1969) included Palmer, Nicklaus, Player and Casper.”

After the numbers state the case for Casper, the story begins in the middle with 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic Club. Palmer was up by seven strokes with nine holes to play. With three to play the lead was only three strokes. With Palmer in trouble on the 16th hole, the momentum switched into Casper’s favor and the story flashes back to when Billy’s dad introduced him to the game when he was 4 years old in the cow pastures of New Mexico.

Ten chapters later after playing through the fairways of Casper’s life the story returns to the 1966 U.S. Open and his eventual playoff win over Palmer. The King would go on to win 13 more individual titles on the tour but never again a major. Casper would go on to win 21 more times including the 1970 Masters by beating his hometown nemesis Gene Littler in a playoff.

Exchanging books with Billy Casper was an honor and privilege!

Exchanging books with Billy Casper was an honor and privilege!

“I wanted to be tested. I wanted all the pressure I could get on me,” Casper would tell me. “I thrived on the pressure, that’s what I loved. My early life built that into me.”

One can’t help but think about Tiger Woods who has not won another major in six attempts since the unexpected victory by Y.E. Yang in the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine. After his resurgent win at Bay Hill perhaps Tiger’s next major win will be at the Masters or the U.S. Open which returns to Olympic Club this year.

Interestingly the Olympic Club formed in 1860, named after the ancient games and before the Olympics was revived in 1896. The 1924 games in Paris included 24 members from the San Francisco club. Golf will be celebrated in June at the place where Jack Fleck beat Ben Hogan in 1955 and where both Scott Simpson (1987) and Lee Janzen (1998) have won U.S. Opens since Casper beat Palmer.

That 1966 U.S. Open was also the coming out party for a young Johnny Miller who had planned to caddy in the tournament until he finished third in the local San Francisco qualifier. At age 19 he finished in 8th place and won low amateur honors. It would be another five years until Miller won his first of 25 PGA TOUR victories including two majors.

Casper, along with Fleck and Miller will be at the Olympic Club for the Open. Casper had a cameo role in the 1972 Walt Disney movie Now You See Him, Now You Don’t. I hope you see him as I, a deserving legend of the game of golf, right up there with his contemporaries Palmer, Nicklaus and Player!

Enjoy the book!

Andy Reistetter is a freelance golf writer as well as a Broadcast Assistant for various golf broadcasting companies. He spends time on all four major American golf tours- the PGA TOUR, Champions, Nationwide and LPGA Tours.

Reistetter resides within two miles of the PGA TOUR headquarters and the home of The PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach.

A lifetime golfer, Andy enjoys volunteering at the World Golf Hall of Fame and THE PLAYERS while pursuing his passion for the game of golf and everything associated with it.

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