Billy Casper: 1931 - 2015

Golf legend Billy Casper has died at age 83.

The winner of three majors (Winged Foot, 1959; Olympic Club, 1966; Masters, 1970), Casper had 51 tour victories. That puts him in 7th all time. Only Sam Snead, Tiger Woods, Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Palmer and Byron Nelson won more PGA tournaments.

Casper’s consistency was incredible: he won at least one tournament in sixteen consecutive years (1956 – 1971).

By all accounts, though, the things of which Casper was most proud was his 60 year marriage to Shirley Franklin Casper, his eleven children (six adopted) and his 71 grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Billy CasperWhile he was overshadowed in his era by the “Big Three” of Palmer, Nicklaus and Player, Casper belonged in that group, something the Big Three acknowledged. From 1964 to 1970, Casper won 27 tournaments on the PGA Tour, two more than Nicklaus and six more than Palmer and Player combined.

Casper’s main golf weapon was his putter. During his playing career, Casper was known as “the best putter on the planet.” He also was known for keeping the ball in play.

Dave Marr, a contemporary, and winner of the 1966 PGA Championship said “Billy was a killer on the golf course. He just gave you this terrible feeling he was never going to make a mistake, and then of course he’d drive that stake through your heart with that putter.”

“He’s the greatest putter on the pro tour,” Palmer said after losing the 1966 US Open to Casper in a playoff.

A Billy Casper ball I found on a course in Michigan. It’s a Wilson.

Casper’s 1959 US Open victory came at Winged Foot, in Mamaroneck, N.Y. Casper set a 72 hole tournament record with only 114 putts.  In 1966, Casper caught Palmer from behind, making up seven strokes in nine holes. He won by four in an 18 hole playoff. Over the 90 holes, he never three putted.

His most dramatic triumph came at the Olympic Club in San Francisco in the 1966 United States Open, when he trailed Palmer by seven strokes with nine holes left, caught him with a four-under 32 and beat him by four shots in an 18-hole playoff. Over the 90 holes, he never three-putted.

Casper played in eight consecutive Ryder Cup Teams, accumulating more points than any other American (23.5). Casper won the Vardon Trophy five times. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1978 and the PGA Hall of Fame in 1982.

Casper gained the nickname “Buffalo Bill” from the diet of wild game (prominently featuring buffalo) he adopted after being plagued by allergies. “He’ll have me eating buffalo meat soon,” Palmer said after Casper chased him down in the fourth round at the 1966 Open.

Casper was born on June 24, 1931 in San Diego. He began playing golf at age four and was given a golf scholarship at Notre Dame in 1950. He stayed only a short while, however, choosing instead to enlist in the Navy. Casper served until 1955.

Off the course, Casper founded the Billy Casper Youth Foundation and which for 20 years hosted the annual Billy’s Kids Golf Classic and Corporate Cup at San Diego Country Club.  The tournament raised more than $3,000,000 for the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Diego, Junior Achievement of San Diego, the Down Syndrome Connection; the San Diego Junior Golf Association and other non-profit organizations.

“My goal in life is to help my fellow man and touch people’s lives in a positive way wherever I go,” Casper said.

Upon receiving the PGA Distinguished Service Award in 2010, Casper said: “You never expect anything like this, and when you take a look at those who have been named before me on this award, it is truly humbling.  I think how fortunate a person is to have a skill that gives one the opportunity to travel and build relationships with so many people around the world.”

During his heyday, Casper toured Asia in support of American troops.  He also played golf with several U.S. presidents as well as kings, princes and other royalty and dignitaries worldwide.  Playing in the Hassan II Golf Trophy in Morocco at the invitation of the king for more than three decades, Casper was proclaimed the country’s official golf ambassador, helping spur significant growth of the game among juniors.

As his playing career faded, Casper began a business empire with Billy Casper Golf. It is the largest owner-operator of golf courses, country clubs, and resorts in the United States. The company has 7,600 employees.

Casper died in Salt Lake City of a heart attack, following a year of health setbacks.

On a personal note, Billy Casper was one of those people I have long wanted to meet—along with Palmer, Nicklaus, Player, Norman and a few others. I’m sorry I will not get the chance.

Billy Casper Golf manages several courses near GolfBlogger World Headquarters, including the course where my league plays every Friday in the spring. I have always found the staff to be helpful, and the courses they manage well tended. Buffalo Brand Invigoration Group (Formerly Buffalo Communications), a subsidiary of Billy Casper Golf, has been incredibly helpful to me during my golf blogging career. I have a sense that the values of the man have rubbed off on his business organization, and it has struck me that it would be a terrific place to work … if only I were thirty years younger and beginning my writing career …

Rest In Peace, Billy Casper.

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