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Sunday
Feb082015

R.I.P. Billy Casper

One of the game's all-time greats-particularly with a putter--has passed. Billy Casper was 83. While I never saw him play in his prime, the three-time major winner and 51-time PGA Tour winner displayed his controlled hook with grace and precision on the Senior Tour where he was a 9-time winner.

Tod Leonard, of Casper's native San Diego, on the legend's passing.

In an email, Bob Casper said his father had suffered from pneumonia after Thanksgiving, spent five weeks in the hospital and then returned home. He was doing rehabilitation four days a week, but last Thursday became weak.

“He went downhill quick,” Bob Casper said. “It was quick. But he didn’t have any pain. It was peaceful.”

The AP’s obituary, by Doug Ferguson.

The New York Times' obituary, by Richard Goldstein.

Jaime Diaz’s Golf World feature on Casper prior to the 2012 U.S. Open at Olympic Club.

Rex Hoggard on Casper's legacy in golf, including one remarkable stretch.

Dubbed “the most underrated golfer of all time” by Johnny Miller, Casper’s 27 Tour victories from 1964 to ’70 topped every player during that timeframe, including Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.

Jack Nicklaus took to Facebook to remember his friend. Just part of the statement:

“Billy Casper was one of the greatest family men—be it inside the game of golf or out—I have had the fortunate blessing to meet. He had such a wonderful balance to his life. Golf was never the most important thing in Billy’s life—family was. There was always much more to Billy Casper than golf. But as a golfer, Billy was a fantastic player, and I don’t think he gets enough credit for being one. I have said many times that during my career, when I looked up at a leaderboard, I wasn’t just looking to see where a Palmer or a Player or a Trevino was. I was also checking to see where Billy Casper was.

Here's a fairly recent clip of Casper telling David Feherty how even Tour Players are unaware if his accomplishments.

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Reader Comments (32)

A genuine 'great.' A very good-living, religious man - he'll be going straight to Heaven - no worries. As you have posted here, Geoff, Casper could sink a 45-foot putt by just winking at it. He was also one of the quickest and most efficient golfers I ever saw. Shame he did not play in The Open much. He would surely have won it if he did. He won two US Opens and The Masters and had an incredible Ryder Cup record. R.I.P.
02.8.2015 | Unregistered CommenterIvan Morris
A very good player- and it wasn't fair to always highlight his puttin- he could hit it too.
02.8.2015 | Unregistered CommenterChico
Jack Nicklaus's statement sums Casper perfectly. He was a giant of the game and a gentleman, this during my youth, learning about golf . . . and pro golf was changing in many ways, with tv and Arnold.
One would never read or hear anything negative about Billy Casper. He didn't get quite the publicity of the Big Three, but he was a force to be contended with in any competition.
Thanks for the post, the film clip, and the Casper quote introducing today's webpage.
02.8.2015 | Unregistered Commentergov. lepetomane
Chico is right, an amateur friend of mine played with him in the Masters mid-70s and speaks of Casper's ball striking with amazement. Casper hit controlled hooks to pins that nobody would think were possible. It was a hook show, 5 yard hooks, 15 yard hooks 30 yard hooks, you name it. Purest example of perfecting with your best shot, instead of screwing up your swing to learn a fade.

Back right pin on 12, he hit a low hook that landed just short of putting surface and stopped on back of green about 15 feet. Next time you are at Augusta, stand behind the tee box on 12 and try to visualize a low hook to the right side of he green......
02.8.2015 | Unregistered CommenterConvert
Met him a couple of years ago. What a nice person. RIP.
02.8.2015 | Unregistered CommenterCgar
This is the perfect opportunity for Golf Channel to re-run Peter Kessler's interview with him. Instead they will show clips from Feherty's interview, not nearly as indepth or revealing.

Sad that this grudge continues to deprive viewers of seeing the best GC has in its archives.
02.8.2015 | Unregistered CommenterMedia Driven
Good suggestion, Media Driven. Probably won't happen, unfortunately.

Kestler doubtless brought out more of Casper than someone like Feherty.

RIP, Mr. Casper.
02.8.2015 | Unregistered Commenterfyg
Well, darn. Read "The Big Three and Me" when you get a chance. Title should have been "The Big Four and Fun."
02.8.2015 | Unregistered CommenterKLG
I know Casper was well known for the "hook" he played, even on wedges. I saw him at a Champion's Tour event in a shootout and definitely was not a drop left draw, this baby hooked. But I thought I recall, maybe on Kessler's interview or in an article where Casper actually started out on Tour playing exclusively a fade in his early days. Any old-timers out there that can verify that fact?
02.8.2015 | Unregistered Commenterol Harv
Yes, Casper won at '66 at Olympic with the considerable use of a fade

When I followed him for a few holes at the U.S. Senior Open at Medinah in '88, he had that tight, little hook down pat.
02.8.2015 | Unregistered Commenterfyg
Well, ol Harv. He was a 4X winner of the Insurance City Open at Wethersfield CC. Watched him win it '63 & '65, wasn't around for the others in '68 & '73. IIRC it wasn't what you think. If you want to call straight and then a 5-yard leak at the apex a fade, I'm with you. Nothing like the majesty of Jack at the time, but then again he never won the ICO ;-)
02.8.2015 | Unregistered CommenterD. maculata
Please forego the round table scheduled, reflect on this life and that of Mr. Sifford, it wiould be infinitly more interesting.
02.8.2015 | Unregistered CommenterBDF
Media Driven is so right.
Kessler was great.
02.8.2015 | Unregistered CommenterBlue Canyon
D. maculata,

I would call what you describe as a "tight fade". Not nearly as pronounced as Trevino's fade on the regular tour, just a small little move.

Casper felt that the little fade was instrumental at Olympic in '66.
02.8.2015 | Unregistered Commenterfyg
"But I thought I recall, maybe on Kessler's interview or in an article where Casper actually started out on Tour playing exclusively a fade in his early days." He did play left to right for a long time. He added a lot of flair to the Senior Tour at the onset by donning the Plus-fours and argyle socks and his famous soft, sweeping draw leading to his 9 wins, including the Sr. US Open.

I had the pleasure to do some work with Buffalo Billy, and know him on a personal level -- one of the kindest, most humble gentlemen I ever met. And a great, great story teller with a wonderful soft, baritone voice when he spoke.

He knew I was huge Hogan fan -- having lunch one day, we were discussing golf as usual, and I asked Billy who the best shot maker he had ever seen......he thought for about 5 seconds and in his slow, baritone voice emphatically announced, "Tommy Bolt". I guess he could kind of see a "Oh really" look in my face and asked me if that surprised me. I responded that I was "a little surprised he didn't say Hogan." Billy didn't hesitate as he answered, "You didn't say ball-striker." He went on to say that Hogan didn't "have to hit shots from the middle of the fairway", and that he wasn't sure he had ever seen Hogan actually "miss" a shot. The hair on my arm was standing straight up as he spoke about my "hero"......

One more : We were doing an exhibition for a club opening and Billy had a 'reporter' following us all day doing a magazine article on him. On the way back to the airport late that afternoon the reporter was thanking Billy for the time allowed him that day and all the general niceties that one would expect. Billy make sure to offer his "No, thank you" to the reporter.

The writer had one little request as we sped to the airport and that was a 10 question / one answer ritual that was common with writers back then. I remember a couple of the questions vividly:

When asked: "Favorite book"...."The Book of Mormon" was his immediate answer, no hesitation. He was deeply a man of faith.

Comically, when asked: "Ginger or Mary Ann"......Billy turned to the reporter in the back seat and asked, "Who is Ginger or Mary Ann?"....he had zero clue.

A wonderful father who was deeply hurt and broken hearted by his adopted son's (Charlie) conviction and imprisonment. Charlie often times caddie for Billy and they enjoyed fishing at the golf courses after rounds.

R.I.P. Buffalo Billy -- a great player, and even greater man. The game has a huge void.
02.8.2015 | Unregistered CommenterPro from Dover
Casper the Ghost - out of nowhere and onto the leaderboard - was not hitting hooks unless he had to at ANGC in the 1970's ( I think Converts friend meant the 1980's perhaps) when he still exclusively hit semi skanky low faded 235 yard drives and crisp, full value trajectory of the club faded irons. I was at Augusta in 1970 as a teenager and I promise he hit a cut, well really the ball just fell to the right, no curve, like Jack and Sam and Tiger when you stood behind them. There were like 200 people it seemed for the playoff. I road with 4 friends in a van for two days to watch on Sunday and Monday. He won 51 events on the tour with a fade and 9 on the Senior Tour with a draw. He started hooking the ball in 1980 before he joined the Senior Tour, a move which boyhood San Diego friend Phil Rodgers helped him develop at exactly the same time Phil was teaching Jack to chip and pitch with a figure 8 swing that Jack would win two majors with that year at the age of 40. I did 5 shows with Billy including the last show I did at the Golf Channel. I really don't know why they don't show them, so many of the greats are gone and those shows are the only record of their being on long form tv programs. There's 1,300 shows, 300 of them an interview show I did with every great player of the last century. BTW Bob Goalby loves to talk about the subtle difference in the two swings Casper used to win. I could upload some stuff to youtube, some of the shows if anyone would watch. Casper swore to me he never once stretched or exercised his entire life. He was a great guest, if you said "family" he would start to cry. If you said weight management he would start to giggle. I will miss him, especially the laugh. PK
02.8.2015 | Unregistered CommenterKessler
RIP, Mr. Casper. I wonder if the PGA Tour will produce a short tribute to him that will air on tournament coverage as they did for Mr. Sifford. I noted yesterday, while watching the Champions Tour coverage on Golf Channel, that the Tour's tribute to Charlie that aired during that telecast was voiced by the aforementioned Peter Kessler. It occurred to me that it was the first time I have heard Kessler's voice on GC since the big falling-out.

Surely it is long past time for GC to drop whatever sanction they enforced regarding Kessler and at least take some of his best interviews out of the archives.
02.8.2015 | Unregistered CommenterGreg B.
Peter, I think most of us would PAY to see your video library of those great interviews you did. I remember Billy's as well as many others but one that stuck in my mind all these years is when you asked my dear friend Chi Chi who the most important person he had ever met, he started crying and answered Mother Theresa. He went on to say she owned nothing but was the wealthiest person in the world. Very moving.

Please share -- we will pay!
02.8.2015 | Unregistered CommenterPro from Dover
Great laugh, a wonderful person, who had his priorities in order. RIP and peace to his family and friends.

Peter, great to hear from you. It seems like it took music to get you to post on here before; nice to see you still read about the golf- wacky as it is now.
02.8.2015 | Unregistered Commenterdigsouth
This is why I enjoy this site so much...all these wonderful stories and insights about Mr. Casper.
Thank you gentlemen
02.8.2015 | Unregistered Commenterjjshaka
Growing up in San Diego, Casper was THE golfer that we followed as kids; Palmer and Nicklaus were giants, of course, but Billy Casper was a local guy and we often saw him in exhibitions, not to mention the San Diego Open in the days where he was a VERY strong driver of the ball with his patented "gorilla fade."

Nice guy, family man? Yes, but Bill Casper also had an edge to him. Not shy about sending back an undercooked steak and there was that famous line to Arnold Palmer on the 72nd hole of regulation in the U.S. Open of 1966. Arnold came up short with his first putt leaving a treacherous four-footer remaining. At the time, the USGA's "continuous putting" rule was in effect so there was no standing around to gather yourself. Casper walked by Palmer and "Go head, Arnie. Hit it while your hot." Zing!

Casper used that edge well to carve out victories against cut-throat competition in a day when you Had To Win to earn a good living.
02.8.2015 | Unregistered Commenterbenseattle
Wow, PK, good stuff. Please treat those treasures with care and don't just let anyone (Back9 Network) talk you into something. Perhaps this site itself would be a great place for release.
02.8.2015 | Unregistered Commenterol Harv
A client of mine opened a sports themed restaurant in Glendale awhile back, had George Forman and Billy Casper as guest celebs for the grand opening. Both were extremely gracious and friendly. Unfortunately, the owner was Mormon (as was Casper) and didn't serve alcohol and it didn't make it.
02.8.2015 | Unregistered CommenterTLB
As a San Diego resident, I can assure you that there will be many here who will celebrate his life and legacy. I'm sure it is a solemn mood at San Diego Country Club today. A true gentleman who had his priorities right. He will be sorely, sorely missed.
02.8.2015 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Stamm
A perfect golf swing, and even more important he strived to be a perfect man everyday.........
He won at Winged Foot with an all-wrist putting stroke with no follow through. Almost like a pop jab. If you can conquer Winged Foot's greens with that technique, you are a pimp.
02.9.2015 | Unregistered CommenterSt. Copious
As expected/predicted, GC is re-airing the Casper-Kessler interview 3X today....Kessler-Casper 0 times. Pathetic!!
02.9.2015 | Unregistered CommenterMedia Driven
Feherty apparently thinks Arnold was going for his 4th U.S. Open championship in '66.
02.9.2015 | Unregistered Commenterfyg
Anyone who cares deeply about the game must read Jaime Diaz's piece: http://www.golfdigest.com/golf-tours-news/us-open/2012-06/billy-casper-profile-diaz

Promote it again, Geoff! It's worth a week wasted on the internet -- and, believe me, I've wasted plenty...
02.9.2015 | Unregistered Commenter3foot1
fgy Perhaps DF was insinuating that '66 could have easily been AP's 4th Championship as he had 1 win, and 2 play-off loses for the US Open title in the previous 5 championships.???


Re: Palmer's stellar US Open record from 1959 -1975: in 17 US Opens consider ---

1 win
3 Play-off loses ('62, '63, & 66) PLUS, another Runner-up finish in '67 = 4 Runner-up Totals
12 Top 5 finishes
only 4 finishes outside Top 10 + 1 MC, includes only 3 finishes + 1MC outside Top 20
02.9.2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Ezar
Joe,

Yes, I'm very familiar with what could have been for Palmer.

But if I heard Feherty correctly, he said "Palmer was going for his 4th U.S. Open". That would be totally incorrect. I'm surprised that it didn't get caught before the original airing.
02.9.2015 | Unregistered Commenterfyg
fyg After viewing the episode again (I had recorded it), I agree w / you. He did clearly say "Palmer was going for his 4th U.S. Open".

You are correct, hard to believe that did not get caught in editing.
02.9.2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Ezar

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