Golf lost a giant on Saturday when Billy Casper, a two-time U.S. Open champion, Masters winner, and one of the most prolific winners on the PGA Tour, passed away at the age of 83 at his home in Springville, Utah. According to his company Billy Casper Golf, the golfing legend died after enduring a heart attack and he had several health setbacks after fainting at the Masters last April.
Casper, who was undeniably one of the most underrated golfers in history, was overshadowed in his time by the Big Three of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. However, he won 51 times on the PGA Tour — the only players with more victories are Sam Snead, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Byron Nelson.
Of his three major championships, the most memorable is likely when Casper captured the 1966 U.S. Open in one of golf’s most epic comebacks. He rallied back from seven shots on the back nine to tie Arnold Palmer and force an 18-hole playoff, which Casper ended up winning.
“I watched Arnold play such magnificent golf on the front nine. I really felt that he was going to win the tournament,” Casper said in 2012 at Olympic Club, via the AP. “I had checked the scoreboard and I found that I was two shots ahead of Jack Nicklaus and Tony Lema, and so I wanted to finish second and informed Arnold of that. And he said, ‘I’ll try to do everything to help you.'”
Casper also won the 1959 U.S. Open at Winged Foot and the 1970 Masters. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1978.
“Billy was a killer on the golf course,” the tour pro Dave Marr was quoted as saying by the Hall of Fame, via the NY Times. “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.”
Casper was a member of eight American Ryder Cup teams, notching 23.5 points — more than any other American. He was captain of the 1979 squad.
While I never had the opportunity to meet Mr. Casper, those who knew him speak highly of him not only as a golfer but as a person and family man — he had 11 children, including six of which were adopted. Here are some of the tributes…
The golf world lost a legendary player and man tonight with the passing of Billy Casper. Jack Nicklaus remembers his good friend:
“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. Billy had tremendous confidence. He just believed in himself. You knew when you played against Billy Casper, Billy would not beat himself. You want to talk about someone who could perform under pressure, if you wanted someone to get up and-down for you, Billy Casper was your man. I think it is fair to say that Billy was probably under-rated by those who didn’t play against him. Those who did compete against him, knew how special he was.
“More important than what Billy Casper gave us inside the ropes, he has been so selfless outside them. He has always been so steadfast and committed to his family, his religion, his community, and his unwavering beliefs. And he never asked for anything in return. It was not even a year ago, someone asked Billy how he wanted to remembered, and he said, ‘I want to be remembered for how I loved my fellow man.’
“Over the last 15 to 20 years, my friendship with Billy blossomed. We had a number of common threads, but the one that truly connected us was our love of family and those shared values. It was a genuine treat every time I saw Billy and that smile on his face. Because I knew I was about to talk to a dear friend. I—we—lost a true friend tonight. Barbara and I send out our most heartfelt prayers and love to Shirley, their kids, and all those loving grandkids and great grandkids who tonight are wrapping their arms around the loving memories of a wonderful man.”
*From PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem:
“Billy Casper was one of the greatest winners in PGA Tour history and was a dominant player for the better part of three decades. We remember his three major championships and his incredible work on the greens that made him one of the best putters of his generation. Beyond his career as a player, though, we will remember Billy as a tremendous husband and father, a man devoted to family, charitable pursuits and his religion. He truly has left us with a lasting legacy.”
“Billy was one of the true gentlemen of the game and a great competitor. He was a better player than most people gave him credit for being and is going to be sorely missed in the golf world. My deepest sympathies go out to Shirley and the family.”
*From Gary Player:
My deepest condolences to Shirley & the family of my friend @BillyCasper. A great golfer, family man & gentleman. I will miss you Billy. RIP
— Gary Player (@garyplayer) February 8, 2015
*From David Feherty:
Billy Casper was one of the kindest, most humble, and beautiful men I ever met. My life is better for having known him.
— David Feherty (@Fehertwit) February 8, 2015
*Golf Channel’s Rich Lerner pays tribute to Casper:
Johnny Miller, who dubbed Casper “the most underrated golfer of all time,” remembers Casper:
*From Lee Elder, the first African-American to play in the Masters, who spoke with us at the Farmers Insurance Open on Sunday afternoon:
“First of all I’d like to open up saying how much I enjoyed being a friend of Billy’s. He was certainly a wonderful person. I’ve known him for quite some time. He was my captain at the Ryder Cup in 1979 at the Greenbrier. We had many nice and pleasant times playing together on the Champions Tour. I’m just proud to say I’m a friend of his. I had a chance to say hello to his daughter Judy today. We talked and I certainly look forward — I relayed to her that I’d be available for anything that Shirley (Billy’s wife) and Judy and the family would want me to do. I’m here in the area. Excuse me if I’m breaking up, but he was such a close personal friend and I really feel it — the same with Charlie Sifford. To lose two people you were close to in a matter of a week is pretty testing…
“As far as a person was concerned, Billy was equally as good of a person as he was a golfer. From the time I met him and the time I spent with him, he was certainly one that I enjoyed being around and I enjoyed being around him every time I was in his presence…
“My most memorable time playing with him was probably when he brought me to King Hussein’s tournament. I go back to the earlier days and he used to play with us in Los Angeles at Western Avenue. His caddie Dale Teller and I were close friends and that’s when I first met him. There was not a time that he did not come down to be a part of that tournament — a lot of time there were other events that were going on, but he took his time to do that. I really think that’s what made us so closely associated because he did give us his time so much…
“Billy was always the type of person that always had a welcome for you with a big smile. I think it was just a shame that he didn’t get the deserving as far as a player was concerned. Just coming along in that era with the likes of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, quite naturally it was pretty hard because even though he was winning as many tournaments, the way I was looking at it was that his personality at the time was something that kept him back. But as played more and became more familiar with them, I think his personality changed and he became such a very nice, warm person — not to say he wasn’t before, but I’ve always known him as such, but I think the public really thought about him in a different light.”