“Billy Casper is the most underrated golfer of all time, hands down. He won 51 times on the PGA Tour. Only six players in history have won more, and Casper did it against some of the best golfers of any era.” Johnny Miller, certainly, has never been one to mince words. His evaluation, therefore, of one of the most successful golfers from 1955-77 requires some reflection.
And when the US Open returns to The Olympic Club, expect the media to echo Miller’s sentiment as it retells Casper’s second Open victory in 1966—the first at Winged Foot in 1959—and how he made up a seven-stroke deficit against Arnold Palmer in the final nine holes. Palmer, who, in the early 1960’s, had launched golf ’s golden age along with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, was undisputedly The King, and Casper’s victory, although well deserved, was not a popular one. In addition, Palmer, Nicklaus, and Player, with their frequent victories and vigorous personalities, had been touted as “The Big Three” because of the promotional genius of Mark McCormack. Ironically, Casper, who sometimes appeared aloof and reserved and conservative, much like his role model Ben Hogan, had signed with McCormack in 1959 but left IMG two years later over marketing differences.
Casper, who had no peer on and around the greens, also won the 1970 Masters. He was the leading money winner twice, the PGA Player of the Year twice, the Vardon Trophy winner five times, and a Ryder Cup player eight times (earning 23.5 points, the most ever for an American). His induction into the World Hall of Fame in 1978 and the PGA Hall of Fame in 1982, and his ranking in 2000 by “Golf Digest” as the 15th greatest golfer of all time should, therefore, come as no surprise. Finally, Billy Casper, now 80, has set his own record straight in his forthright, anecdotal, and droll autobiography, appropriately titled “The Big Three and Me.” He details his lonely and impoverished youth, saved only by his many hours at the San Diego CC, where he caddied frequently and chipped and putted incessantly. He explains how his marriage to Shirley and his love for his 11 children (six adopted) encouraged him to become a Mormon to build, strengthen, and unify his family concept. His account of life on Tour is remarkable for its historical content. With great humor he recounts both his exotic diet of buffalo, caribou, elk, hippo, and bear and the nickname of “Buffalo Billy” that became the trademark for his current golf course management company, Billy Casper Golf, and one of its divisions, Buffalo Communications, the PR, branding, and marketing arm. There is far more to Casper’s life in the book than just his PGA Tour achievements. By the way, “The Big Three and Me” has a foreword from the Big Three themselves. They wrote, “It could have been The Big Four.”
NEGM: What is the Victory 51 Tour you are now undertaking?
BC: Primarily it is a way for me to travel around the country and get “The Big Three and Me” into as many hands as possible. It’s set up as a Q&A session and a book signing so people can spend an evening with me.
NEGM: What can you tell us about Paul Harney?
BC: Paul was a great friend. He and I were playing a practice round one time, and we got to a par-3. I said, “Paul, your hands are a little low; raise them up toward your chin.” He did and got a holein- one! By the way, I have a number of great friends who are from New England. Two are 49ers QB Steve Young, who came from East Hartford, and Danny Ainge, GM of the Celtics, with whom I played a lot of golf when he was at BYU.
NEGM: What were your favorite New England courses? Your favorite course of all time?
BC: Wethersfield CC where I won the Greater Hartford four times, Pleasant Valley, and Newport CC. Cypress Point on the Monterey Peninsula.
NEGM: What was your favorite tournament?
BC: The Tournament of Champions played at Desert Inn, Las Vegas. The people there made it such a wonderful tournament. You had to win on Tour to be invited, and I had the good fortune to win a tournament 16 straight years.
NEGM: Name the three best players, besides yourself, (1) when you joined the Tour in 1955, (2) in your prime in 1966, and (3) today?
BC: (1) Gene Littler, Arnold Palmer, Bob Rosburg; (2) Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player; (3) Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods.
NEGM: What would your Dream Foursome be from any time period?
BC: Bob Hope, Gay Brewer, Gene Littler.
NEGM: OK, Buffalo Billy, explain why your much publicized, exotic meat diet was essential to your health.
BC: I had severe problems with allergies. I went to a doctor in Chicago, and he discovered I was allergic to all sorts of things. There was a problem with my immune system, and the allergies would act-up with certain foods and on certain golf courses. That doctor saved my career.
NEGM: After you retired from playing, how have you kept busy?
BC: Billy Casper Golf has kept me very busy. Outside of golf, I have a lot of commitments and make appearances. I have worked with a cruise line for 15 years, lecturing and playing golf with passengers. I have the Billy Casper Youth Foundation where we raise funds for youth programs and hospitals. We have 40 different charities we donate to through Billy’s Kids. I make appearances at Billy Casper Golf-managed courses. In fact, I’m busier now than when I was on Tour! But I’m enjoying life much more because I have the opportunity to work with great people who are tied into golf, business, and philanthropy.
NEGM: How do you want to be remembered?
BC: I want to be remembered for having a great love for my fellow man.
For more information about Billy Casper or to purchase “The Big Three and Me,” see www.billycasper.com