It makes sense that Billy Casper's greatest triumph was most
noteworthy not because he won but because Arnold Palmer lost.
Here's a guy who ranks sixth on the PGA Tour's alltime victory
list with 51 wins, was named PGA Player of the Year twice, won
three majors and five Vardon Trophies (for lowest scoring
average) and played on eight U.S. Ryder Cup teams. Yet because
Casper lacked the star power of the Big Three who dominated golf
in the 1960s--Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player--he is often
remembered more for his fluctuating girth, nagging allergies and
exotic diet, which has included bear, buffalo, caribou, elk,
moose and whale.
Indeed, all eyes were on Palmer as he hacked his way through the
final nine holes at the 1966 U.S. Open, with Casper as his
playing partner. Casper trailed Palmer by seven strokes when
they made the turn on Sunday at the Olympic Club in San
Francisco, and as they approached the 15th, Palmer led by five.
But Palmer was trying to break the Open scoring record (then
276, held by Ben Hogan), and he refused to play safe; he made
three straight bogeys while Casper birdied two of the next three
holes to erase Palmer's lead. Casper won Monday's 18-hole
playoff by four strokes, and Palmer never won another major.
"People close to me and close to him say he was never the same
again," says Casper, who also won the '59 Open and the '70
Masters. "I didn't realize then that people would be talking
about it for so long, but I always get asked about it."
Casper's 27 wins from 1964 to '70 are more than any of the Big
Three had during that period. Although his achievements have
never been fully appreciated, the 65-year-old Casper has never
seemed happier. He has learned to control his allergies, which
often left him cranky and depressed. He travels the globe doing
30 or so corporate outings a year, and though his game isn't
what it used to be--as of last week he was 97th on the Senior
tour's money list and hadn't won in eight years--that hardly
matters. His golf-course-management and -design businesses are
thriving, he runs a charity tournament in his native San Diego,
and he makes an annual trip to Morocco to play in the pro-am run
by his pal King Hassan II. He also leaves time for his wife of
45 years, Shirley, their 11 children, six of whom are adopted,
and 13 grandchildren. "I thought as I got older I'd have more
time to do the things I enjoy, like fishing," Casper says.
"Nobody can keep up with me. People tell me I'm supposed to
relax, but how can you when you're having so much fun?"
COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR. [Cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED featuring Billy Casper]