Billy Casper: Golf's Overlooked Legend

Casper considered one of the most underrated golfers in PGA Tour history

Billy Casper is awarded the US Championship Cup by USGA President William Foshay, as Arnold Palmer looks on. Casper won his second US Open in a playoff against Palmer in 1966.
Billy Casper (left) receives the trophy after beating Arnold Palmer (background) in a playoff to win the 1966 US Open. Bettmann/Getty Images

Billy Casper was one of the winningest golfers in PGA Tour history during his career that stretched from the 1950s into the 1970s. He also carries the reputation as one of golf's greatest putters.

  • Date of birth: June 24, 1931
  • Place of birth: San Diego, California
  • Date of death: Feb. 7, 2015
  • Nickname: Buffalo Bill. Casper, in the early 1960s, began eating a diet heavy on buffalo meat. That was a rare and exotic thing for that time, and Casper became quite well-known for it. So well-known that Casper's buffalo meat diet was the basis of a Quaker Life cereal commercial starring Casper in the mid-1960s.

    Number of Wins 

    • PGA Tour: 51
    • Major championships: 3
    • Champions Tour: 8

    The professional majors won by Casper were the 1959 U.S. Open, 1966 U.S. Open and 1970 Masters.

    The full list of Casper's PGA Tour and Champions Tour victories appears below.

    Awards and Honors

    • Member, World Golf Hall of Fame
    • PGA Tour Player of the Year, 1966 and 1970
    • Vardon Trophy (low scoring average) winner, 1960, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1968
    • PGA Tour money leader, 1966 and 1968
    • Member, U.S. Ryder Cup team, 1961, 1963, 1965, 1967, 1969, 1971, 1973, 1975
    • Ryder Cup captain, 1979

    Biography 

    Is Billy Casper the most underrated golfer of all-time? Casper wasn't the biggest name on Tour even in his prime, when he was overshadowed by the "Big 3": Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.

    Yet, according to the World Golf Hall of Fame, from 1964 through 1970 Casper won 27 times on the PGA Tour - four more wins than Nicklaus during that period, and eight more wins than Palmer and Player combined in that time frame.

    Casper won the Vardon Trophy for low scoring average five of the 10 years in the 1960s; he led the money list twice and was Player of the Year in 1966 and 1970.

    Casper played on eight U.S. Ryder Cup teams, winning more points than any other American player.

    And he won 51 times on the PGA Tour in his career.

    Only six other golfers in tour history have won more tournaments.

    So why is Billy Casper often a forgotten man in discussions of golf's greatest players? He was quiet, both in personality and temperament, and he was the antithesis of flashy on the golf course. Also, he won "only" three majors, compared to Nicklaus' 18, Player's nine and Palmer's seven.

    Entry into Golf and PGA Tour Prominence

    Casper was born in and grew up in San Diego, Calif., where he first started golfing at age 5. He worked as a caddie at San Diego Country Club.

    One of Casper's rivals in youth golf, and a lifelong friend, was fellow San Diegan - and, eventually, fellow World Golf Hall of Famer - Gene Littler. Casper gave college golf a try briefly, with a scholarship to Notre Dame, but soon returned to San Diego to get married.

    He turned pro in 1954 and in 1956 won the Labatt Open for his first PGA Tour victory. And Casper won at least once every year until 1971.

    Casper's Majors, Including a Legendary Win

    Casper was a 6-time winner on tour, including three wins in 1958, when he claimed his first major championship at the 1959 U.S. Open. He beat Bob Rosburg by a stroke.

    Casper's third and final major win was at the 1970 Masters, where he beat his old friend Littler in an 18-hole playoff, 69 to 74.

    And in-between those two titles, Casper's most famous major win was at the 1966 U.S. Open. But even there, he was overshadowed by the loser - Palmer. At the 1966 U.S. Open, Casper came from seven shots back over the final nine holes to tie Palmer, then beat Arnie in an 18-hole playoff the following day. Still, this accomplishment is remembered more for Palmer's collapse than Casper's charge.

    Putting Prowess

    Many of Casper's contemporaries agree with the "most underrated" label for him. And many of them would agree if you suggested Billy Casper was the greatest putter of all-time.

    "Billy Casper," Chi Chi Rodriguez once said, "could make a 40-foot putt just by winking at it." When putting, the World Golf Hall of Fame said about Casper's style, he would take "a pigeon-toed stance and gave the ball a brisk, wristy pop."

    Casper may or may not be the best putter, but he's definitely in the argument. Casper discussed and demonstrated his putting technique in a 1981 golf instructional VHS tape titled, Improve Your Golf Game with Billy Casper, which can be viewed on YouTube.

    Career Wind-Down and Post-Career

    Casper's final PGA Tour win came in 1975, and he went on to win nine more times on the Senior Tour. One of those Champions Tour victories was the 1983 U.S. Senior Open.

    Casper captained Team USA at the 1979 Ryder Cup, the first Ryder Cup to include a Team Europe. Casper's side won by a 17-11 score.

    Casper's post playing career included designing many golf courses through his company, Billy Casper Golf. Billy Casper Golf developed into a golf course management company and became one of the most successful in the world. The company lives on after Casper's death at age 83 in 2015.

    Another company started by Casper, originally part of Billy Casper Golf but now a separate unit, is Buffalo Communications, a digital marketing and public relations firm.

    Trivia

    • In 1968, Billy Casper became the first PGA Tour player to win more than $200,000 in a single season.
    • Casper and his wife had 11 children, six of them adopted.
    • Casper appeared in the 1972 Disney movie Now You See Him, Now You Don't that starred Kurt Russell. Russell's character discovers how to make himself invisible, and in one scene enjoyed some time playing golf while invisible.
    • As a player in the Ryder Cup, Casper compiled a 20-10-7 match record. His 23.5 points earned are a Team USA record.

      Quote, Unquote

      • Lee Trevino: "When I came up, I focused on Casper. I figured he was twice as good as me, so I watched how he practiced and decided I would practice three times as much as him."

      A couple quotes about Casper's putting prowess:

      • Johnny Miller: "Billy has the greatest pair of hands God ever gave a human being."
      • Chi Chi Rodriguez: "(Casper) was the greatest putter I ever saw ... When golf balls used to leave the factory, they prayed they would get to be putted by Billy."

      And how did Casper respond to such praise? With his customary humility, such as this quote:

      • "Oh, I used to make 'em once in a while." - Casper

      Here are few other quotes spoken by, or written by, Casper:

      • "Try to think where you want to put the ball, not where you don't want it to go."
      • "Golfers are the greatest worriers in the world of sport."
      • "Think ahead. Golf is a next-shot game."
      • "Play every shot so that the next one will be the easiest that you can give yourself."
      • "Golf puts a man's character on the anvil and his richest qualities - patience, poise, restraint - to the flame."

      List of Billy Casper's Pro Tournament Wins

      PGA Tour
      1. 1956 Labatt Open
      2. 1957 Phoenix Open Invitational
      3. 1957 Kentucky Derby Open Invitational
      4. 1958 Bing Crosby National
      5. 1958 Greater New Orleans Open
      6. 1958 Buick Open Invitational
      7. 1959 U.S. Open
      8. 1959 Portland Centennial Open
      9. 1959 Lafayette Open Invitational
      10. 1959 Mobile Sertoma Open Invitational
      11. 1960 Portland Open Invitational
      12. 1960 Hesperia Open Invitational
      13. 1960 Orange County Open Invitational
      14.

      1961 Portland Open Invitational
      15. 1962 Doral Open Invitational
      16. 1962 Greater Greensboro Open
      17. 1962 500 Festival Open Invitational
      18. 1962 Bakersfield Open Invitational
      19. 1963 Bing Crosby National Pro-Am
      20. 1963 Insurance City Open Invitational
      21. 1964 Doral Open Invitational
      22. 1964 Colonial National Invitation
      23. 1964 Greater Seattle Open Invitational
      24. 1964 Almaden Open Invitational
      25. 1965 Bob Hope Desert Classic
      26. 1965 Western Open
      27. 1965 Insurance City Open Invitational
      28. 1965 Sahara Invitational
      29. 1966 San Diego Open Invitational
      30. 1966 U.S. Open
      31. 1966 Western Open
      32. 1966 500 Festival Open Invitation
      33. 1967 Canadian Open
      34. 1967 Carling World Open
      35. 1968 Los Angeles Open
      36. 1968 Greater Greensboro Open
      37. 1968 Colonial National Invitation
      38. 1968 500 Festival Open Invitation
      39. 1968 Greater Hartford Open Invitational
      40. 1968 Lucky International Open
      41. 1969 Bob Hope Desert Classic
      42. 1969 Western Open
      43. 1969 Alcan Open
      44. 1970 Los Angeles Open
      45. 1970 Masters
      46. 1970 IVB-Philadelphia Golf Classic
      47. 1970 AVCO Golf Classic
      48. 1971 Kaiser International Open
      49. 1973 Western Open
      50. 1973 Sammy Davis Jr.-Greater Hartford Open
      51. 1975 First NBC New Orleans Open

      European Tour
      1. 1975 Italian Open

      Champions Tour
      1. 1982 Shootout at Jeremy Ranch
      2. 1982 Merrill Lynch-Golf Digest Commemorative Pro-Am
      3. 1983 U.S. Senior Open
      4. 1984 Senior PGA Tour Roundup
      5. 1987 Del Webb Arizona Classic
      6. 1987 Greater Grand Rapids Open
      7. 1988 Vantage at The Dominion
      8. 1988 Mazda Senior Players Championship
      9. 1989 Transamerica Senior Golf Championship

       

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      Your Citation
      Kelley, Brent. "Billy Casper: Golf's Overlooked Legend." ThoughtCo, Aug. 14, 2017, thoughtco.com/billy-casper-biography-4145414. Kelley, Brent. (2017, August 14). Billy Casper: Golf's Overlooked Legend. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/billy-casper-biography-4145414 Kelley, Brent. "Billy Casper: Golf's Overlooked Legend." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/billy-casper-biography-4145414 (accessed November 20, 2017).