Colin Callander on why Billy Casper was one of the the true greatsMarch, 2015
Why he should be remembered among the game's greatest
The first time I watched Billy Casper in action was back in 1968 when the American travelled to my home county of Angus to compete in the Open Championship at Carnoustie.
I was still to reach my teens but can recall watching the American on the practice putting green and marvelling at the manner he seemed to hole almost everything he stood up to from around 10 feet and under.
He let a four shot 36-hole lead slip in that championship but his prowess with a putter left an indelible mark on this impressionable youngster and it was something I was keen to bring up about 25 years later when I had the good fortune to interview the three-time Major champion for another magazine.
Casper could never be said to have had a conventional putting stroke. He had an unusual pigeon-toed stance, and broke his wrists while striking his putts with an authoritative rap, but, like all great putters, he repeated the movement time after time after time.
My notes from that interview have disappeared but I recall him telling me the secret to successful putting was to ensure the back of the left hand and the blade of the putter worked in tandem during the stroke.
“I believed in keeping my blade square to the intended line throughout the putting stroke and I did this by making sure I kept the back of my left hand square to the target at all times,” was the gist of what he told me.
“I regarded the back of my left hand and the blade of my putter as one and the same thing. I could mis-hit putts but they would still go straight because I had the blade of the club working through the ball.”
I remembered that tip last month when I heard the sad news that Casper had died at the age of 83, and his passing also started me thinking about what a great player he was.
Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and many of his other peers regard Casper as the most under-rated player of all time and his record backs up that judgement.
He had the great misfortune to have plied his trade in the same era as Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player but that did not stop him winning two US Opens (in 1959 and 1966) and one Masters (in 1970).
“On the course, Casper was a bona fide superstar” He claimed a total of 51 PGA Tour victories, which is more than all but Sam Snead, Tiger Woods, Nicklaus, Palmer, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson, and throughout his career he won no less than 9.2 per cent of the PGA Tour events he entered, a statistic
bettered since only by Nicklaus and Woods.
His consistency during that decade was remarkable. His average score for 900 rounds played during that period was 70.43, better even than fans’ favourite, Palmer, who averaged 70.48 for the 777 rounds he played.
In eight successive Ryder Cup appearances between 1961 and 1975 he accumulated 23 1/2 points, which remains an American record to this day.
On the course, Casper was a bone fide superstar, even if he was never credited as such, and off it he was arguably more
He was a devout Christian for whom golf was never the be-all-and-end all in his life.
That was illustrated in the aftermath of his play-off victory over Palmer in the 1966 US Open at the Olympic Club, when he passed up the chance to compete in The Open because he had already committed to play for nothing in a Mormon Church invitational tournament in Salt Lake City.
Later, like his rivals Nicklaus, Palmer and Player, Casper went on raise millions of dollars for a variety of worthwhile charitable causes.
He also published a memoir entitled ‘The Big Three and Me’ and it is in that exalted company that he deserves to be