JUNE 27, 1966
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?"