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Herbert Warren Wind
June 22, 1959
A relaxed and most pleasing new personality, Billy Casper, won a U.S. Open enlivened by the threats of Hogan and Snead
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June 22, 1959

The Man With The Devastating Putter

A relaxed and most pleasing new personality, Billy Casper, won a U.S. Open enlivened by the threats of Hogan and Snead

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Late Friday night, after a week of hot and humid weather, the rainstorms which had been daily predicted for the New York area finally broke. The rain fell hard during the night, and shortly after 8 o'clock on Saturday morning—the day the final 36 holes of the 59th National Open were scheduled to be played at the Winged Foot Club in Mamaroneck—it began to come down again in buckets, and play had to be suspended. There was some question for a while whether the entire day's play would have to be canceled, for part of the 4th green was under water and other low stretches of the course were verging on being unplayable, but the skies suddenly cleared, the rain stopped, Winged Foot's wonderful drainage system took care of most of the danger points and play was resumed. However, the delay had consumed almost two hours, and since it would then have been impossible for the large field of 61 (13 players had tied at 150, the low-50 figure) who had qualified for the last 36 to have played two rounds before dark, the USGA wisely decided to limit Saturday's play to 18 holes and to push the final 18 over to Sunday.

This marked the first time since the National Open was originated back in 1895 that a change of this nature had been made in the championship's traditional format which builds to a climactic double round on Saturday, long the most brutal and exciting day in golf. While it was a disappointment, in a way, to see this happen, after the third round was completed on Saturday quite a recompense was in view: the stage was set, as if by foreordainment, with golf's most colorful and accomplished players front and center, and there was time to savor this as there never would have been during the whirligig of a double round. The leader, Billy Casper, stood at 208, three shots in front of Ben Hogan and four in front of that other all but mythological personage, Sam Snead. Hogan was there by virtue of a 69 followed by two 71s. His first nine of the tournament, a 32 that could well have been strokes lower, was one of the most impressive stretches of Ben's whole career, and the years seemed to have been rolled back a full decade that morning as one saw the familiar figure with the familiar Mona Lisa smile beneath the familiar white cap lacing one iron after another that covered the flag all the way. It would be extremely interesting to see if he had enough left on Sunday to make up three strokes on a competitor like Casper, who can stand both pressure and prosperity as he had shown by playing a 69 on his 3rd round despite the strain of being the leader at the end of the first 36. And Snead—might it finally be his day? Once again the Bonnie Prince Charlie of the Open was within striking distance of bringing off what he has for over two decades tragically failed to do. After starting, so characteristically, with bogeys on the 2nd and 3rd holes on his opening round, he had kept himself in good temper and finished with a fair 73, added a 72, and on the third day had played his finest Open round in years, a 67 that saw him unfurl four beautiful one-irons and other thrilling shots which are a part of nobody else's golf vocabulary. Well, Sam would have a tough assignment trying to make up four strokes on Casper, and so would Bob Rosburg and Arnold Palmer, who also stood at 212. Claude Harmon, Doug Ford and Mike Souchak at 213 would have to make up five. The rest of the field, to all intents and purposes, was too far back for real consideration.


Hogan was the first of the contenders to tee off on Sunday afternoon. He was off at 2:05, four twosomes in front of Casper. He stared into weather that must have reminded him more of Carnoustie and the 1953 British Open than any round he has played in our championship. The skies were oyster gray and a cold Novemberish wind that reached 40 miles an hour in some of its gusts was blowing out of the north, dead against the players on the first four holes. On the first three holes Ben hit five classical wood shots. On the first, 442 yards long, he split the fairway with his drive and smacked a low four-wood onto the green, hole-high and about 20 feet to the left of the pin. (He two-putted for his par.) On the 415-yard second, he also needed two woods to get home and did so handsomely by ripping a left-to-right spoon some 20 feet past the pin. (Again he two-putted for his par.) He hit another gorgeous four-wood through the wind and onto the narrow green on the 217-yard 3rd. Here, though, he took three putts from 35 feet. He went over par again on the 4th, 435 yards long, when he again needed a wood for his second and missed the green to the left. It was his only nonsuperb shot on the first four holes, but, in any event, he was two over par...and after this his magic seemed to wear off a bit, not much, but significantly, and he was never able to get moving again in his best style.

Billy Casper, meanwhile, had arrived at the second green. He had pulled out his par on the first hole by dropping a hard four-footer. Not that golf records are computed this way but, to stretch for effect, this marked Billy's fifth one-putt green in a row; he had finished his fine Saturday round by holing a 10-footer, an eight-footer, an 11-footer and a four-footer in succession. Putting of this high order occasionally takes place on the circuit where the greens are flat and the pressure is milder, but in an Open championship it is an extraordinary sight to behold a man step up to one touchy putt after another and rap it right into the cup as if it were the simplest thing in the world. Casper had been doing this all during the championship. On his first round, he had had eight one-putt greens; on the second round, five; on the third round, nine including a couple of long ones. Though he was driving quite well, his iron play had been erratic, to say the least, but it hadn't really mattered, so deft were his pitches and his trap play and so positively unbelievable his work on the greens. He had not once three-putted and this on Winged Foot, with its subtle and hard-to-read rolls, and in an Open!

Now, on the 2nd hole of the last round, with everyone wondering if he would be able to work such wonders one more day, with so much riding on it, Casper, after driving into a trap, was left with an eight-footer for his par. He holed it. On the short third he was far off the green but he chipped to nine feet and holed that one. He missed the green on the 4th with his approach but came out of the right-hand bunker to within seven feet of the pin, and holed that one. On the long 5th he had an uphill 18-footer for his birdie 4 and he got that one too. Incidentally, each of these five putts would have gone in if the cup had not been 4� inches in width but only 2�. On the 6th, after a pretty pitch put him 12 feet away, something curious happened. Billy Casper missed that putt.

This fantastic exhibition—and remember, it is no easier to putt in a swirling wind than to drive in one-made it absolutely imperative for Casper's challengers to somehow flout the weather in their own fashion and to get a hot round under way without delay. Snead couldn't. A double-bogey 5 on the 3rd (where a pulled tee shot put him in trouble) almost killed his chances then and there, and he was never truly a factor. Arnold Palmer, in much the same way, was two over after the first two holes, and for all his poise and purpose, he, too, could never get going, nor could Ford. Harmon's move came much too late. Two men, however, did mount serious challenges, Mike Souchak and Bob Rosburg, and late in the afternoon their own good play and a decided lapse that overtook Casper midway in his round, and which at certain moments looked as if it might be fatal, brought them very much into the picture. As it finally turned out, both Souchak and Rosburg came to the home hole needing a birdie 3 on that rough 424-yarder to tie with Casper, who had come home in a rather rocky 38 for a 74 (four over) and a total of 282. On the 72nd Souchak played the chip he had to hole from the back edge much too delicately, and it was never close; nor, for that matter, was the 30-foot putt up and over a rugged contour that Rosburg needed for his tying birdie

There has probably never been such a devastating putting performance in the history of the National Open as Billy Casper's. In 1952, en route to his victory at Northwood in Dallas, Julius Boros used only 11 putts on the last nine holes ol his third round and only 27 putts on his final 18, but even this was eclipsed by Casper's incredible total of only 114 putts for the 72 holes: 28 on the first round, 31 on the second (by far his best-played round), 27 on his third, and 28 on the final day (where on the 10th green he three-putted for the one and only time). If these statistics imply that Casper's tee-to-green play was something less than commanding, this is, of course, correct, as Billy himself would be the, first to acknowledge. At Winged Foot he drove fairly well and in spots extremely well, but he is a much surer and stronger iron-player than he demonstrated himself to be. It was just one of the reverse ironies of golf, a game which is loaded with them, that he should manage to win the Open while not at all at the top of his game.

But it is also like Billy Casper, one of the last men in sports who needs to read The Power of Positive Thinking, not to let what he was not doing properly deter his concentration even for a moment or make the slightest inroad into a coolness that is so relaxed and affable and so utterly authentic chat one has to go all the way back to Walter Hagen to find its equivalent. Now on the edge of 28, Casper, a native of Chula Vista, Calif., won money ($33.33) in the first professional tournament he entered, the 1955 Western Open. He finished that season with official tournament winnings of $3,253.83 and has increased his take annually—over $18,000 in 1956, over $20,000 in '57, and over $40,000 in '58, when, all in all, he earned close to $60,000. Up to his triumph in the Open, his 1959 season, interrupted by a bout with pneumonia and two other respites from the tour, had been a lean one for him. This reminds one to add that he is undoubtedly the stoutest golfer to win the Open in quite some time, for the waist measurement of 38 inches which he admits to—he stands 5 feet 11 inches and weighs 215—is about as accurate as Demaret's professed age of 46.

Billy Casper is also the least intense man to win the Open in quite some time. He practices very little and it is typical of him that when his game turns sour, instead of fretting away over it, he goes off fishing for a couple of days, and this generally takes care of things. This lack of fuss and complication is reflected in his style of play. On every stroke from tee to green he follows a quick, unvarying ritual: he peers at the target as if it were miles off, brushes away a leaf or two if they are around, takes a quick three-quarter practice swing, resets his grip and hits the ball. On the greens he also subscribes to a set pattern. He studies the line to the cup with his head bent low, investigates the area around the cup much in the fashion of Bobby Locke, sights the line again behind the ball, squatting as he does so, with his right hand and his putter extended down the line. Over the ball he takes two quick little practice jabs and then he hits it—quite often, as we know, into the very center of the hole.

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