Having consumed eight celery stalks smeared with caviar, a bag of potato chips and a handful of grapes grown in the organic manner—without the use of chemical fertilizer or noxious sprays—Billy Casper, who has won more money at professional golf than any man in history save Arnold Palmer, was ready to have his dinner. From the kitchen of his motel suite came the crackle of a duck roasting in a deep steel skillet, fired of necessity by electric coils, since gas heat affects Casper like poison. For some reason the duck smelled as if it had been seasoned by a wizard chef, but Shirley Casper had put only salt on it. No fancy sauces for her husband. They give him headaches and other unpleasant physical reactions. So does sitting on a foam-rubber couch, playing golf in Florida, eating a honeydew melon and driving through Akron, Ohio. Those things, where Casper is concerned, are simply not healthy, and without his health a professional golfer is like an opera singer with laryngitis.
As side dishes for dinner on this same evening the Caspers had a choice among Jerusalem artichokes, avocado, lettuce, radishes and parsnips. All were grown organically on a farm in Vista, Calif. and delivered that day in crates to the motel in Carmel where Billy was staying during the Crosby pro-am. Dessert could be, if Billy wished, rice cakes and honey washed down with a cup of herb tea. In other crates, shipped by a Chicago supplier, were cuts of buffalo, bear, hippopotamus, venison, rabbit and elk, meats that were selected for their variety. The Caspers believe that, ideally, no victual should be eaten more often than every third or fourth day. As Shirley Casper, a small, attractive woman wearing a gold watch that hung from her wrist as if she had borrowed it from a fat friend, began to set the table, a squirrel appeared on the limb of an oak tree outside the kitchen, looked in the window and then, perhaps recognizing itself as a potential meal, dashed off. The evening before, Billy Casper had eaten an entire rabbit, except for one piece that went to Shirley and one to a visitor. Although he is 50 pounds lighter than he was a year and a half ago (see cover), Casper eats almost three times as much as he did then. And he ignores calories. The difference is he now eats foods that do not weary him, sicken him, fatten him or provoke him to shout at people.
"Now if anything bothers me I can handle it in a way that doesn't make me look like a jerk," Casper said. He was sitting in the living room of the suite with his shoes off. He had just finished a round of the Crosby, and by his standards had not played well. "Two years ago you'd never have seen me after a round like this," he said. "I'd be slamming clubs and jumping up and down."
"He used to get awfully grouchy," Shirley Casper had said earlier. "He was all right when he first woke up in the morning. I'd hear him singing in the shower. Then he'd have a big breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, milk and orange juice and we'd start to the course. As we drove along I could feel him getting depressed. He'd begin complaining about having to play golf and say he wished he had some other occupation."
"It was terrible," said Billy. "By the time I got to the first tee, all I wanted to do was go to sleep. I was grumpy and fidgety. Everything on the course bothered me. I was using up a big bottle of aspirin every few weeks. I was always sick. If the flu came anywhere in the neighborhood, I got it. But the depression was the worst thing. That's the worst form of illness there is. I never really came to the point where I wanted to jump out a window, but if I had continued the way I was I might have."
It is said that inside every fat man is a thin man fighting to get out. Although vestiges remain—a bag of flesh below the chin, a slight bulge at the waist—the thin man in Casper has made it. His appearance is so different that to old friends he is all but impossible to recognize on a golf course. He may be no better golfer than when he was fat and unhappy, but his changed shape and his altered mood are getting him the kind of attention from the public that he has long gotten from his peers. The attitudes he used to display on the course, the scowls, the gloom, the sulks, made it seem that he did not enjoy what he was doing, and the public, not knowing Casper was sick, refused to make a hero of him. Galleries treated him with respectful apathy, appreciating that he was good at his business but not caring to watch him. Instead they swarmed around Palmer, Nicklaus, Player and Lema, all of whom appeared more human, more capable of joy and sorrow rather than mere pettishness.
Casper trudged along beset by headaches, sinus, backaches, muscle spasms, irascibility and a ponderous belly. He was cheerful at times, but more often dour. He kept at the game as at a chore, and he won tournaments, including the U.S. Open in 1959. But most of the stories that were written about him referred either to his putting or his stomach. "He's a nice, fat young player," Cary Middlecoff said in introducing Casper at a clinic in 1957.
Fans thought of Casper as a large, rumpled man whose shirt—and stomach—fell over his belt. Casper did not admit that such descriptions worried him, but he tried several diets, resorting more than once to starvation. He would lose 10 pounds and then gain them back. "He ate a lot of junk," says his friend Bob Reynolds, co-owner of the California Angels. "He was a candy bar man on the golf course, he would have a banana split when he came in and he would wind up at a soda fountain before the day was over." The eating was Casper's way to cope with his nervousness and irritability.
When Casper was through playing a tournament round it was not his habit to pal it up in the clubhouse with the other pros. He would go back to the motel with Shirley. Not only did he not socialize with his associates, he beat them regularly, which did not make him their darling. They called him a loner or worse.
Even then, in his blue period, Casper was in splendid financial condition. Bill Casper Enterprises, Inc., in which Casper, Shirley and Shirley's mother are officers and consider themselves a team, prospered with endorsements and tournament paychecks. It was an oddity for Billy to finish out of the money. (In 12 years as a pro he has won $471,999.17 in official money, second to Palmer's $643,982.17, and has thus averaged $39,333 per year, a fact that seldom fails to surprise golf fans, for they rarely comprehend what a fine and consistent player Casper is. In 1965 he won pro golf's award for consistency, the Vardon Trophy, by averaging 70.586 strokes per round in tournament play. In the past six years he has won three Vardon trophies, averaging 70.366, the best Vardon record on the tour.) But Casper, then 32, was tired of marching his 225 pounds around golf courses, and Shirley was not much better off herself. She weighed 140 pounds, far too heavy for her 5-foot-3 frame. She had edema, a swelling of the feet and ankles. Doctors told her that her dizziness was an inner-ear ailment, she had migraine headaches and she got airsick when she and Casper had to fly to a tournament. Their 9-year-old son Billy had a rare hypo-gamma-globulin anemia and had to have shots every two weeks. He was a slow student, was hypersensitive and jumpy, had convulsions and fevers. Outwardly the Caspers seemed to be doing very well. The reality was something else.