SI Vault
Robert F. Jones
July 14, 1969
Midway through the 1969 season professional golf's most enigmatic figure is—as usual—a leading money-winner and is—as usual—searching for the real Casper
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July 14, 1969

Has Anybody Here Seen Billy?

Midway through the 1969 season professional golf's most enigmatic figure is—as usual—a leading money-winner and is—as usual—searching for the real Casper

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In the light of all that, it isn't surprising that the Fishing Billy is as serious as the Golfing Billy or that watching the first can help instruct one about the second. The day before we flew down to Cabo San Lucas, at the terminal end of Baja, Casper spent the better part of the afternoon in the musty back storeroom of a San Diego tackle shop tying 9-foot monofilament leaders. The shop is owned by Milt Kraft, an oldtime casting champion who golfs now and then with Billy at the San Diego Country Club. A sun-mottled, garrulous geezer, Kraft is an exacting master when it comes to knot tying. "Don't try to cinch that up tight without spitting on it," he snarled at Billy, who was bending a stainless-steel hook to the bitter end of a leader. Billy dutifully spat, and sure enough the knot slid easily into place. As Casper tied and tied again, Kraft fed him a continuous stream of fishing advice: when a marlin hits, let him run with the bait until all the other lines are in before you hit him; use the leverage of the back rather than the biceps in fighting any big-game fish; if your forearms get tired, cock the index finger of your fighting hand over the top of the rod butt and you'll use a totally different set of forearm muscles. Billy took all of the advice in with a series of noncommital grunts, but when the fish started hitting he followed Kraft's instructions to the letter.

We flew to the Cape in a twin-engine Travel Air piloted by Dr. Persky. Dr. Franklin came directly to the El Cajon airport from early-morning surgery, and as we angled down over the empty sierra of Baja, the pediatrician and the obstetrician joked ghoulishly about blood under the fingernails. Billy didn't laugh.

As soon as we were in our rooms at the Hotel Cabo San Lucas, Casper grabbed an ultralight rod and a plastic bag full of cut bait and headed for the rocky beach. It was late afternoon, and by sundown Billy had cranked in two fat cabrillo, ugly but delectable members of the grouper family. They made a delicious dinner.

We were out on the blue water early the next morning, the Martian's twin 450-hp Caterpillar diesels kicking up a milky wake on which the frozen flying-fish baits skipped. Fully 15 marlin rose to look the baits over, yet only two hooked up. One of them was Casper's, a 120-pound youngster that fought well before coming to gaff. One more marlin was hooked late in the afternoon, and shortly thereafter Billy snapped a blue and silver Knucklehead lure on one of his hand-tied leaders. "This little kid is supposed to be dynamite on dolphin," he said. "I'll just catch us some dinner." Half an hour later he was cranking in a 10-pound hen dolphin. As the gaffed fish flashed its life away in a burst of gold and blue, Billy grinned hugely and extolled the culinary virtues of mahimahi. "Guess I'm just a meat fisherman at heart," he said.

The next day Casper would boat his second marlin of the trip—his "double eagle." That night, though, after Billy's dolphin fillets had been polished off, the talk returned to Casper's favorite subject: the clash between free will and obedience. His church, he said, demanded total adherence to the law of the land. Everybody jumped on him at once. Free agency and blind obedience were mutually contradictory, we argued. What, for example, if Billy had been a German during the Nazi period? His ancestors, after all, were German �migr�s to the U.S. What if his wife had been, say, a Jewish convert to Mormonism, and what if the SS had come for her and his kids? Billy stared up at the gaudy stars. "I'd have turned them over," he said finally, as though we had been testing him and now he was testing us.

I thought at this point of the strange phenomenon of Billy Casper's many faces. It is difficult to recognize the man three times running in the same tournament. His face changes like that of a rock being pushed uphill. Fat and sullen, lean and bemused, plump and sanctimonious, drawn and happy, cheeky and contemptuous, hardy and tempestuous. Is that Billy? Oh, yeah.

The following afternoon, before we flew back north toward California and the golf wars, Casper took me aside. He was wearing a new face; grizzled and sunburned and slightly stunned (or maybe that's just how he looks when he's thinking hard). "About free agency and obedience," he said, staring out across the blanched rocks and stunted palms toward the Sea of Cortez. "I've decided I wouldn't obey the SS."

And is that Billy, too? Oh, yeah.

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