ESPN News Services
Billy Casper, one of the most prolific winners on the PGA Tour who was overshadowed at the height of his career by the “Big Three,” died Saturday at his home in Utah. He was 83.
Bob Casper said his father died quickly and peacefully with wife Shirley at his bedside. They had been married 62 years. Casper passed out in the clubhouse at the Masters last year, had work on his heart and recovered from a bout of pneumonia over Thanksgiving. His son said Casper was going to cardio rehab for the past four months and was doing well until he started to feel badly in the past week.
In any other era, Casper might have commanded more attention than he did.
He won 51 times on the PGA Tour, putting him at No. 7 on the career list behind only Sam Snead, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Byron Nelson. His three major championships include the 1966 U.S. Open, one of golf’s most remarkable comebacks. He rallied from a 7-shot deficit on the back nine at Olympic Club to tie Palmer, and he beat him in an 18-hole playoff.
But he was overshadowed by the “Big Three” — Palmer, Nicklaus and Gary Player, whose rivalry sparked a revival in golf in that era. Part of that was the marketing of Mark McCormack at IMG. Casper originally signed with IMG and then left.
“Billy Casper was one of the greatest family men — be it inside the game of golf or out — I have had the fortunate blessing to meet,” Nicklaus said in a Facebook post Saturday night. “He had such a wonderful balance to his life. Golf was never the most important thing in Billy’s life — family was. There was always much more to Billy Casper than golf. But as a golfer, Billy was a fantastic player, and I don’t think he gets enough credit for being one. I have said many times that during my career, when I looked up at a leaderboard, I wasn’t just looking to see where a Palmer or a Player or a Trevino was. I was also checking to see where Billy Casper was.
From 1962 through 1970, Casper and Nicklaus won 33 times on the PGA Tour. Palmer won 30 times. According to Golf Digest, Casper’s winning rate of 9.2 percent trails only Nicklaus (12 percent) and Woods (26 percent) of all golfers who began their careers after 1950. Casper was a genius with the short game, considered one of the best putters in golf.