Monday, February 9

My Interview With Billy Casper

BILLY CASPER, ONE OF GOLF'S all-time greats, died late last week surrounded by family at his home in Springville, Utah. Casper's Hall of Fame career has been well documented in the last few days. He was the equal of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, especially in the 1960s when he won as many tournaments as anyone. But he didn't receive the acclaim for a variety of reasons.

Casper made the cover
of Sports Illustrated after
winning the 1970 Masters.
Billy won 51 times on the PGA Tour, including three majors. One of those major titles was the 1966 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, the scene of Arnold Palmer's epic collapse and Casper's amazing rally and subsequent playoff victory. In addition, to this day, no American player has won more Ryder Cup points than Billy Casper.

I had the good fortune to have several encounters with Billy over the last several years. Today I want to share major portions of my interview with him in August 2012. I used much of the below material for my book about the 1969 Ryder Cup, DRAW IN THE DUNES.

* * *

Q: I read that you had joined the British PGA and you considered the British your friends. How did that come about?

BILLY CASPER: I didn’t play in the British Open early on because I wouldn’t give up the time to go play because I felt I would be losing money. I could stay in the U.S. and win a substantial amount of money for the two weeks I felt you need to go over there and play. That was my decision I made early on in my career. As I look back on it, I love the conditions over there, love the way they play golf, and I possibly could have won a British Open early on in my career. Anyhow, that was sort of the reason I wanted to join the British PGA is because I did later on in my life go over and play more golf in Britain. But that was after I’d been successful in the U.S..

Q: How did you feel about playing in the Ryder Cup?

BILLY CASPER: I felt like it was the greatest experience I ever had playing professional golf because it was totally something different. You know you could come out and play medal play week in and week out and maybe once in a while play a match-play tournament which occurred later on. But to represent a team, to represent your country, and to represent a captain, that was something totally new and different. It was something I wanted to play in as many as I could possibly play.

Q: What was Captain Snead like?

BILLY CASPER: Sam was good. The captain that really stood out was Hogan. Hogan took command, and ... he was just absolutely a force that you admired and enjoyed being part of his team. The other captains weren’t as powerful or as strong, but yet each one brought something, too, that the others didn’t bring. And to play for [Jackie] Burke and Jay Hebert, just to mention of couple of those, Palmer—I played for Palmer twice—Jerry Barber. Jerry Barber was a neat captain also.

Q: It was different back then, wasn’t it?

BILLY CASPER: It really was. We had a camaraderie because many of us traveled together as the tour was beginning, and Arnold and I played on our first Ryder Cup in 1961 at Lytham & St. Annes. Jerry Barber was the playing captain. It wasn’t long after that that they stopped using a playing captain and had a non-playing captain. [Byron] Nelson was such a gentleman. He was so impressive. I really hadn’t had a relationship with Nelson down through the years mainly because there wasn’t any way, you know. I didn’t win the Masters until '70, to where I could really have an opportunity to have a relationship with Nelson. He was so impressive that I named one of my sons after him.

Q: That’s quite an honor when you do that.

BILLY CASPER: That’s right, he was a great gentleman. Each one of them were very special people. Hogan probably brought course management and a desire to win and compete into the game. Snead was more flamboyant. He was more natural. He was more fun, [a] giving guy. Nelson was just such a gentleman in every way that he conducted himself. Not that all of them weren’t gentlemen—they all were gentlemen. But he might have been like Venturi said, the top gentleman in the game.

Q. What was your approach to match play? What was your mindset and how would you go into a Ryder Cup and prepare to play?

BILLY CASPER: When I was growing up, I caddied. And then later on, I could play at a club. In my high school years I played for quarters. A quarter Nassau. And If I won four ways, will then I could buy a new Spalding Dot to play with the next day (chuckling). I was learning competition very early in my life. You played match play that way, and that’s what you played when you played on the Ryder Cup team. I had enjoyed playing match play all my life because of that. I think it helped me when I did start playing match play, when I started representing my country. I always liked it when I had one person that I had to worry about. I really felt that I had the advantage. When I got in a playoff, that became match play in my mind, a sudden-death playoff, and I felt I had the advantage.

Q. Did you feel any different sense of pressure or responsibility playing in the Ryder Cup?

BILLY CASPER: I loved the pressure. I was the type of individual, the more pressure I had, the better I liked it. I loved to be where I could win.

Q: Were you a scoreboard watcher, Billy?

BILLY CASPER: No. I trained myself not to look at the scoreboard. I knew if I was making proper decisions and playing well and putting well, that I would win. Or I would be right there at the end. I remember two incidents very distinctly. One was the San Diego Open in 1966. The last day ... the wind blew from the east which is uncommon that it blows all day that way. I started four shots behind in the final round. I shot 32 out, and I birdied 10 and 14. And 14 was normally a drive and a wedge and I hit a drive and a 4-iron and I made birdie. I birdied 15, parred 16, birdied 17 and walked to the 18th tee. I said to my friend, who worked with the FBI, "How do I stand?" He said, "You have a four-shot lead." And the other tournament that I played where I didn’t know ... where I stood in the tournament, was at Indianapolis. I started the final round one shot ahead of George Bayer, and two shots ahead of Jerry Steelsmith. Steelsmith shot 63, Bayer shot 64. As I walk off the green at 17, I was 7 under par. I said how do I stand to my caddie. And he said you need to make birdie on this hole to win the tournament. It was a five par. I knocked it on in two and made birdie and won the tournament. I shot 64, Bayer shot 64 and Steelsmith shot 63. And yet they didn’t win.

Q: Was that the Speedway Open?

BILLY CASPER: Yeah, that was one of the years at the Speedway. This is the way I played. I couldn’t change what other players were doing. So what do you want to watch the board for? I wasn’t like Palmer. Palmer liked to watch the board. I just wanted to be in total control of myself. And I used all my energy for myself, not anyone outside. That was my thinking.

Q: It worked well for you.

BILLY CASPER: Yes, it did.

Q: You won a lot of golf tournaments. Billy. Tell me, what do you remember back in 1969 about Royal Birkdale?

BILLY CASPER: Royal Birkdale was a great championship, a great golf course to play on. It’s very interesting, we watch Peter Alliss a lot on television now on as a British commentator. He and I had many, many battles. I think of all the battles we’ve had down through the years—he may be one up on me (chuckling).

Q: He was a good player, wasn’t he?

BILLY CASPER: He really was a good player.

No comments: