Prolific Tour winner Billy Casper dies at 83


SAN DIEGO – Billy Casper, arguably the most underrated major champion, died on Saturday. He was 83.

Casper – who won the 1970 Masters and 1959 and ’66 U.S. Opens – had endured multiple surgeries recently and spent a month in the hospital in December with pneumonia. He died at his home in Springville, Utah, of a heart attack.

“He went downhill quick,” Casper’s son, Bob, told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “It was quick. But he didn’t have any pain. It was peaceful.”

He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1978 and won 51 times on the PGA Tour, seventh on the all-time victory list.

His most famous victory came in the 1966 U.S. Open, in which he came from seven shots back on the final nine holes to tie Arnold Palmer, then won in an 18-hole playoff.

"Billy was one of the true gentlemen of the game and a great competitor," Palmer said. "He was a better player than most people gave him credit for being and is going to be sorely missed in the golf world.  My deepest sympathies go out to Shirley and the family."

“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,” Jack Nicklaus said via Facebook late Saturday. “He had such a wonderful balance to his life. Golf was never the most important thing in Billy’s life — family was.”

Casper played on eight consecutive U.S. Ryder Cup teams, earning 25 1/2 points, the most by any American, and received the 2010 PGA Distinguished Service Award in recognition of his charitable foundation, the Billy Casper Youth Foundation.

For 20 years, Casper hosted the Billy’s Kids Golf Classic and Corporate Cup at San Diego Country Club, which raised more than $3 million for local charities.

“He was a hero to me. He left behind a lot, especially for San Diego and golf,” said Pat Perez, a San Diego native. “He was a living legend of San Diego golf and paved the way for a lot of us.”

Dubbed “the most underrated golfer of all time” by Johnny Miller, Casper’s 27 Tour victories from 1964 to ’70 topped every player during that timeframe, including Nicklaus, Palmer and Gary Player.

Farmers Insurance Open tournament director Peter Ripa said that the tournament will honor the San Diego native on Sunday with an image of Casper from the 1966 U.S. Open on each tee along with flowers. Officials also planned to have a moment of silence during the awards ceremony.

Casper played his final Tour event in 2005 at the Masters, where he made 45 appearances, and also had nine Champions Tour victories, including the 1983 U.S. Senior Open.

Casper is survived by his wife, Shirley, 11 children and 71 grandchildren and great grandchildren.