Casper was a great champion til the very end

By Joe PosnanskiFebruary 8, 2015, 3:01 pm

Ten years ago, Billy Casper stalked his putt on the 18th green at Augusta National, a tricky 5-footer for double bogey, and the putt meant nothing while meaning everything. In the gallery was Shirley, his wife of more than a half century. In the gallery were 17 other Casper family members – some of his 11 children, some of his many grandchildren (when he died Saturday at age 83, there would be 71 grandchildren and great grandchildren) and some of his friends. They were there to see Billy Casper’s last Masters.

There were also reporters there, almost 100 reporters. I was one of them, and to be painfully honest, we were not there to cover Billy Casper’s last Masters. We were there because Casper needed that last putt to shoot 106, the worst score ever recorded during the Masters, a score so high that many of the reporters (not me) could have beaten it.

Billy Casper never did get his due. In the 1960s, golf was dominated by what was then called the Big Three – Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player – but for a time, Casper was better than all of them. For three years, from 1968-1970, Casper won more tournaments than Nicklaus, Palmer and Player. Combined. He was a genius with the putter. In the 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic, he trailed Arnold Palmer by seven shots with nine holes to go. He tied the score with a combination of brilliant play (he shot 3 under on the back nine) and Palmer’s collapse (Arnie shot 4 over). Casper then beat the King in a playoff.

At the 1968 Colonial – viewed by many as a sort of junior major – he won by five shots. At the 1970 Masters, he breezed by Gene Littler in a playoff to win his third major championship. In all, he won 51 PGA Tour tournaments, more than Phil Mickelson or Tom Watson, Gene Sarazen or Lee Trevino.

Five times, Casper won the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average – Arnold Palmer won it four times, Jack Nicklaus remarkably never did.

“A truly great player,” Nicklaus said. “To me, one of the greatest things you can say about a golfer is that when you look up at the leaderboard and see their name, you know that you’re going to have to go out there and win it because they’re not going to give it away. Billy was one of those players. He wasn’t giving anything away. You had to beat him.”

When we last saw Casper compete at the Masters, he was 73 years old and it had been many years since his game matched up to Augusta National. He would come out to Augusta more or less every year (the right of all former champions), shoot in the 80s, take in the pleasant applause that former champions receive, and go home. Tradition. Then, as he got into his late 60s, he found it hard to keep his scores in the 80s. In 1999, he shot 86 in the first round and then shot a score somewhere in the 90s and withdrew rather than turn in that card. In 2000, he did more or less the same thing. Augusta National sent him a letter, gently recommending he not play anymore. And so, after two rounds in the 80s in 2001, Casper stopped coming.

Then, in 2005, he decided to make one last appearance. Shirley was the reason. His kids were the reason. They wanted the grandchildren to understand just how great he had been. They wanted to watch him play one more time. “People want to see you,” Shirley told him. “They really don’t care what you shoot.”

Casper made triple bogey on his first hole (he had started on the 10th because of the rain). He triple bogeyed the 11th hole too. He managed to put his ball over the water at 12 though not on the green, and as he looked at his chip, he said to his caddie Brian Taylor, “I shouldn’t be out here.”

“Yes you should,” Taylor said. “You are a Masters champion.”

He parred the 12th hole, a nice moment, and then it all came apart. He bogeyed 13, double-bogeyed 14, bogeyed 15 and then at 16, Billy Casper hooked five balls into the water. He made 14, and it was clear then that he would finish with the highest ever score at the Masters – Charles Kunkel shot 95 in 1956. Through seven holes, Billy Casper already had 49, more than halfway there.

“Gee,” Casper said to his playing partner Charles Coody after his 16th hole, “I hope this doesn’t stop my momentum.”

Casper didn’t have another hole like the 16th, but he also didn’t noticeably improve. He had practiced in preparation for Augusta, but to no avail. His game was gone. The gallery was mostly sympathetic. Yes, there were some who agreed with his 12th green sentiment, that he shouldn’t be out there, but many more agreed with his caddie. He was a champion. It was an honor to see him play. People rooted for him on every shot. They were contented by the occasional moment of brightness that shortened the 35 years since he had won the Masters.

On the 18th green, he faced that 5-footer for 106, and he tapped the ball downhill and watched it curl into the cup, the last great putt for one of golf’s greatest putters. There was real applause for him then, and he walked up into the flock or reporters who wanted to know how it felt for a great champion to shoot a hacker’s score. Billy Casper did not look sad. He had done what he came to do. His family saw him play. His fans got one final glimpse. He joked happily about his game. When asked how he felt about shooting the highest score in the tournament’s history, he smiled a little and tapped his pocket. “I didn’t turn my score in – I have the card in my back pocket,” he said. And it’s true – Billy Casper officially withdrew from the 2005 Masters. You won’t find it in the record books.

Then Casper gave one of my favorite answers ever. Someone asked him what he had wanted to shoot. It was a complicated question because Billy Casper had once been perhaps the best golfer in the world. There is something all of us must accept as we get older, something the mind won’t accept, something about how we aren’t quite what we used to be. What did he want to shoot? That’s obvious. He wanted to shoot 69, like he did when he beat Littler in the 1970 Masters playoff. He wanted to shoot 68, like he did the final round at Olympic when he caught Palmer. He wanted to shoot 69 like he did on the third day at Winged Foot when he took control of the U.S. Open more than 45 years earlier.

“What did you want to shoot?” he was asked.

“Golf,” Billy Casper answered.   

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Lincicome grouped with two rookies in Barbasol

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 17, 2018, 9:54 pm

Brittany Lincicome will tee it up with a pair of rookies when she makes her first start in a PGA Tour event Thursday at the Barbasol Championship at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.

Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, is scheduled to go off the 10th tee at 9:59 a.m. ET in the first round with Sam Ryder, 28, and Conrad Shindler, 29. They’re off the first tee Friday at 2:59 p.m. ET

Lincicome will become just the sixth woman to play in a PGA Tour event, joining Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie.

“The first three or four holes, I’ll be a nervous wreck, for sure,” Linicome said.



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Lincicome thrilled by reception from male pros

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 8:31 pm

Brittany Lincicome wondered how PGA Tour pros would greet her when she arrived to play the Barbasol Championship this week.

She wondered if there would be resentment.

She also wondered how fans at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky., would receive her, and if a social media mob would take up pitchforks.

“I can’t stop smiling,” Lincicome said Tuesday after her first practice round upon arriving. “Everyone has been coming up to me and wishing me luck. That means a lot.”

PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, husband of LPGA pro Gerina Piller, welcomed her immediately.

Other pros sought her out on the practice putting green.

She said she was also welcomed joining pros at a table in player dining.

Fans have been stopping her for autographs.

“It has been an awesome reception,” said Dewald Gouws, her husband, a former long-drive competitor. “I think it’s put her much more at ease, seeing the reception she is getting. There’s a lot of mutual respect.”

Lincicome, 32, wasn’t sure if she would be playing a practice round alone Tuesday morning, but when she made her way to the first tee, Domenico Geminiani was there, just about to go off.

He waved Lincicome over.

“He said, `Hey, Brittany, do you want to join me?’” Gouws said. “Come to find out, Dom’s a pretty cool guy.”

Geminiani made it into the field as a Monday qualifier.

“The two of us were both trying to figure things out together,” Lincicome said.

Keene Trace will play to 7,328 yards on the scorecard. That’s more than 800 yards longer than Highland Meadows, where Lincicome finished second at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic last weekend. Keene Trace was playing even longer than its listed yardage Tuesday, with recent rains softening it.

Nicknamed “Bam Bam,” Lincicome is one of the longest hitters in the women’s game. Her 269.5 yard average drive is 10th in the LPGA ranks. It would likely be dead last on the PGA Tour, where Brian Stuard (278.2) is the last player on the stats list at No. 201.

“I think if I keep it in the fairway, I’ll be all right,” Lincicome said.

Lincicome is an eight-time LPGA winner, with two major championships among those titles. She is just the sixth woman to compete in a PGA Tour event, the first in a decade, since Michelle Wie played the Reno-Tahoe Open, the last of her eight starts against the men.

Lincicome will join Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Wie in the elite ranks.

Zaharias, by the way, is the only woman to make a 36-hole cut in PGA Tour history, making it at the 1945 L.A. Open before missing a 54-hole cut on the weekend.

What are Lincicome’s expectations?

She would love to make the cut, but . . .

“Just going to roll with it and see what happens,” she said. “This is once in a lifetime, probably a one-and-done opportunity. I’m just going to enjoy it.”

Lincicome grew up playing for the boys’ golf team at Seminole High on the west coast of Florida. She won a couple city championships.

“I always thought it would be cool to compete against the guys on the PGA Tour,” Lincicome said. “I tend to play more with the guys than women at home. I never would have gone out and told my agent, `Let’s go try to play in a PGA Tour event,’ but when Tom Murray called with this opportunity, I was really blown away and excited by it. I never in a million years thought I would have this opportunity.”

Tom Murray, the president of Perio, the parent company of Barbasol and Pure Silk, invited Lincicome to accept one of the tournament’s sponsor exemptions. Lincicome represents Pure Silk.

Lincicome said her desire to play a PGA Tour event is all about satisfying her curiosity, wanting to know how she would stack up at this level. She also wants to see if the experience can help take her to the next level in the women’s game.

As a girl growing up, she played Little League with the boys, instead of softball with the girls. She said playing the boys in golf at Seminole High helped her get where she is today.

“The guys were better, and it pushed me to want to be better,” Lincicome said. “I think playing with the guys [on the PGA Tour], I will learn something to take to LPGA events, and it will help my game, for sure.”

Lincicome has been pleased that her fellow LPGA pros are so supportive. LPGA winner Kris Tamulis is flying into Kentucky as moral support. Other LPGA pros may also be coming in to support her.

The warm fan reception Lincicome is already getting at Keene Trace matters, too.

“She’s already picked up some new fans this week, and hopefully she will pick up some more,” Gouws said. “I don’t think she’s putting too much expectation on herself. I think she really does just want to have fun.”

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Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 4:00 pm

There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.

Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.

She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.

It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.

Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.

"It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”

Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.

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Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”