March 22, 2021
Ultimately, it's up to you, a Billy Casper story.
Eric Monti, the longtime head professional at Hillcrest Country Club, told me many stories of his tour experiences during my three years working for him in Los Angeles. This one occurred in 1954, when a group of investors wanted to sponsor a couple of promising young golfers from San Diego on the PGA Tour. Eric played regularly on the Tour, winning three times in his spare time, while still maintaining his head professional duties. The investors wanted him to interview the young men and play a round of golf with them.
They played their round and Eric gave the investors his honest opinion. The first player, he said is a surefire guaranteed winner and it would be a wise investment. He was right. He won 29 times on the PGA Tour along with a US Open. Then won an additional 10 times on the Senior Tour and was inducted in the World Golf Hall of Fame. His name was Gene Littler. Pretty easy assessment, since he also was the current US Amateur champion at the time. The second player was a mystery, because he didn't know why the group brought him along. He didn't look very athletic; he had poor form; and seemingly could only hit low hooks and not that far. He did say that he had a nice short game, but not much else. His assessment was that he should find a trade or sales position and be happy to play recreational golf. He was a little off on that judgement. This player surpassed Littler, winning 51 times on the PGA Tour, including 2 US Opens and a Masters. He also won 9 times on the Senior Tour along with 2 Senior majors. That pudgy, non-athletic kid was Billy Casper.
Ultimately, it's up to you and your belief system and drive. Casper thought he could succeed and he did. Eric was right that Billy's short game was good, but that was an understatement. Casper's wedge game and putting ranks with the very best that ever played the game. I would rank him with the three best ever in no particular order, Dave Stockton, Paul Runyan, and Billy Casper. His full swing improved and he became a consistent, but not long driver of the ball. He could turn the ball both ways, but he developed a small fade that was his "go to" shot that served him very well. But it was his wedge game and putting that won him his tournaments.
While I was at Lakewood Country Club in Colorado, Billy Casper put on a clinic for an outing that we held. He gave a speech at the dinner and hit shots on the golf course for the participants. But the highlight of the day was a sand clinic that he conducted in the bunker by the 18th green. We had over a hundred people surrounding the bunker and green. I was in the bunker with him as he gave his presentation. At the time, I considered myself a world class bunker player. I had no fear and was disappointed if I didn't hit any type of bunker shot close to the hole. But what I witnessed, up close and personal, was a true master showing off his skill. The other spectators marveled at each near perfect shot, but knew the skill that was required to perform that shot. I was watching Picaso with a sand wedge. At one point, he hit a shot that he said only Gary Player and he knew how to hit successfully. He picked the ball off the sand with a relatively short backswing and the ball traveled about 40 feet and stopped immediately within one foot. I hadn't seen that done and he did it a few times. It wasn't luck. To end the clinic he hit a ball from a buried lie that he had fully buried and covered with sand at the beginning of the session. His last shot was to hit this totally covered ball to the pin. He hit this shot, and honestly, he holed the shot. The crowd went wild, but my lasting memory of Billy Casper was him running around the bunker with his hands in the air shouting for joy. Yes, that was lucky, but you have to be really good to do that!
Ultimately, it's up to you to define your success. Billy Casper didn't let the disappointment of Eric Monti's judgement of him affect his image of himself. He saw a tour professional that would eventually succeed. You don't have to have a near perfect swing like Gene "the Machine" Littler to prosper, but you do need a belief in yourself that you can succeed and you will find a way. Billy Casper certainly did!