In his prime, however, Casper was overshadowed by Palmer, Nicklaus and Gary Player, who were marketed as The Big Three. But from 1964 to 1970, Casper won 27 U.S. events, six more than Palmer and Player combined, and two more than Nicklaus. Casper, of course, did not lack for respect among his peers. “Billy was a killer on the golf course,” said Dave Marr. “He just gave you this terrible feeling he was never going to make a mistake, and then of course he’d drive that stake through your heart with that putter. It was a very efficient operation.” Said Lee Trevino, “When I came up, I focused on Casper. I figured he was twice as good as me, so I watched how he practiced and decided I would practice three times as much as him.”
Casper was born June 24, 1931, in San Diego, Calif., where sports quickly became the center of his life. “When I was in first grade, the kids called me Fatso,” he remembered. “It hurt, but the way I overcame it was to outrun every kid in the class. So I developed a thick skin, and athletics became my way of performing and being accepted.” He caddied at the San Diego C.C. and came out of the same junior golf environment that also produced Gene Littler and Mickey Wright. “I didn’t really worry about form, and to be honest, I was too lazy to go out there and hit the ball,” Casper said. “I would chip and putt or play sand shots. That was the genesis of my short game.”
Among the game’s greatest winners, Casper was the greatest putter. He used a pigeon-toed stance and gave the ball a brisk, wristy pop. Casper’s self-taught swing was distinctive for the way his right foot would slide through impact. Off the tee, it produced a fade that was always in play and approaches that inevitably finished pin high. Whatever shot Casper was playing it was executed with supreme touch and feel. “Billy has the greatest pair of hands God ever gave a human being,” contends Johnny Miller.