RIP Billy Casper

Buffalo Billy Casper died yesterday. He’s in my top ten of all time for pro golfers.

Lots of Jack Nicklaus fans will tell you that Jack was the best golfer in the world for at least the first 20 years of his career, but he wasn’t. Casper was the best golfer in the world for half a dozen years or so, right in the middle of Jack’s prime.

Do you watch “Tiger Woods Golf” Sundays on NBC? Neither do I, because it doesn’t exist. But there was an NBC series starting in 1965 called “Big Three Golf,” that had Jack, Arnold Palmer, and Gary Player competing against each other. And the thing is, none of those three were as good as Casper during those years. Billy won 27 PGA events from 1964 to 1970, along with three Vardon Trophies, two money titles, and two Player of the Year awards (and he was easily the POY in 1968 as well, with six wins, the money title, and the Vardon, but the PGA didn’t award a POY that year because it was having a snit fit over the touring pros wanting more control over their careers). He also picked up his second US Open win and a Masters title during that period.

Like 90% of American golfers before Jack, he never bothered to play the British Open until late in his career, so he didn’t pick up the easy major wins against weak competition like Arnie, Jack, and Gary. At that time, the Western Open was a much bigger deal (for example, Casper was paid $11,000 for winning the Western in 1965, while Peter Thomson made just $4900 for winning the British), and he won three of those during that 7-year period. Most people today just count majors, not realizing the the British Opens and the PGAs of the 60’s had weaker fields than most of the regular tour events of the 60’s, let alone modern events like the WGCs.

By comparison, Jack won 24 individual events, zero Vardons, two money titles, and one POY. Arnie had 14 individual wins and one Vardon, Player had 6 wins.

In other words, during those 7 years, when all four were in their primes, Casper had more wins than any of them, more wins than Arnie and Gary combined, more Vardons than all three combined, and more POYs than all three combined, even after being denied a POY he undoubtedly deserved. And yet, he wasn’t in the “Big Three.” He’s got to be among the most underrated golfers ever.

From an article today:
"A brilliant putter with a superb short game as well, Casper was nonetheless overshadowed in his prime by Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. But he won 51 PGA Tour events between 1956 and 1975. Only Sam Snead, Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Palmer and Byron Nelson won more PGA tournaments.

Casper played on eight Ryder Cup teams, winning 23.5 points, more than any other American, and he was the captain of the 1979 squad. He was the PGA Tour player of the year in 1966 and 1970, and he won the Vardon Trophy for best stroke average five times. He was the tour’s leading money winner twice, and he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1978.

Casper also won nine times on the senior tour, including two majors — the 1983 U.S. Senior Open and the 1988 Senior Tournament Players Championship. "

Billy Casper should rightly be remembered as a great golfer, and I agree he was unjustly overshadowed, at least a bit. But I think you overplay the comparison to the big 3, especially to Jack. Yes, from 1962 to 1970, Casper and Nicklaus had the same number of wins (33 each, 3 more than Palmer in that same period). But during that same period, Nicklaus won 8 majors, including 2 U.S. Opens and 3 Masters.

Casper won a total of 3 majors. However you’d like to weight the British Open, Nicklaus had more U.S. Opens (4), and more Masters (6), and more PGAs (5) than Casper had total majors. Not to mention the 3 British Opens Jack had. Jack always concentrated on the majors–rightly so, as the best measure of greatness–and played only a selective number of “regular” tour events, and he still won 73 of them.

We can remember Casper’s superb career without trying to compare him to Jack. That’s not a fair fight.

I don’t see why not. Jack is either the best or second best golfer of all time, depending on who you ask, and he was a contemporary of Casper’s. I can’t think of a better person to compare him with.

Besides, I thought I made it pretty clear that I wasn’t comparing his entire career; I was comparing a 7-year period. Of course I cherry-picked those years, and of course Jack had the better total career, but if you’re writing a golfer’s obit, I think it’s pretty significant that he outplayed the so-called Big Three for 7 years when all were in their primes.

As for concentrating on the majors, the point is that the British Open had pretty much lost its major status before Arnie and TV revived it — which is why Casper first played it when he was 38, and played it only 6 times total in his 50 years of playing majors.

He still only won 3 majors though. Ignore the British Open if you’d like. From 1962 to 1970, again, Jack won 6 non-British Open majors, 3 more than Caper did in his whole career. Casper won 2 majors in that same time span.

So, for that 9-year span, he had the same number of wins–not shabby for Casper–but 6 fewer majors and 4 fewer non-British majors. Also, Jack had 78 top-3 finishes during that span to Casper’s 61. I think it’s a huge stretch to say he outplayed Jack, even during that span.

Yes, and it’s an even huger stretch to say Casper outplayed Jack between 1962 and 1986. Luckily, nobody has made either claim, so why do you keep arguing against a straw man?

Argue against my OP if you want, but nobody is going to be impressed by your brilliant discovery that Jack pulls away as you expand the timeframe.

You obviously have a lot of emotion invested in this. Sorry I stepped in. RIP Billy Casper.

How many Vardons and Player of the Years would Nicklaus had if it were not for archaic PGA rules in the first five years of his career?

Nicklaus won the PGA and Masters in 1963. He didn’t even make the Ryder Cup team.

No argument about that last part, but, as I’ve tried to tell you before (without success), Jack never won any Vardons because he usually didn’t play enough rounds, focusing on the majors as he did. He actually led the tour 8 times without winning it, including 6 in a row in the 70’s.

Jack did go into a slump for close to 3 years during that stretch, which counts of course, but choose any other time period…


It would be easy to just say Billy was in the right place at the right time to take advantage of Arnie’s collapse in the 1966 US Open, but he played some awesome golf down those last nine holes. I wish at least some pro golfers would emulate his very wristy putting stroke which he used to great success (just for variety’s sake), but it’s a style that’s all but extinct now (perhaps because greens are faster?). Helluva player.

I thought we’d been through this before. It’s a myth that Jack wasn’t eligible for POY from his first year on tour. He just didn’t get enough votes, although he did finish second in 1963. Yes, they had different standards then — Vardons and money titles carried a lot more weight than now, and majors, especially the British Open, carried less, although in some years it’s hard to know what they were thinking. But even looking back, if you go through Jack’s career year by year, and compare him with the competition, IMO he’s won just about the right amount of POYs (5). You could make a case for one or two more, but IMO not a very convincing one. For the other 20 years of his 25-year winning span, somebody else was the best player of the year, although Jack was usually in the top five.

Jack is either very fortunate or very prescient that he concentrated on majors when they were a lot easier to win, because now a lot of people look at nothing else, even though it’s very easy to show that at least two of them had weaker fields than most of the regular PGA events of the time.

However, it is true that Vardon Trophy and Ryder Cup eligibility required Class A status, which Jack did not achieve until 1966, so if his figures are correct (I’ve never seen claims for his virtual scoring titles that didn’t originate with either Jack or his agent, Mark McCormack), and assuming he didn’t violate some other requirement, he was robbed of two Vardons during his career. Casper won five, as did Trevino, and Arnie won four, so it’s pretty obvious that the minimum round requirements were not unreasonable for the top players. And only one of Casper’s five Vardons came in a year when Jack claims he had the lowest scoring average.

It was Jack’s decision to play less so he could scout and practice at the major venues weeks in advance, which gave him a tremendous advantage over the competition. In retrospect, it was a very smart decision. But you can’t have it both ways. He may not have won as many majors if he had played the minimum number of rounds like Casper, Palmer, and Trevino did.

Just BTW, Tiger’s lost three Vardons for not playing the minimum number of rounds, to go with the nine he won.

You’re misremembering several things. Not even Jack claims he had the lowest scoring average more than three years in a row, although he did have five years out of six in the 70’s. And I was a huge Jack fan for his entire career, and he was my favorite golfer for almost his entire active career, so I was well aware of the minimum rounds thing before the internet was invented. What you may have tried to tell me (without success) is that his Virtual Vardons (other than the two that he lost because of Class A rules, rather than minimum round rules) should count for anything.

The minimum round requirement was changed from 80 rounds to 60 rounds sometime in the late 1980’s

Applying todays #rounds requirement to Jack’s prime career, he would have 8 Vardons. And who knows how many he might have had if the Adjusted stroke average was used instead the straight average.

I do know that the adjusted formula is flawed, as it favors players who play more on Par 70 courses versus those that play Par 72 courses. The Par should factor out of the formulas and the formula should only count against the players average.

IMO Mickelson should have won the Vardon in 2008 instead of Garcia.

Here is what the 2008 Adjusted stroke average was. Sergio wins the Vardon.

Here iswhat should have been used, IMO. Phil Mickelson wins.

Most years it doesn’t make a difference. But it did in 2008.

In 2008, Tiger had the lowest scoring average by far. Since minimum rounds don’t matter, I say give the Vardon to him.

Wow, talk about Reductio ad Absurdum and Strawman arguments

Who said anything about removing the Minimum round requirement?

I was only suggesting that the current 60 round minimum be applied to the 1960’s and 1970’.

If you want to make a point, make a reasonable point and don’t take what others say out of context.

The point is that you play by the rules of the time, not the rules of some future time. Nobody is going back and figuring out how many jump shots would have qualified as three pointers in the 1960’s, to try to give past NBA players phony scoring titles.

The fact that Arnie, Trevino, and Casper won multiple Vardons while playing at the highest level shows that the 80-round minimum was not unreasonable. It’s lower today because the top players can now afford to play less, or play on other tours, and the PGAofA has no power to stop them.

Jack’s stats are arguably the best ever – he doesn’t need his fans to pad them. You can’t award him a virtual Vardon when he wasn’t playing by the same rules as his competitors. It’s a lot harder to average 69 for 80 rounds than for 60 rounds. It would be like competing in a race, sprinting out in front, and then declaring victory well before the finish line, when the other runners have been pacing themselves for a longer grind. You have no way of knowing how much better Arnie or Lee or Billy might have scored if they had taken more time off to rest and recuperate.

But this thread has been totally derailed. Let’s stick to Casper, OK?

No, the point is that I made a reasonable assumption of taking today’s rules and applying backwards 40-50 years ago.

I am not suggesting that the PGA and PGA Tour re-write the record book. I only want to give some perspective in the rule change back in the mid-80s. And until someone can prove otherwise Jack did have the lower stroke average 8 times in his career. A couple of those years he was ineligible to win the Vardon because of PGA rules. And the other years he was ineligible because he didn’t play enough rounds.

And if you scrutinized Nicklaus’s bio on his website, he actually had a lower stroke average than the Vardon winner 9 times. So he is not counting one of those years (1963 I think). Which gives his claims more credibility as perhaps someone had a even lower average that was also ineligible

The standards were stricter in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

But I do know that some people are taking a microscope to Snead’s win total and suggesting re-writing the record book by taking away team wins etc. 10 years, no one was doing that, or suggesting that. But now that Snead’s record is in jeopardy, his win total is being scrutinized with a fine tooth comb.

In GOAT discussions, some Nicklaus critics point to the fact that Jack never won a Vardon. BFD. He had the lowest stroke average 8 different times. PGA rule prevented it a couple of times, and later in his career, winning the Vardon was simply not a high priority.

“…It’s a lot harder to average 69 for 80 rounds than for 60 rounds…”

Maybe or Maybe not. Consider this hypothesis:

20% of Jack’s 60 rounds were at the Masters, US Open, and PGA Championship I might make a hypothesis that it was HARDER for Jack to average 69 than it was for Casper and Trevino who were padding their rounds by playing the Greater Hartford Open, the Greater Milwaukee Open and easier tracks.

If Nicklaus got his Class A status in 1966 as you claim, why didn’t he qualify for the 1967 Ryder Cup.

January to September 1967, Nicklaus had 4 wins, (Pebble, US Open, Western, Westchester), and 10 other top 10’s including 4 other Top 3 finishes. I suppose Gardner Dickinson beat him out on qualification points.

Nor do you know what Jack’s scores would have been if he had played more pitch and putt courses. I recall he usually stuck with challenging courses for his non-major events-Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach, etc. And yes I just now read post #16, thanks notfrommensa

Once again, you only present one side of the equation, while blithely and willfully ignoring the other.

Point being that scoring average (and thus, Vardons) should be rather low on the priority list, either way, when it comes to ranking golfers, when they can pick and choose what events to play in (vs. the schedules in say team sports, where you either play or forfeit a win, or even something like NASCAR where drivers very rarely skip races unless injured).

Gee, if only Wikipedia had an article on the 1967 Ryder Cup.

Yes, I am blithely and willfully ignoring all the facts amassed by you and NFM. Oh wait, you don’t have any, you just “recall” that he usually played challenging courses, unlike those bottom-feeders Palmer, Casper, and Trevino.

Sorry, but “you can’t prove this wouldn’t have happened if things were different” is not much of an argument.