Casper left 'speechless' by 2010 PGA Distinguished Service Award

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Along with his 51 career PGA Tour victories, Billy Casper remains the all-time leading point winner in U.S. Ryder Cup history.
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PGA of America
PGA.com

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William Earl (Billy) Casper of Springville, Utah, one of golf's greatest players, with three major championships among 51 PGA Tour titles, and whose extended career has been a commitment to America's youth, has been named the recipient of the 2010 PGA Distinguished Service Award.

Casper, 78, will receive the Association's highest annual honor in conjunction with the 92nd PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wis. The award presentation will be conducted Aug. 11, at The Kohler Memorial Theatre.

"As impressive as Billy Casper was on the golf course, perhaps his greatest talents come from his ability to connect with people, earning the admiration of his peers past and present, and serving as a shining example of how we all can give back to others," said PGA of America President Jim Remy. "Billy was not someone who sought adulation despite his tremendous success, but he did become an advocate for the next generation of Americans. The PGA of America is extremely proud to be presenting Billy, one of golf's legendary players, with the 2010 PGA Distinguished Service Award."

Casper, who began competing on the PGA Tour full-time in 1956, and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1978, said that he was "speechless" upon learning of his latest honor.

"You never expect anything like this, and when you take a look at those who have been named before me on this award, it is truly humbling," said Casper. "I think how fortunate a person is to have a skill that gives one the opportunity to travel and build relationships with so many people around the world."

In 1992, Casper began the Billy Casper Youth Foundation, or "Billy's Kids," of which beneficiaries include: the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Diego; Junior Achievement of San Diego; the Music Machine, a mixed show choir that has performed in 13 countries and four continents; the Down Syndrome Connection; Primary Children's Medical Center; the Hassan II Billy Casper Moroccan Junior Golf Academy; the San Diego Junior Golf Association; the Boys and Girl Scouts of America; the South Bay YMCA and "Christina Smiles," the Champions Tour Wives Youth Dental Clinic.

"So much can be done to improve the understanding of young people and how they conduct their lives," said Casper. "I think that enjoying what you do is so important. You have to remember that what you do in golf has the ability to touch people wherever you go."

Born June 24, 1931, in San Diego, Calif., Casper is the only child of Billy and Isabelle Florence Casper. He turned professional in 1954, and spent his first full season on Tour in 1956, earning $18,733. From 1958 through 1968, Casper went on a remarkable 11-season stretch in which he only finished once outside the top-4, and was the No. 1 money-winner in 1966 and 1968.

Casper was one of the finest players of his generation, and his 51 titles rank No. 7 on the all-time PGA Tour victory list. He remains the all-time leading point winner in U.S. Ryder Cup history. Casper was the 1966 and '70 PGA Player of the Year, a five-time Vardon Trophy winner and was also inducted into the PGA Golf Professional Hall of Fame in 1982.

Casper succeeded in the same era as icons Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player -- the celebrated "Big Three," who combined for 34 professional major championships.

Casper is currently writing a book, "The Magnificent Fourth," that he said is not a testament to his being overshadowed by his contemporaries. The book, he said, "contains my views on life and what Billy Casper is made of. I was not as well-known, but I also was concentrating on supporting and spending time with my family. I remember well how I got playing for a living. I was going from earning $54.50 every two weeks [in the Navy] to having the opportunity to play and earn $18,000 on my first year on Tour and finished the No. 12 money winner."

Casper's first professional victory, the 1956 Labatt Open, came at Canada's Royal Quebec Golf Club. He established himself internationally by winning the 1959 U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club, taking only 114 putts for the week with his trademark mallet-headed putter on the slick greens.

Perhaps his signature triumph was the 1966 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club near San Francisco, where he rallied from a seven-stroke deficit on the final nine holes on Sunday to tie Palmer, then won an 18-hole playoff the following day. Casper won the 1970 Masters, also in extra holes, defeating boyhood golfing pal, Gene Littler, in the last 18-hole playoff conducted at Augusta National Golf Club.

Few players past or present can compare to Casper's excellence in the Ryder Cup. He competed on eight consecutive U.S. Teams between 1961 and 1975, posting a 20-10-7 overall record and earned 23 1/2 points, the most by any American player. Casper served as Ryder Cup Captain in 1979, and guided the U.S. to a 17-11 victory at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

Casper was introduced to the game by his father at age 4 1/2 and began caddying at 11. He began polishing his game through the help of his father and uncle, and later taking advantage of three golf holes that they built in a cow pasture on his grandfather's ranch near Silver City in central New Mexico.

"My Dad and uncle would work, and then I'd accompany them on the three holes," said Casper. "My parents were strict and taught me the proper fundamentals that I would use in my life. They taught me commitment to work hard."

Casper attended the University of Notre Dame on a golf scholarship in 1950 before enlisting in the U.S. Navy. He served until June 1955 and played on the Navy's golf team.

Casper's final PGA Tour victory came in the 1975 NBC New Orleans Open. From 1981 through 1989, Casper won nine Senior PGA (now Champions) Tour events, including the 1983 U.S. Senior Open and the 1988 Mazda Senior Tournament Players Championship.

Over the past decade, Casper has not eased his schedule. He is a regular participant in dozens of charity and corporate events; gives lectures on several worldwide cruise lines; and is an active member of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Billy Casper Golf, the company that bears his name, owns and operates nearly 120 golf courses, representing the second largest domestic portfolio.

Casper and his wife, Shirley, live in Springville, Utah. The couple has 11 children (six that they adopted); along with 38 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

The PGA Distinguished Service Award, inaugurated in 1988, honors outstanding individuals who display leadership and humanitarian qualities, including integrity, sportsmanship and enthusiasm for the game of golf.