Billy Casper, a three-time major winner and captain of the 1979 United States Ryder Cup Team, died of a heart attack Saturday in Utah. He was 83.
Casper, who won 51 PGA Tour events, was never considered equal to the game's "Big Three" of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. However, based on the outpouring of emotion Sunday after learning of his death, Casper was a much-beloved and underrated player, mentor and person.
PGA of America President Derek Sprague issued this statement Sunday:
"The PGA of America is saddened to learn of the passing of PGA Member Billy Casper. He was a true champion, an incredible ambassador for the game and a wonderful gentleman. So much so, that we recognized Billy with our highest honor—the PGA Distinguished Service Award in 2010. We always looked forward to our reunions with Billy at the Ryder Cup. He loved the event which he Captained in 1979 and in which he earned more points than any other American player. We were fortunate to have him in our lives, and we will never forget his contributions to the game."
Other prominent figures took to social media to express their thoughts and gratitude:
JIM HUBER: Billy Casper's legacy more than golf
The ultimate tribute may have come from Jack Nicklaus, who shared these words on his Facebook account:
“Billy Casper was one of the greatest family men—be it inside the game of golf or out—I have had the fortunate blessing to meet. He had such a wonderful balance to his life. Golf was never the most important thing in Billy’s life—family was. There was always much more to Billy Casper than golf. But as a golfer, Billy was a fantastic player, and I don’t think he gets enough credit for being one. I have said many times that during my career, when I looked up at a leaderboard, I wasn’t just looking to see where a Palmer or a Player or a Trevino was. I was also checking to see where Billy Casper was.
"Billy had tremendous confidence. He just believed in himself. You knew when you played against Billy Casper, Billy would not beat himself. You want to talk about someone who could perform under pressure, if you wanted someone to get up and-down for you, Billy Casper was your man. I think it is fair to say that Billy was probably under-rated by those who didn’t play against him. Those who did compete against him, knew how special he was.
“More important than what Billy Casper gave us inside the ropes, he has been so selfless outside them. He has always been so steadfast and committed to his family, his religion, his community, and his unwavering beliefs. And he never asked for anything in return. It was not even a year ago, someone asked Billy how he wanted to remembered, and he said, ‘I want to be remembered for how I loved my fellow man.’
“Over the last 15 to 20 years, my friendship with Billy blossomed. We had a number of common threads, but the one that truly connected us was our love of family and those shared values. It was a genuine treat every time I saw Billy and that smile on his face. Because I knew I was about to talk to a dear friend. I—we—lost a true friend tonight. Barbara and I send out our most heartfelt prayers and love to Shirley, their kids, and all those loving grandkids and great grandkids who tonight are wrapping their arms around the loving memories of a wonderful man.”