The Local Knowlege

Throwback Thursday

Arnold Palmer sort of had a thing for winning first-time PGA Tour events

Arnold Palmer was a first-timer in many golf milestones, such as being the first golfer to earn $1 million in career PGA Tour earnings, but with the RBC Heritage Classic this week, his proficiency at winning a tournament's inaugural event is example No. 1.

The debut of the Heritage Classic in 1969 was held shortly after Pete Dye designed Harbour Town Golf Links, with assistance from Jack Nicklaus. We are used to the Heritage being held the week after the Masters, as it is this week for its 47th playing, but the '69 inaugural event was held on Thanksgiving week, Nov. 27-30. Palmer, then 40, had been winless for 14 months when he put together rounds of 68-71-70-74 -- 283 to win by three shots. Winning at Harbour Town was so new that in a photo of Palmer being given the winner's plaque from tournament chairman Charles Fraser the still-under-construction lighthouse can be seen in the background (see below). Palmer felt like he had won his first tour event all over again: "I think this is one of my most important wins, almost like the first one. I wanted to win this one as much as I would a U.S. Open or Masters, or any other tournament."


Palmer was the inaugural winner in several tour events among his 62 victories. Of the tournaments on the current tour schedule, Nicklaus won the first playing in three: The Players (1974), WGC-Bridgestone Invitational (1976, known as the World Series of Golf), and The Barclays (1967, as Westchester Classic). Palmer is next with two: the RBC Heritage and Humana Challenge (the Palm Springs Golf Classic when he won in 1960). Others with two are Harry Cooper, Ted Kroll, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead.

But Palmer won the first playing of five other tour events no longer on the schedule, including the 1968 Kemper Open, the 1963 Whitemarsh Open (Philadelphia) and the 1963 Cleveland Open. With the 1969 Diplomat Classic and 1958 Pepsi Golf Championship only being held for one year, Palmer was both the first and last winner in those events.

Photo: Golf Digest Resource Center

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Throwback Thursday

Fifty years ago, Bobby Jones talked about equipment making the game easier and too many golf tournaments on TV

It's been known for quite awhile that Robert Tyre Jones Jr. preferred being called Bob over the public moniker of Bobby. But "Bobby Jones" fit the man's legendary career on and off the golf course as a media hook with more pop than just plain Bob Jones. Imagine Bobby Jones, who was a media juggernaut in print, news reels and golf-instruction movies during and just after his prime, also being a television personality with his own "The Bobby Jones Golf Show."

Six years before he died, Jones was featured in "a rare television appearance" that gave a glimpse of what Bobby Jones as a TV star would have been like. This Sunday will be the 50th anniversary of "An interview with Mister Golf," a TV show Jones did with Atlanta's WAGA-TV 5 and its acclaimed sports director, Ed Thilenius. The show had been recorded on Jones' 63rd birthday (March 17, 1965) and played back at 9 p.m. on April 5, a Monday evening. (WAGA was a CBS station at the time and is now Fox.) Show producers even brought out a birthday cake for Jones.

loop-jones-tv-560.jpgJones' TV appearances were usually limited to the Masters award ceremony in Butler Cabin. In this program, it was just Jones and Thilenius, both men in suits and ties, the nearly immobile Jones comfortably seated in an upholstered chair while his interviewer occasionally got up to pick up equipment props. With an ashtray next to him on a side table, Jones freely smoked cigarettes through a filter, which he clenched more than held due to his crippling disease.

Jones commented on a wide range of topics that were of major importance at the time, including on the eve of the Masters whether 1964 winner Arnold Palmer could be the first person to win the tournament two years in a row. "Of course, Arnold would be one of the prime favorites in any tournament he entered," Jones said. "That's the only way you can play it." (Palmer ended up tying for second with Gary Player, nine shots behind Jack Nicklaus, who set a record at 17 under and "played a game with which I am not familiar," Jones would infamously praise.)

A major commentary was Jones describing his design philosophy regarding Augusta National, touching on, among other things, the intentional choice of making par 5s that could be reached in two shots. "That was one of the conditions I laid down for our architect, Dr. [Alister] Mackenzie. … The purpose of a golf course is to test the player's ability to play shots of all types. Also, to give him the pleasure and opportunity of playing all these shots. So, if you give him a short par 4, he gets an opportunity to play the short approach after a drive. Then, you give him a longer par 4 and he plays the long approach. And on our 5s he can play a wood.

"On some of our par 4s, under certain conditions, he has to play a wood second. So we try to give him a wide test. Now, the standard golf course usually has four par 3s. That's so that every player has to play the approach to the green from the same place—not independently on what his driving ability might be. So that's what you try to do with a golf course. You try to make it a broad test and a broad opportunity for play."

loop-jones-alone-tv-300.jpgSome other excerpts from Jones, whose observations showed he had stayed engaged in the game 35 years after retiring from competition; his comments could apply to some of the game's issues today:

On whether golf had outgrown the era of one-man domination: "That all depends on what you mean by one-man domination. If by that you mean that there will come along a superman who can't be beaten, then I would say that that would never happen because golf just isn't that kind of game.

On the history of Calamity Jane, his famous wooden-shafted putter: "I think that the head was forged about 1890, but I'll have to admit that it's had more than one shaft."

On golfers being more swing-smart: "I ride by a public golf course twice a day, and I am amazed at the good swings that I see, both with kids and older people. Most of them know what they're doing."

On golf being easier and more fun to play: "I'm sure it's an easier game because of better equipment and better courses—you get fewer bad lies—and then people are swinging better. And, of course, it's got to be more fun to play down the fairway than in the rough."

On what he considers the biggest advancements in golf from 30 years earlier: "Improvements in equipment, in the ball, in golf courses and greenskeeping methods, in technique and more widespread understanding of the proper method of hitting a golf ball."

On a recent concern voiced by Palmer about the number of tournaments being held and the possible overexposure of golf on TV: "[I understand] why Palmer said that there are too many tournaments for all the top fellows to play in all of them because to play in a golf tournament every week is beyond human endurance and expectation. The mental and physical strain is so great. So I can understand very well what he meant by that. But that wouldn't mean that we shouldn't have a tournament if people want to put one on. So, [as] far as the overexposure of golf on television is concerned, it may affect the entertainment value of the golf programs but it's one of the main factors for improving the general level of play because it gives the ordinary players the opportunity to see good players and to imitate their methods. That's the reason, or one of the big reasons, you see so many good players on club and public courses."

Jones' sound, simple advice was never more evident than in what he thought was the most important advice to the amateur golfer on how to improve: "I would tell him to play a lot, and when he is playing, just play. Try to get the ball in the hole. If he wants to take a lesson or practice, go on the practice tee to do it and not try to practice on the golf course."

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Throwback Thursday

Peter Thomson's 1985 Senior Tour season remains remarkable

If the late Billy Casper is considered an adjunct member of The Big Three, the three-time major champion had an international counterpart in Peter Thomson. While the less flashy Casper could never seem to escape the wake created by the Arnold Palmer-Gary Player-Jack Nicklaus juggernaut, Thomson's problem with breaking in was a matter of geography. As an Australian considered a part-time player on the PGA Tour in the 1950s and '60s, Thomson existed in a parallel universe to American fans who, at that media-lite time, were rarely exposed to foreign stars.

Born just 18 days before Palmer, Thomson won an impressive 61 victories on the Australian and European tours. Like Player, his game traveled well. He won five British Opens, including three straight beginning in 1954. However, he won just one of the five after Palmer and other American stars had "rediscovered" the British Open in 1960 and began playing it regularly.

loop-peter-thomson-putting-350.jpgBy the time senior tour golf came around in 1980, Thomson was on the verge of one final show of his playing powers. Thirty years ago this month he started one of one of the greatest seasons in senior golf. Thomson won twice on the Senior PGA Tour in 1984, including the PGA Seniors. He then blitzed through 1985 with nine victories, still the most wins in a season on the Champions Tour, only matched by Hale Irwin in 1997. You could make the case, though, that Thomson's nine wins hold a more impressive historical edge because he won them in the year he turned 56 and Irwin won nine the year he turned 52.

The first of Thomson's 1985 victories came on March 17 when he shot a final-round 69 to edge Casper and Palmer by a shot at the Vintage Invitational at Indian Wells, Calif.

The monumental season was a dose of redemption for Thomson, whose low, running ball was more useful on bouncy courses, hence the Open victories and his lone PGA Tour win, the 1956 Texas Open. He was dogged by the stigma of being unable to win in America. But the record shows he finished in the top 10 for a third of his PGA Tour starts, and his lack of U.S. victories truly could be chalked up to his game, which was not designed for lengthy power courses but for a thinking man's layout. He was not an overpowering player, preferring to put a straight ball in play rather than smash it. He said, "Golf is like tennis. The game doesn't really start until the serve gets in."

Thomson's 1985 season showed a golfer in full vigor, solid in all aspects, his brisk playing and strategic thinking a showcase for efficiency. He has always been highly regarded as an articulate golf intellectual, sought out for commentary on golf developments but able to speak on a variety of nongolf topics. He's been a contributing golf writer since the 1950s, TV commentator, president of the Australian PGA from 1962-1994, golf course designer on more than 250 courses, and captain of the Presidents Cup International team three times, including the lone year they won in 1998 at Royal Melbourne in Thomson's birthplace and home. He earned a degree in chemistry, and his off-course interests extend to art and classical music. He even ran for the Australian Parliament in 1982, losing by four percentage points. The 1998 captaincy victory came 10 years after he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Wrist problems and a desire to be more home-grounded slowly ended Thomson's senior career. Asked by Golf Digest on separate occasions to analyze the meaning of his phenomenal 1985, he showed his common-sense intellect on his play, saying once, "There's great satisfaction in winning tournaments here, but I have no feeling of having proved anything. There's no sense of vindication or anything like that." He added, "It happened without rhyme or reason. I got myself organized, physically and mentally. I got my clubs organized and everything around me was in place, so I performed my best."

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Throwback Thursday

Before Ben Hogan became a legend, he had to break a nine-year winless streak as a pro

Ben Hogan is famously attributed with saying the secret to golf was "in the dirt." Ken Venturi also quoted Hogan as saying, "every day you miss practicing will take you one day longer to be good," which seems a mathematical improbability, but the point is Hogan was arguably the hardest-working player in golf history. Despite this, success took its sweet time, nine years to be exact after he turned pro in 1931.

The milestone moment took place 75 years ago this week at the 1940 North and South Open at Pinehurst No. 2, the golf mecca for many memorable events. The dates were March 19-21, which were a Tuesday through Thursday in 1940. Hogan had won a team event with Vic Ghezzi at the 1938 Hershey Four-Ball, but when he arrived at Pinehurst a few months shy of turning 28, he had not experienced individual glory on tour.

Pinehurst was an ideal spot for Hogan to break through. In Lee Pace’s book Pinehurst Stories, Hogan is quoted as saying, “I always loved to play Pinehurst. I thought it was a great place. . . . The whole golf course was a most pleasant and testing golf course. It’s a real test of golf.” The 11th hole on the No. 2 course was said to be his favorite par 4.

loop-ben-hogan-pinehurst-bunker-560.jpgHogan had experienced a journeyman-type career to that point, relying on income from club jobs to get by. Some reports noted he was down to his last $30 to $36 upon arriving in Pinehurst, and others said he was on the verge of giving up tour life. At the same time, things were looking up, and Hogan had had seven runner-up finishes in the year leading up to Pinehurst, which only made him more determined and ramped up in his practice. Hogan was additionally feeling confident using a new 14-ounce MacGregor driver that Byron Nelson had loaned him; the heavier club, with a black head, seemed to calm down his nefarious hook. After Hogan’s Round 1 success Nelson gave it to him for good.

Due in large part to the Pinehurst prestige, a win in the North and South was held in high esteem, nearly of major status. The atmosphere was vibrant, with outdoor festivals part of the ambience on the hotel lawns. Bobby Jones attended as a spectator, and the field included Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Horton Smith, Paul Runyan, Lawson Little, Henry Picard, Lloyd Mangrum, Harry Cooper, Clayton Heafner, Johnny Revolta and Craig Wood.

Hogan’s 66-67 start opened a seven-shot lead over Snead and Revolta at the halfway mark. But on a chilly 36-hole final day, Hogan also cooled off. Paired with Revolta and Heafner, Hogan turned tentative in Round 3, posting a 74 and his lead was reduced to six. Sarazen voiced doubt that Hogan’s lead would hold up. Snead finished with a final-round 67 to put pressure on Hogan, but the impending champion made pars on the last two holes for a 70, and his 277 total won by three. For the first time, the results had the great contemporary trio of Hogan, Snead and Nelson, all born in 1912, finish 1-2-3.

Hogan was such an unexpected winner that Pace reports the Greensboro Daily News had him as Hagen (mistaking him for Walter) in the headline before correcting the mistake.

In the Hogan camp, the $1,000 first-place check was a welcome relief, but so was the broken ice. Wife Valerie said, “Don’t pinch me. I’m afraid I’ll wake up. Ben has been so close so many times, only to see one fatal shot crumble all his hopes. He’s never given up trying, though, even in his darkest hours. That’s why I’m so proud of him.”

After being given the trophy and his earnings, and shaking hands with architect Donald Ross (see below), Hogan had a glass of milk and told the writers, “I won one just in time. I had finished second and third so many times I was beginning to think I was an also-ran. I needed that win.”

loop-ben-hogan-donald-ross-medal-560.jpgOnce Hogan got going, he won at a hectic pace. He won the next two tour stops at Greensboro and Asheville, N.C., and would win 64 times in the next 21 years, despite not playing for almost a year after his 1949 bus accident.

The importance of a victory 75 years ago at Pinehurst is being honored at the course. The starters on No. 2 from now until the end of April will be wearing Hogan caps in a mix of blue and white as a tribute.

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Throwback Thursday

One of golf's wisest minds turns 90 this weekend

The world of golf has always seemed blessed by wise minds who bring sense and keen perception to the game's daily events as well as its overall development. Instructors have been a constant supplier of enlightened individuals through the years. Texan teacher Harvey Penick, mentor to Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite, oozed wisdom as well as anyone ever did. But joining the Little Red Book author in a shrine to the all-time sagest minds in golf would be his English counterpart, John Jacobs. It could be argued that they would be the two prominent faces on a monument to teaching brilliance.

loop-john-jacobs-teaching-300.jpgWith Jacobs turning 90 on Saturday, it's a good time to celebrate the man from Yorkshire County and son of a golf professional.

Jacobs was modestly successful as a playing professional, with two victories in 1957 and a 2-0 record in his lone Ryder Cup appearance in 1955 for Great Britain. That was the year he had his best finish in a major, a T-12 at the British Open, which he played in 14 times (while never playing the other three).

Related: John Jacobs' Life Full Of Lessons

But it was Jacobs' astute mind and ability to study and analyze the swing that made teaching and leading, rather than playing, his more suitable roles. He was European Ryder Cup captain in 1979 and 1981, back when the U.S. was the team that couldn't lose. By then Jacobs had been a huge force behind the European Tour's growth, as founder and first tournament director, thus earning the moniker "the father of European golf." And in 1971, he and Shelby Futch had opened the John Jacobs Golf Schools and Academies, which still operates today. Jacobs delighted in teaching both pro and amateur. 

Related: Jaime Diaz profiles John Jacobs

Inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2000, Jacobs at one time was a Professional Teaching Panel member of Golf Digest, and authored 12 articles. He has written nine instruction books, but two stand out as his most astute and useful and worth trying to track down as a used book (go to Practical Golf, with Ken Bowden, came out in 1972 and can still be found in paperback. And 2006's 50 Years of Golfing Wisdom, is Jacobs' Little Red Book-type tome on all things golf.


An illustration of how Jacobs could communicate so logically is this passage from a February 1972 piece in Golf Digest called, "What Causes What in Your Swing and Why":

"Do one thing right in the golf swing and it will lead to another right. Do one thing wrong and it will produce another wrong. In this sense, golf is a reaction game. Never forget that fact. The world is full of golfers who say, 'I know what to do but I can't do it.' They can't do it because, whatever their conscious desires, their actual swing actions are reactions to basic major faults…If you can turn your shoulders and swing a straight—but not stiff—left arm in the backswing, then unwind your hips while swinging your arms freely in the downswing, you won't be far from a very good golf game. If you can then add the feeling of hitting through the ball on an extended right arm, you'll be very close to exceptional golf."

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Throwback Thursday

Little did Byron Nelson know that 70 years ago this week he was beginning golf's most famous winning streak

Last Monday was the 53rd anniversary of Wilt Chamberlain's incredible 100-point NBA game, a sports moment celebrated for its still-astounding magnitude. In a case of symmetry, golf has a big scorer of its own from even further back than Wilt's century game whose winning streak is still hard to fathom, and this week is key for him, too. It was 70 years ago that Byron Nelson's 11-tournament winning streak on the PGA Tour began at the Miami Four-Ball two-man team event, March 8-11, 1945, when Nelson won with his "Gold Dust Twins" partner Harold (Jug) McSpaden.  

Nelson's victory march ran all the way to the Canadian Open that August and included the U.S. Open substitute event (the Chicago Victory National Open) and the PGA Championship, his fifth and final major victory. For the entire season, Nelson would win 18 times, average 68.33 strokes and finish 320 strokes under par in 120 stroke-play rounds. During the streak, his average winning margin in seven stroke-play events was seven shots.

loop-byron-nelson-560.jpgBecause Nelson's monumental season took place in the last year of World War II, skeptics often argue the quality of the fields were weak. But an example against that criticism is Nelson's first win at the Miami Four-Ball. Sixteen two-man teams played a straight elimination tournament at Miami Springs Golf Course, with the field including Ben Hogan, Ed Dudley, Claude Harmon, Henry Picard, Sam Snead and Craig Wood. In the final, Nelson-McSpaden beat Denny Shute and Sam Byrd, 8 and 6. Jimmy Demaret, Toney Penna, Johnny Bulla and Ky Laffoon also played during Nelson's 11-win streak. 

In PGA Tour history, Nelson has two of the top nine winning streaks, with his 11 straight being No. 1. The next longest are from Tiger Woods 7, Ben Hogan and Woods 6 each, Hogan and Woods 5, and Nelson, Hogan and Jack Burke Jr., 4. For the 1944 to 1946 seasons, Nelson -- who was exempt from military service due to a blood-clotting disorder -- had victory totals of eight, 18 and six. Following the '46 season, having built up a financial nest egg, Nelson retired from regular play at age 34 and settled on his 750-acre Texas ranch with his wife, Louise. 

In addition to setting records more than 50 years ago that still stand, Wilt the Stilt and Lord Byron have another connection, although it has nothing to do with a shared ability to slam dunk or make putts. Rather it involves location: Chamberlain scored his 100 points for Philadelphia versus the New York Knicks in Hershey, Pa., the same town where Nelson won the 1940 PGA in a 1-up, 36-hole final victory against Sam Snead at Hershey Country Club. 

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Throwback Thursday

Believe it or not, the first nighttime golf event on TV was broadcast 60-plus years ago 

As highlighted this week with an item on Night-Golf Systems, golfers-by-night aren't in the dark as much as they used to be. Improved lighting and special effects make playing at night a vibrant light show. But such was not the case when the first nighttime golf event was televised.


Golfing by the stars has been around so long that the 60th anniversary of the first telecast came and went last year. Golfers today are familiar with the series of Monday night televised golf matches headlined by Tiger Woods (The "Battle at Bighorn" with David Duval, for example), but those were not the first televised night-golf events. During the summer of 1954, Chicago NBC-affiliate WNBQ (now WMAQ-Channel 5) televised matches on 14 Tuesday nights. The format was limited, however, by the restrictions of the day's equipment. Golfers played just seven-hole matches, with the 18th green at Tam O'Shanter Country Club in Niles being the focal point. Seven par-3 holes ranging from 20 to 104 yards were set up, with each playing to the 18th green. The green was well lit with lights similar to a baseball park; smaller mobile light units on pick-up trucks were used for the teeing areas. 

Related: Meet the guy who built a Brooklyn mini-golf course out of trash

The first night event had tour pros Johnny Revolta versus Dutch Harrison, and an amateur match between legendary 64-year-old Chick Evans and Chicagoland standout Art Hoff. Harrison shot a four-under 17 to beat Revolta by two shots; Evans beat Hoff, 20 to 21.

A couple other night-golf firsts: Colonial Country Club in Lynnfield, Mass., installed a system by Sylvania in 1964 and held what it said was the first nighttime professional golf tournament, and in 1968, the course at Sunol, Calif., proclaimed it the first championship-length course that was fully lit. 


Nocturnal golf has its advantages to improving your swing. If you have a chance, play in a night-golf event, but give it a try with just flashlights and special glow balls, with at least a half moon on a clear night, starting around 10. Barely seeing the ball will improve your feel and clear your mind from mechanical thoughts. After you hit the ball you'll be able to tell where you hit it on the clubface and the direction it's going. As Gary McCord and Peter Kostis wrote in Golf Digest about golf in the dark: "You must feel your swing and what kind of shot it produced if you're going to find the ball. Hit it, feel it and listen to it is the call of night golf."

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Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday: A 70th birthday salute to Judy Rankin

One of the all-time special people in golf had a milestone birthday this week: Judy Rankin turned 70 on Feb. 18. At an age when most people are fortunate to be enjoying retirement, Rankin is still a visible presence in what could be gauged as the fourth stage of her multi-faceted golf career.

Stage 1 was Judy as Judy Torluemke from St. Louis, a junior phenom who started playing the game at 6, was winning Pee Wee tournaments at 8 and the Missouri Amateur at ages 14 and 16. She was a 15-year-old low amateur at the 1960 U.S. Women's Open and lost in the second round of the 1961 British Ladies Amateur at Carnoustie at 16. 

loop-torluemke-table-560.jpgStage 2 was Judy Torluemke the LPGA Tour player, having turned pro as a teen in 1962. 

Stage 3 was Judy as Judy Rankin, Texan, having married Walter (Yippy) Rankin in June 1967 and residing in Midland. She won her first of 26 LPGA titles in 1968, her last coming in 1979. She won the 1976 Dinah Shore and the 1977 Peter Jackson Classic before they were designated as majors. During her career Rankin was a consistent performer who, perhaps because of her slight 5-foot-3, 110-pound frame, was perceived as an underdog. She also had a distinctive swing technique in order to get as much power as she could delivered to the ball. She turned her left-hand well to the right on the grip and had a markedly delayed lag on the downswing. She was deadly with her medium irons and fairway woods, clubs she used often for approach shots. 

loop-throwback-rankin-older-275.jpgIn 1976, she did on the LPGA Tour what Arnold Palmer did on the PGA Tour by being the first to eclipse $100,000 in prize money in a single season, bolstered by six victories. Twice she was LPGA Player of the Year and three times she won the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average. In the 1977 season she set a record with 25 top-10 finishes. On the down side, she was just 4-12 for her career in playoffs. 

Stage 4 is still ongoing with Judy Rankin serving as golf ambassador and TV analyst. After winding down her playing career in 1983 at age 38 following chronic back injuries, Rankin has been the go-to person for a woman's perspective on golf issues. Her well-rounded vision and delivery made her ideal for print and television. She authored six articles for Golf Digest on instruction topics. 

Having served on various LPGA player and executive boards as a player, Rankin retained a strong interest in the game's health from outside the ropes. Because of her ability to explore issues from all angles and relate what a player is seeing and thinking on the course, she was one of the first if not the first woman to be used on telecasts of men's events on TV, working for ABC, ESPN and Golf Channel. For many years she was on-course reporter, with partner Bob Rosburg.

Rankin captained the winning 1996 and 1998 U.S. Solheim Cup teams, and in 2000 was voted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, the first LPGA player to get in via the Veterans Category.

Rankin told Bob Verdi for Golf Digest in 1998 that she is "a wild idea person." Let's hope they keep on coming. 

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Throwback Thursday

How Billy Casper earned his good-guy reputation

The wide shadow of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player not only covered the great playing career of the Hall of Famer Billy Casper, who died Feb. 7 at age 83, it did little to help the public see the man himself and the rather exotic and wide-ranging life he led.

billy-casper-1968.jpgCasper is being hailed in remembrances as a wonderful family man and a giving person who exuded kindness and charity, which appears to have been well-known by his acquaintances but perhaps not so well understood by the general public. For instance, in a little-known gesture from October 1967, Casper and wife, Shirley, chartered two buses to bring 113 Mormon missionaries from Edinburgh to St. Andrews (the Caspers were Mormon) and bought them a ticket to watch him play in the Alcan Golfer of the Year Championship. He joked, "If I see you watching anyone but me, I'll take back your ticket."

But culturally and recreationally he was quite active as well. Golf Digest benefited from his interest in communicating his golf technique; he wrote 37 articles for the magazine from 1958 to 1974. At one time listed on the masthead as an Instruction Editor, he primarily revealed thoughts on putting, chipping and strategy, and at one time wrote a Casper's Class column, answering readers' golf problems.

Many pieces of his wisdom were collected in the 1966 Golf Digest book, Golf Shotmaking with Billy Casper. But particularly poignant and telling about Casper the man was the July 1966 cover story of his trip to Vietnam to visit American troops. The pride he felt bringing some leisure-time distractions to the soldiers was palpable as he told of his goodwill tour. "I hated to leave these men," he wrote. "Leaving them was like saying good-bye to friends who were in need."

Casper became a proponent of organic foods and avoiding things that cause health issues (he sometimes breathed in pure oxygen at tour events) after problems with weight-gain and coinciding sinus and backaches led him to change his lifestyle. So organic and exotic foods became the norm: ground moose, salmon, fried rabbit, duck, hippopotamus, buffalo steak, elk, bear pot roast and herbal teas went on the menu, with care taken in how they were seasoned.

The change helped him drop 50 pounds and feel healthier. It wasn't too long after that Casper outlasted Palmer to win the 1966 U.S. Open. Did hippo meat helped Casper win at Olympic? If he had not felt so healthy, would he have even been a factor there down the stretch?

bill-casper-fishing.jpgInterestingly, Casper enjoyed mingling with the type of game he turned to eating, and enjoyed the outdoors. On a trip to South Africa in 1968, he was photographed actually placing his hands on a grown lion. He was an avid fisherman, feeling it helped his golf game.

"Fishing not only rests and relaxes me, it also provides me with a muscle exercise that makes me stronger on the golf course," he said in 1967. Going by what Golf Digest founder William H. Davis noted in an interoffice memorandum in December 1965, suggesting an item be done on Casper's fishing, Casper must have built up substantial muscle mass through fishing. His agent reported to Golf Digest that on a trip to Hawaii, Casper hauled in a 255-pound marlin and two mahi-mahi, one 80 pounds and the other 40. 

Congenial to the end, when Casper was told during a book-signing at the 2013 U.S. Open for his autobiography, Billy Casper—The Big Three and Me, that his legacy as one of the magazine's greatest contributors is still appreciated, he smiled broadly and expressed his thanks.

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Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday: Big Three Golf becomes must-see TV

As Golf Channel celebrates 20 years on the air and golf fans have access to televised golf 24 hours a day, it's hard to picture a media landscape that was void of regular opportunities to watch tournament golf on TV. But such was the environment when the modern Big Three of Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus was starting to hit their stride.

It wasn't a given that tour events would be broadcast when television first came into existence. Johnny Farrell, the 1928 U.S. Open winner, was nearly 50 years old when he did a golf show in 1949. Into the early 1960s, TV golf consisted of occasional coverage of the big events along with regional and national golf shows or made-for-TV golf contests such as All Star Golf, Challenge Golf, CBS Match Play Classic and Shell's Wonderful World of Golf. As the schedule started expanding, some wondered if there was suddenly "too much TV golf." L.A. Times columnist Sid Ziff answered the question bluntly -- "No! -- in a March 1963 Golf World article.

And so the Big Three came in and decided to flex its muscles. In late 1964, the boys filmed eight matches: four at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, in October, and four more in December at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, the then-new Robert Trent Jones course on the Big Island of Hawaii. Then for eight consecutive Saturdays beginning Jan. 30, 1965, each match was played back on NBC as "Big Three Golf." (Nicklaus came in first, Palmer second.)

loop-big-three-golf-560.jpgThe show expanded the universal appeal of Arnie, Gary and Jack, plus gave the venues entree into viewers' living rooms. Much as seeing Hawaii tour scenes last month enthralled snow-bound viewers, the immediate impact of seeing Mauna Kea's spectacular third hole over water must have been substantial in 1965.

Filming the matches was an accomplishment all its own, let alone whether the golf played was up to the stars' standards. Because cameras weren't set up on all 18 holes as is commonly done today, it took roughly 60 crew members to move the equipment around to make sure a hole was ready to be played when the Big Three had finished on the previous hole.

"Big Three Golf" had some staying power. The next season had two rounds at Firestone and two at Indian Wells in California (Palmer was first, Nicklaus second). The theme of the third season was "The Big Three in Britain." The trio played a round at Gleneagles, Carnoustie and St. Andrews, and, finished in a tie at 218. (The matches were part of an effort to introduce color television in Britain.) They played off the tie at Dorado Beach in Puerto Rico, and Arnie won. The series wrapped with rounds played at Kasumigaseki, Nagoya and Osaka, Japan, with Nicklaus and Player playing to a draw (the sudden-death playoff was stopped by darkness).

Whether 50 years ago or now, the Big Three on TV is a major viewing event.

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