About Utah: Billy Casper makes triumphant return to Notre Dame

Published: Sunday, Sept. 23 2012 9:00 p.m. MDT

At Notre Dame's Warren Golf Course, head professional John Foster brought together the university's men's and women's golf teams to meet the legendary golfer.

At the football luncheon, Billy was approached by Joe Sassano, a fellow freshman from 1950 who went on to graduate with a P.E. degree in 1954, the same year Billy mustered out of the U.S. Navy – the institution that took him in after Notre Dame (and made sure he stayed the full four years).

Casper joined the pro golf tour in 1955 and while winning more tournaments than all but six men in PGA Tour history also became golf's second millionaire.

Meanwhile, Sassano was amassing his own successful athletic career as a high school football coach who would later be inducted into the national high school Hall of Fame.

Joe remembered the buzz about Billy Casper when the newcomer from San Diego won a start-of-school-year golf tournament on the college golf course that was open to all students, including the golf team.

"He won by 10 shots or more – people were talking about it," said Joe.

Casper only dully remembered the event, which was quickly supplanted by an Indiana cold in November that closed the golf course and drove him indoors.

"I was from San Diego. I thought I was going to freeze," said Casper. "All I did was stay inside and hit wedge shots against the wall."

Sixty-two years later, he can only muse what might have been if he'd stayed in college.

Still, he went on to do Notre Dame proud as it was.

And on the return of the prodigal freshman, Notre Dame did him proud.

"I'm so impressed by everything here," said the athlete who joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when he was at the height of his career in 1966, and later relocated to Utah. "We have so much in common, the Catholics and us. Faith is so important, family means so much.

"This visit has gone far beyond anything I ever imagined," he said.. "The warmth everyone has shown has been unbelievable."

To cap it off, the Irish gave Casper and his entourage prime 50-yard-line seats for the Saturday night Notre Dame-Michigan game.

As he settled into his seat, Casper remembered sitting in the same stadium as a student in 1950 and watching North Carolina upset the mighty Irish and end Notre Dame's 32-game winning streak.

This time, he witnessed a 13-6 Notre Dame triumph that extended the Irish winning streak this season to four games in a row.

Time, it seems, has improved everything.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday.

email: lbenson@desnews.com

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