PROVO — When Mason Casper arrived at East Bay Golf Course last Friday morning, the recognition by employees was immediate.
"About time you got here," joked one worker outside the entrance.
Casper laughed and chatted with him for a few minutes, putting off his own work just long enough to catch up with one of his many friends in local golfing circuits. Such friendships weren't hard to establish, not with his father bringing him to golf courses since he was 5.
There's also the not-so-small matter of grandpa. Billy Casper is a golfing legend on both a local and national scale, a Hall-of-Famer mentioned in the same breath as Palmer, Nicklaus and Player.
The Casper name, however, isn't what has the folks at East Bay or Utah Valley University golf coach Chris Curran smiling whenever they see him. It's his game, one that punched him an at-large bid to the NCAA Regionals, which begins Thursday at Washington State's Palouse Ridge Golf Club.
It's the second year in a row Casper has qualified, with last season marking the first time a UVU golfer has done so.
"Last year it was great just to be there," Casper said. "This year my goal is to advance. My perspective is a little different going back for a second time."
Curran made the head coaching switch from women's to men's golf in the fall of 2010 after former men's coach Clark Rustand stepped down. On his way out, Rustand left Curran a lead on a potential walk-on.
"There's this kid, Mason Casper. I think he could be pretty good. You might want to take a look at him," Curran recalled of his conversation with Rustand.
Curious, Curran contacted Casper and asked for his resume. The response was underwhelming.
"I haven't been playing a whole lot of golf recently," Casper admitted at the time. "I don't really have a resume to give you."
Casper, it turned out, had lost some of his touch with the sport after a two-year LDS Church mission, followed by subpar schoolwork that left him ineligible to play for the universities that had first recruited him. The situation left him in a one-year limbo while he went to school and earned his athletic eligibility via college residency.
Now free of the red tape but bereft of recent experience, Casper made his case to Curran anyway.
"He came and sat in my office and said 'I want to be on the team,'" Curran recalled. "'I know I can prove that I'm worthy of a spot,' you know, that kind of thing. Every kid that walks in your office says that."
Curran admitted that Casper's passion didn't go unnoticed, but even that only earned him a semester-long "tryout."
"We'll give you a shot," Curran told Casper. "Then we'll re-evaluate at the end of the semester."
The former Springville High standout understood.
"I had some decent finishes [despite] not playing very often. Probably wasn't much for the coach," Casper admitted. "It was kind of a leap of faith for him to take me in and bring me on the team, give me a shot."
Curran was rewarded sooner than he expected. In Casper's first practice, the qualifier for the Pat Hicks Thunderbird Invitational held at St. George, he shot the lowest round on the team.
Once at Pat Hicks, Casper exploded out of the gate with a 5-under-par first round before going on to win medalist honors.
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