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Life fortress: A father-son bond is priceless for professional golfers Billy and Bobby Casper

Published: Monday, Aug. 3 2015 6:35 p.m. MDT

In this June 20, 1966, file photo, Billy Casper reacts when he ran a 25-foot putt into the cup on the 11th green for a birdie 3 during his playoff against Arnold Palmer in the U.S. Open golf tournament at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. As Olympic prepares to host golf's national championship for the fifth time, matching the club's memorable moments of the past might be the toughest part.   (Associated Press) In this June 20, 1966, file photo, Billy Casper reacts when he ran a 25-foot putt into the cup on the 11th green for a birdie 3 during his playoff against Arnold Palmer in the U.S. Open golf tournament at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. As Olympic prepares to host golf's national championship for the fifth time, matching the club's memorable moments of the past might be the toughest part. (Associated Press)

He stands across the table from Hall of Fame golfer Billy Casper at the Olympic Club in San Francisco this week and his love and appreciation for his father knows no bounds.

Bobby Casper knows the bond between a father and son can be a life fortress. He has dwelt in that castle all his life.

This week the 51-year old from Mapleton watched his father return to the site of his remarkable comeback victory over Arnold Palmer in the 1966 U.S. Open and perched at a table in the merchandise center at the Olympic Club, signing copies of his book "The Big Three and Me." He's seen golf fans line up at the table as his father has greeted them for hours ever day.

He's watched as his father did interviews with national golf writers and personalities including Jaime Diaz of Golf Digest and NBC's Johnny Miller and Bob Costas.

Billy Casper and Arnold Palmer after Casper overcame a seven-shot deficit to catch and pass Palmer in the 1966 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. In his just-released autobiography, Casper praises Palmer's sportsmanship in the wake of the defeat. The U.S. Open returns to the Olympic Club this June. (Associated Press) Billy Casper and Arnold Palmer after Casper overcame a seven-shot deficit to catch and pass Palmer in the 1966 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. In his just-released autobiography, Casper praises Palmer's sportsmanship in the wake of the defeat. The U.S. Open returns to the Olympic Club this June. (Associated Press)

Bobby has watched as his father, now late in years, is receiving well-deserved recognition as one of the most prolific golfers who ever lived. His remarkable 51 PGA Tour victories, three major championships including two U.S. Opens, the most career wins and points in Ryder Cup competition. The list goes on.

But here, at the Olympic Club, it all holds a special place for Billy. When he birdied No. 15 in the final round of the 1966 Open and Palmer made bogey, he continued the charge from five strokes back to force a playoff. He promptly throttled the legend the next 22 holes, and Palmer was never the same.

People talk about the Big Three, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, but it should have been — for all time — Nicklaus, Palmer and Casper. If you lay out the record, Casper's career clearly eclipses that of Player. The difference, back in the day, is that Nicklaus, Palmer and Player were represented by sports agent Mark McCormick and that made all the difference between created fame and enjoyed fortune.

Bobby Casper, left, has followed in his father's footsteps as a professional golfer.   (Associated Press) Bobby Casper, left, has followed in his father's footsteps as a professional golfer. (Associated Press)

Bobby Casper grew up following his father all over the world. "When I was a senior in high school we went over to Kenya where he played in the European Tour and that was the first time I met Seve Ballesteros. We always had opportunities to go places, like Morocco, Japan and New Zealand," said Bobby. It was the time of his life.

"I remember when we'd go to the Western Open, which is the BMW Championship today. He was represented by Wilson's Sporting Goods at that time. He'd go into the factory to get his clubs re-gripped with the old leather grips. When he'd be doing that, I got turned loose on the catalog and ordering all the sports equipment I could get my hands on, whether it was baseball, tennis, mitts, basketballs or baseballs."

When Billy left home to compete, he'd be gone for two weeks at a time, but when he came home, it was his time to get away from it all. One of his favorite things to do was take his family, his sons, sport fishing out of the Port of San Diego. "We'd do that for two weeks and then Dad would settle down and practice and get ready to play again."

Billy and Bobby Casper hold up their trophies at the Champions Challenge golf tournament. photo by ravell call june 23, 1998 (Ravell Call, Dnews) Billy and Bobby Casper hold up their trophies at the Champions Challenge golf tournament. photo by ravell call june 23, 1998 (Ravell Call, Dnews)

Billy said his commitment to get back to the game, both then and now, has been an example to him. His father was a dedicated competitor who practiced his craft and has always been giving of his time and talent to advance the game. Even today he holds a charity event at San Diego Country Club after the Masters every year to benefit the Boys & Girls Club. It raises $150,000 a year, for a total of more than $3 million since it was created.

What would Bobby want people to remember about Billy?

"He's always been underestimated, as far as the game goes," said Bobby, who pointed to the marketing plan by McCormick. I don't think people realize the record he had and how good he was as a player over time. He's seventh all time in career wins on tour."

The new book, coauthored by Lee Benson and James Parkinson, is a great starting point to understand exactly who Billy Casper is and what he did.

Bobby Casper learned a lot during his travels with his father, Billy Casper, left. (Associated Press) Bobby Casper learned a lot during his travels with his father, Billy Casper, left. (Associated Press)

"It's been really good for him. It's almost like his life story. In reading it, I've learned things about him that I never knew, and I've known him all my life.

"People have received it well and there have been great comments and feedback. It's an easy, fast read; its informative, and it keeps you enthralled in what's taken place. It's been fun to hear comments from people who never knew where he came from and what he's been through in his life."

On this Father's Day, Bobby said he'd like to express his gratitude and appreciation to his father for all he's given him and allowed him to experience in his life. A professional golfer himself, Bobby is a golf sportscaster and is covering the U.S. Open this week for the PGA Tour Network, which can be heard on SiriusXM satellite radio.

Last June, surrounded by his family, golf legend Billy Casper observed his 80th birthday at the Park City home of his daughter Linda and son-in-law Kim Henrie.  (Associated Press) Last June, surrounded by his family, golf legend Billy Casper observed his 80th birthday at the Park City home of his daughter Linda and son-in-law Kim Henrie. (Associated Press)

"A lot of the things I've experience in my life, I owe to him. His commitment to his family, his dedication to the game, the great example he is to his children is something I'll always cherish, respect and appreciate."

On Monday, Bobby will try to qualify for the U.S. Senior Championship in San Diego while his son, Mason, who qualified for the NCAA West Regional as a star at Utah Valley University, will attempt to qualify for the U.S. Amateur Public Links this week at Glen Eagle.

That is three generations of outstanding and talented golf in the Casper family.

Bobby's admiration for his father has an added dimension because as a father of five children of his own, he understands what it takes to raise kids. Billy Casper and his wife Shirley had a big family, made larger when they began adopting children. This unselfish parenthood garnered the attention of the American Mother's Association who named Shirley the California and National Mother of the Year in 1970.

One of his adopted sons, David, was named after LDS President David O. McKay. The Caspers raised David the same as the others, with love, support, kindness and many opportunities including caddying for Billy just like his brothers.

But David walked to his own drummer and made some horrible choices with friends, drugs and criminal activity. He is currently in prison in Ely, Nev. When he gets out, because he is a three-time convicted felon in California, he'll be taken to the Golden State where he will be imprisoned for the remainder of his life.

Before being incarcerated, David went on a 40-day crime spree in 1999 through California and Nevada that included 35 armed robberies and two car hijackings. All involved the use of a gun, his judgment clouded by addictions.

While playing with Billy two years ago at East Bay Golf Course, I asked the superstar and legend about David. Tears came quickly to his eyes and he could not find the words to explain David. "It's a tragedy," he said.

Billy explains in his book, when David was sentenced to 105 years in prison, he stood before the judge and explained how sorry he was for his family. He turned and looked at his mother and father and siblings and said, "I want them to know I take full responsibility for everything that has happened. I would change everything if I could. It is not their fault."

Writes Billy, "No one in the family gave up on David then, and no one ever will. In our faith, we are taught that families are forever and so is forgiveness. Whatever David has to answer for in this life, he must answer for, but our love and hope for him is unconditional and everlasting and goes infinitely beyond any life sentence."

Bobby describes his father's challenges with David as a heartbreaking part of his life.

"We all make mistakes and its all about decisions and choices. As a parent, there's only so much you can to do teach and provide direction for your kids. David had the same opportunities as the rest of us. Dad was gone at times playing golf but David had chances to go with him and caddy for him and be with him and he chose not to. When my Dad talks about him, it tears him up. It tears my mom up, too. Because they know his potential and know the abilities he has and he chose to get involved in drugs and activities and friends that didn't lead him to where he should have been. There's only so much you can do as a father, but I will say, it is probably the biggest regret of his life."

Today, as the U.S. Open winds down and Billy and Bobby Casper share this week in San Francisco as father and son, the legacy of the father casts a big shadow over the storied Olympic Club where he took Palmer down. That day helped define the man he is today.

Golf can do that for people, just like anything in life.

For Bobby, today and every day, his father is his hero and always will be. He is the protector of the keep, champion of his citadel.

Email: dharmon@desnews.com

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