SANDY, Utah – The legendary golfer and LDS convert shared no shortage of stories Friday night.
With 40 or so people scattered around the chapel, Billy Casper recounted how his father and uncle converted a New Mexico cow pasture into a mini three-hole course when he was 4; how he earned $4.50 a week as a caddy at age 11 and won his first golf tournament at age 12; how he joined the LDS Church in 1966 and traveled to Southeast Asia to visit U.S. troops in Vietnam; and how a golf injury was miraculously healed following a priesthood blessing by a young apostle named Thomas S. Monson, just to mention a few.
"My life has been a fairy tale," the 79-year-old Casper said. "I have hit golf balls in 40 countries around the world. I have met presidents, kings, high-ranking military leaders and officials, and other famous people … all for following a little white ball. I am grateful for that which I have received."
The fireside featuring Casper was part of an annual golf tournament sponsored by the Utah Salt Lake Area Church Sports Program. The tournament, intended as a missionary and fellowshipping activity, took place Saturday, Aug. 28, at Stonebridge Golf Course in West Valley City.
Casper, considered one of golf's greatest players, won three major championships among 51 PGA Tour titles and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1978. Earlier this year he was honored with the PGA Distinguished Service Award.
He shared a variety of stories from his golfing days in his remarks Friday, including how the game has evolved and the meaningful friendships he cultivated over the years.
Casper and his wife, Shirley, parents of 11 kids (six adopted), were taught by missionaries and baptized 1966. He didn't realize the impact of his decision until later that year when he and eight full-time LDS missionaries were invited to appear on a TV show in the Philippines. The host had previously met with missionaries and wanted viewers to know they were sharing an important message. This impacted Casper.
"I realized the host knew something – the missionaries had a message the people of the Philippines needed," Casper said. "I had joined the church because of my children. I had no testimony. I could see the goodness, I could feel it, and I eventually developed a strong testimony."
The U.S. government sent Casper on a tour of Southeast Asia to visit troops and play golf. He recounted choice experiences he had in visiting troops in war-torn Vietnam. He especially enjoyed hitting golf balls off the deck of an aircraft carrier. He also enjoyed meeting with members of the church.
"We were half way around the world, didn't speak the same language, but you could feel the same spirit, helped us tremendously in building our testimonies," he said.
While walking through a military hospital, a young soldier recognized the famous golfer and wanted to give him something.
"He pulled out a 50-cent piece that was black. It had a hole drilled in the middle of it that you could wear around your neck. I was touched by it, and I'm still touched. It was his prize possession, a good luck charm, and he gave it to me," Casper said.
Casper also talked about his friendship with church President Thomas S. Monson. He told a story about injuring his back while swinging a golf club, which forced him to withdraw from a tournament. President Monson was in the area on an assignment and a priesthood blessing was arranged. Casper attributed his recovery to the power of the priesthood.
"I have had some unbelievably choice experiences," Casper said. "I am grateful for that which I have received, my talent for golf and my love for my fellow man."
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