When he hooked a drive into a tree on the fourth hole of Tuesday's Northville Invitational Skins Game, Billy Casper shouted, "I surrender."
When a tournament official announced that Casper had won $6,000 with an eight-foot birdie putt on the fifth hole, Casper feigned surprise, yelling "What, what?" and tumbled in a vaudevillian pratfall.The fact is, Casper's spirits were higher than the stakes in the nine-hole contest with fellow Senior Professional Golfers' Association Tour pros Bruce Crampton, Orville Moody and Gene Littler. Casper has a measure of contentment afforded a man who has become a millionaire twice in his golf career.
Casper, 57, was the sixth player to win $1 million on the regular PGA Tour. He achieved the milestone again on the circuit for players 50 and older when he won the Mazda Senior Tournament Players Championship in Ponte Verde, Fla., last weekend.
Casper is hard to miss on the Senior Tour. He plays in practically every tournament, wears colorful knickers, entertains galleries - and wins.
"He's someone I've looked up to for many years," said Crampton, 52, the big winner in Tuesday's Skins Game, with $15,000.
During his career on the regular tour, Casper won 51 titles, including the 1959 and 1966 U.S. Opens and 1970 Masters. But as younger players kept entering the Senior Tour in the past few years, he started feeling as if it were time to talk about his competitive career in the past tense.
"I felt, maybe it's here," he said. "You've got to wake up to reality one of these days."
Instead, all that awoke was his legendary putting stroke. Casper attributes the resurgence to his 18-year-old son and caddy, Charles. "He's so positive, he got me back on track," the elder Casper said.
"He says things when he's putting bad," the younger Casper said. "I've got to keep him thinking he's a good putter. He couldn't have won all those tournaments if he didn't putt well."
So Casper added the role of prominent contender to his self-imposed job as goodwill ambassador. "When I came out here, I saw there was going to be growth potential. I wanted to do everything I could to help it. I started wearing this stuff," he said, pointing to his plus-fours. "And I played in as many tournaments as I could."
He'll play in the Northville pro-am Wednesday and Thursday, and the 54-hole tournament, which starts Friday at the Meadow Brook Club here.
Tuesday, he had to settle for $6,000 (half of which will go to charity) as Crampton fired a 6-iron within nine feet and sank a birdie putt on the first extra hole - the 150-yard, par-3 18th - to win the largest sum. Moody, who eagled the first hole (the 517-yard, par-5 10th), also won $6,000, while Littler came up empty.