July 15, 1956 — Turns out it was exactly 40 years ago that Billy Casper hit his lone ace in a PGA tournament. He had finished runner-up to Ben Hogan in the 1965 Western Open after his game crumbled on the final two holes of the 18th that tied. By the end of the day, he was nearly crying. Casper’s best days were well behind him, but he had finished 5th that day and had also earned a spot in the PGA Championship, which took place the next week at Bay Hill in Orlando. With his championship success, he took the route of everyone else and launched his second career, becoming a pro.
A natural on the links, Casper as a pro never really recaptured the heights of his playing career. He was in the top 10 in the PGA twice and averaged about 270 before fading away. In nine full seasons as a pro, he won twice, pocketed $360,000 in purses and his career winnings total was $1,125,738. But of course, Billy Casper would go on to have an even more lasting legacy as a golf writer, never the least intimidated by his remarkable PGA career.
In his last season as a pro, he even made the clubhouse at the Legends of Golf event at Augusta National, which was played at the time without Tiger Woods. To this day, it is the only PGA tournament held at the famous course.
Casper is the name on a plaque at the PGA Championship site. Since the ceremony was held back in 1994, Woods, who is not even active in the game anymore, has been named to the plaque five times. Casper’s plaque, to which Woods’ name was added in 2006, was to be moved to the second level of the stadium on August 4, to be just outside the clubhouse at Quail Hollow. But in 2008, Congressional and the PGA agreed to permanently remove the plaque at Congressional and move it to the field level along with other historical plaques and flags. But when the course reopened to fans in 2011, it was time for something different.
“He is an iconic name in golf for sure,” Quail Hollow president Todd Steinberg said. “You could look across the street at the Congressional and look at the Congressional plaque and it’s recognized as an iconic mark of golf in this country. The first one that was done was Memorial (Golf Club). It was done at the time when they had awards (and a) trophy. It was one of the first ones of its kind. So it’s hard to get a better fitting of an individual who played at the most prestigious of golf courses.”
Casper played at three different Congressionals during his career — two at the Congressional Club and one at Congressional Country Club, but Quail Hollow made it their own by noting the Masters champion each year in the post-tournament presentation ceremony and the highlight was an award for the best player of the year.