2005 Masters: Casper exhibits grace despite dubious day

Augusta, Ga. | There’s no quit in Billy Casper.

The 1970 Masters champion had just shot 57 over the back nine at Augusta National – his opening nine Thursday because of a rain-delayed double tee start – then sought refuge at the clubhouse. Three groups slated to start off No. 1 still hadn’t begun their rounds, so it would be a half-hour before Casper could resume play.

Reporters on the scene, however, presumed he was packing it in. After all, his 57 had included a 14 at the par-3 16th, where he hit five balls into the pond.

Casper was encircled by media types, all eager to hear the gory details. Instead, the 73-year-old two-time U.S. Open winner told them: “I’m ready to play, man. Ready to play.”

Casper excused himself and plopped down on a chair under the clubhouse veranda, alone with his thoughts. Surely he couldn’t help but mentally replay the 16th.

First he dunked his 170-yard tee shot, struck with a 22-degree metalwood. Each of his next four attempts from the drop area, 7-irons from 145 yards, were hooked and fell about a yard short of land. For his sixth attempt, Casper switched to a 6-iron and hit it 40 feet left of the pin.

The crowd roared when Casper finally succeeded in clearing the water, then grew eerily silent. No one in the gallery quite knew how to react as a downcast Casper trudged to the green. He didn’t acknowledge the smattering of applause when he reached his ball. He didn’t bother to mark it, instead stepping up and swatting at the putt. Two more tries and the carnage was complete.

Casper is nothing if not resilient. In the grand scheme, 14 shots on a golf hole is irrelevant. This is a guy who has raised 11 children, six of them adopted. His 30-year-old son David is serving life in prison. David committed 35 armed robberies and was the only one of six sons who didn’t spend time caddying for his father, an experience Casper says forged lifelong bonds with the others.

Casper got a sympathetic embrace from Charles Coody on the 17th tee.

“Billy’s a great guy. I love him,” Coody said. “He wouldn’t want to see me go through something like that, and I didn’t want to see him go through it. I wouldn’t even want to see one of my enemies go through it.”

Casper bogeyed the next two holes, then joked about not wanting to lose his momentum during the backup at the turn. He completed his round in 48 for a 33-over-par total of 105. But he didn’t turn in his card, so neither his 14 nor his 105 will go into the Masters’ record books (The highest score is 95 by Charlie Kunkle in 1956).

It’s hardly ironic that Casper, a 51-time winner on the PGA Tour, instead will be remembered by a generation of golf fans for making the worst score ever witnessed at a Masters.

“Neither the public nor the press ever gave Billy his due,” Coody said. “For about seven or eight years (in the 1960s) he was the best player on Tour.”

At the end of the day, Casper was neither ashamed nor embarrassed. Rather, he reveled in the attention. He couldn’t have been more accommodating or more gracious.

“I didn’t turn the score in,” Casper informed a scrum of reporters gathered outside the scorer’s hut. “I’ve got the card in my pocket. Want to see it? I’m going to frame it.”

Casper patiently provided details of his 14. He said unequivocally this was his last Masters as a contestant. He answered all questions about his motivation for playing this year. He hadn’t competed here since 2001, and he was among those past champions who received the infamous letter that year (since rescinded) from Masters chairman Hootie Johnson, informing them that they were no longer welcomed to compete.

“I wanted to do it one more time before I got old,” Casper said. “I did it for my own satisfaction, for my family, for my friends and for the people who follow me.”

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