2006: Winning with a putter and a plan
"Bob Rosburg hates me,” Billy Casper says.
And anyone with even a slight sense of golf history understands why there is some playful animosity between the two men. After all, it was Casper who won the 1959 U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club by one stroke over Rosburg, largely on the strength of his putting.
The man who later became known as Buffalo Billy one-putted the last four holes of the third round and then one-putted the first five the following day, earning a dramatic victory that was not assured until Rosburg missed a 30-footer on the final hole that would have forced a playoff.
“We don’t see each other very often, but when we do, Bob always gives me a bit of a hard time,” says the 75-year-old Casper, who won a second national championship at the Olympic Club in 1966. “He’s still mad at me.”
And perhaps few things pain Rosburg more than what happened on the 216-yard, par-3 third hole dubbed Pinnacle. That’s because Casper parred it four days in a row.
That string of 3s is impressive, but what made it more remarkable was that Casper purposefully hit his tee shot short of the sinister green each day, then proceeded to get up-and-down.
It was, in the eyes of many observers, the difference, and the reason Casper walked away as champion. The hole features a narrow, terraced green shaped like an upside-down teardrop, with a large bunker on the left and a steep incline on the right.
Casper says it was a practice round played the week before the event that prompted him to employ that strategy.
“I made a very high score on No. 3, either a 5 or 6, and I decided I would play to make a bogey there each day of the Open,” he recalls. “I’d lay up and shoot for a 4, and if I did better than that, it was a bonus. . . . I just wanted to minimize the trouble it could cause me.”
The winner of 51 PGA Tour events, Casper prides himself on the way he analyzed courses. And every now and then, he found circumstances where he felt it made little or no sense to shoot for the green. “The 11th at Augusta was always like that, and I was happy to be off the green and to the right with my approach shot,” he says. “It was simply a smarter play, and I felt the same way about the third at Winged Foot.”
When the competition started, Casper pulled out a 4- or 5-iron whenever he stepped to the third tee, driving his ball so he was left with an uphill lie short of the green. Then he used a sand wedge to get close.
“I can’t remember exactly how far away I was each time, but I do know I never left myself a putt longer than 10 feet,” he says
He made all of those putts, and history shows that Casper didn’t miss much of anything that week, needing only 114 putts to complete his four rounds, a superlative average of 28.5 putts per 18 holes. In fact, he had only one three-putt the entire tournament (No. 10, final round), wielding his Golfcraft mallet putter so well that Ben Hogan walked up to him after the tournament and said, “Son, if you couldn’t putt, you’d be selling hot dogs out on the 10th tee.”
A backhanded compliment, to be sure. But that was Hogan, and it did make a salient point. It was putting that earned Billy Casper the first of his three major victories, especially his putting on Winged Foot’s No. 3.
Even Rosburg would have to agree.