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Wednesday, August 8, 2001
The Playoff: a Nice Guy (Casper) Gets the Grill
By Jim Murray
Special to ESPN.com
Editor's note: This column originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times on June 21, 1966. San Francisco - There are certain things not meant to happen. You don't beat Man O' War. You don't strike out Babe Ruth with the bases loaded. You don't knock Joe Louis' head down onto the ring apron. The guys with the black hats don't win on television. John Wayne doesn't get shot in the back. You don't say "what was so great about Bernard Baruch?" You don't throw eggs at the Queen. And you don't beat Arnold Palmer or Ben Hogan in a playoff for the National Open. But we're living in an age of impudence. And the center of it, I'm afraid, is this sovereign city of San Francisco. This citadel of topless society, hallucinogenic headquarters of the universe, has no patience with idols. Twice they'd held the National Golf Open here. The first time Ben Hogan was beaten in a playoff by a club-cleaner from Davenport, Iowa, who rose to obscurity on the strength of the feat. Today, they put a banana peel under Arnold Palmer. I tell you, this place would scratch matches on the Mona Lisa. Billy Casper, the player who beat Arnold Palmer is a nice young man. You'll never find him throwing stools in a bar, or eating stew with his fingers. You'd like your daughter to marry him -- if your daughter was the kind who liked to stay home nights and watch television. And go fishing on weekends. Billy is exciting only when he's got a putter in his hands. Arnold Palmer is exciting just buttering his toast. Billy however, is an impeccable golfer. His name is neat, dull, full of common sense. A bore, to be honest with you. Arnold is as reckless as a salesman on convention. A round of golf for him is like a husband-and-wife fight -- messy, noisy, usually unnecessary, and hard on the family. He goes after a golf course like a man chasing chickens. He plays the game like a guy playing black-jack who gets 19 and says, "Hit me again!" The most interesting things about Billy Casper are his diet and his former waistline. He eats the same things that Sitting Bull used to eat. To give you an idea, his wife overdid the bear meat the night before the playoff, so Billy resigned himself to a breakfast of swordfish. In between he addressed the Mormon Church group at Petaluma. Billy is allergic to everything the normal man eats except soup. He doesn't even put ketchup on his rhinoceros chops. Arnold Palmer plays golf like the Perils of Pauline. He ends up hanging on a cliff all day. Billy plays it like a guy going over the books of U.S. Steel. This golf course has now performed the same service to golfing history as John Wilkes Booth did to America. If they fought World War II here, the Japanese would have won. Arnold Palmer has every right to win the U.S. Open. He's won one and he's been in a playoff in three others. He's won almost every tournament worthy of being mentioned in Bobby Jones' presence. But he played a highly peccable two rounds of golf here at Olympic. He played, in fact, as if the course owned him. This is not to suggest Billy Casper's credentials are suspect. If there is really a Big Three of golf today, Billy is one-third of it. He would beat Gary Player two rounds out of three. "You have got to romance this course a little bit," Billy said, as he pocketed $26,500, $2,650 of which will go to the Mormon Church. Arnold made $14,000, some of which will go to the National Distillers after those disastrous last two rounds. Arnold didn't romance the golf course. He tried to slug it over the head and drag it by the hair back to his cave. He's a golfer, not a lover. But he blew a 7-shot lead with 9 holes to go. His shirt was out, his hair was mussed, he had his alpaca buttoned on the wrong button, and he went sailing into the course throwing crazy right-hand leads. He got out-pointed. And then, there was young Billy Casper kissing the young lady on the hand and murmuring, "Honey, let me take you away from all this." And she did. Mighty Casey had struck out. The dude walked off with the schoolmarm. The nice steady fella got the girl instead of the handsome, curly-haired, two-fisted kid. I'll tell you one thing: It'll never make a movie. Who would want the part of Billy Casper? Jack Fleck? This column originally appeared in The Los Angeles Times. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. Jim Murray, the long-time sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times, won the Pultizer Prize for commentary in 1990. He died Aug. 16, 1998.
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