How one of SoCal's most legendary pros putted his way to victory at Winged Foot
When the 120th U.S. Open tees off at Winged Foot Golf Club in New York on Thursday, it will mark the 12th time the fabled A.W. Tillinghast venue has hosted a major.
And while there’s no shortage of lore associated with the club’s championship history -- including Pasadena native and longtime Coachella Valley resident Susie Berning’s epic comeback in 1972 and the historic collapse of Rancho Santa Fe's Phil Mickelson on the 72nd hole in 2006 -- it is especially notable that its ties to one of SoCal's most legendary tour players dates back more than 60 years and adds greatly to the club's colorful past.
With that, here is a look at San Diego native Billy Casper’s breakthrough major championship victory at Winged Foot in 1959 that opened the door to one of the most successful -- and underrated -- careers in PGA Tour history:
Billy Casper, 1959 U.S. Open
Whatever the reason, San Diego native Billy Casper never quite received the same level of recognition as some of the other top players of his generation. Often overshadowed by the triumvirate of future legends that included Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, Casper was never as flashy on the course as his contemporaries. But the guy could flat-out get the ball in the hole. Mostly because he could putt like it was nobody’s business.
Nowhere was his prowess on the greens more on display than the 1959 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, where Casper needed just 114 putts over the course of four days -- a tally that included 31 one-putts and just one three-putt. His two-over par total of 282 (71-68-69-74) was good enough for a one-shot victory over Bob Rosburg.
The tournament was not without suspense. Heading into the final round, the leaderboard showed Casper three shots clear of the field -- but eight players were within five shots of the lead. Those at the top counted some of the biggest names of the day, including Rosburg, Palmer, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Claude Harmon, Doug Ford and Mike Souchak.
“Pressure affects different players different ways,” Casper told the USGA. “I loved the pressure. The more pressure I had, the more I could concentrate. And I just loved being in the lead because I wasn’t going to give it away.”
In addition to the 1959 U.S. Open, Casper would go on to win 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic Club in San Francisco, where he came from seven shots behind with nine holes to play to tie Palmer and then beat him in a playoff the next day, and the 1970 Masters, where he beat fellow San Diegan Gene Littler, also in a playoff.
Inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1978 with 51 wins on the PGA Tour, Casper passed away in 2015 at the age of 83.
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