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Family, Friends, Dignitaries Eulogize Billy Casper

By Kurt Kragthorpe

The Salt Lake Tribune

Provo • Billy Casper loved to hug people, but he cautiously shook hands, barely extending his fingers in order to preserve the tools of his golf game.

“He knew he had this amazing gift of hands,” Johnny Miller said Saturday, during a funeral service that highlighted Casper's helping hands and heart.

One of the top players in golf history, William Earl Casper Jr. died Feb. 7 at his home in Springville at age 83. He was buried in Springville's Evergreen Cemetery.

Miller, who followed his friend as a U.S. Open champion, was among Casper's pallbearers. In his brief, unscheduled remarks, Miller mentioned how much he owed Casper, and then backed away from the podium, having said he would need “a miracle” to avoid breaking down.

Casper ranks No. 7 in PGA Tour history with 51 tournament victories, but his lack of self-promotion may have kept his achievements from being fully appreciated. Lee Benson, who assisted Casper in writing his recent autobiography, spoke of borrowing a golf history book from Casper and discovering that as of the 1990 publication, Casper was listed behind only Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer among the greats of the game.

Asked to guess where he ranked, Casper figured about 10th. He genuinely seemed surprised to learn where he stood in the book — even though it was on his shelf for more than 20 years, Benson observed.

Casper's absence of self-awareness was replaced by his interest in others. “Statistics were not nearly as important to Billy as people,” Benson said.

Whether the encounters were in the Champions Locker Room of Augusta National Golf Club or at a street taco stand in his native San Diego, Casper was known to engage in personal conversations with anyone he met, said W. Craig Zwick, First Quorum of Seventy of the LDS Church.

Julia Cervantez, Casper's daughter, cited “babies and dogs” as natural evaluators of any person, and both groups loved him. The floral display in the LDS stake center near the BYU campus included a Masters flag, commemorating Casper's 1970 victory at Augusta National. Casper “not only mastered his career,” Cervantez said, “he mastered humanity.”

Casper is survived by Shirley, his wife of 62 years, and 11 children. Benson once asked Casper if he ever had an entourage of coaches and advisers, as many modern-era golfers do.

“Never needed 'em,” Casper replied. “I had Shirley.”

Among the attendees were several Utah golf figures, including PGA Tour rookie Tony Finau, and Gov. Gary R. Herbert, who declared “Billy Casper Day” in Utah.

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