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Golf: Billy Casper visits Orchard Valley

Golfer Billy Casper talks with young golfers with First Tee program after they wished him happy birthday with cake song

Golfer Billy Casper talks with young golfers with the First Tee program after they wished him happy birthday with a cake and song Monday as part of a fundraiser for the youth golf program. | Supplied photo

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Updated: July 30, 2013 8:39AM

It’s about time.

That was the reaction of one of the game’s greats last month when golf’s governing bodies — the United States Golf Association (USGA) and the Royal & Ancient (R&A) — struck a blow for free swingers and adopted a rule that will ban players from anchoring long putters against their bodies.

“I think the USGA and the R&A waited too long,” said Billy Casper, who has 51 tournament wins from 1956 to 1975 (seventh all-time) and is regarded as one of the greatest putters in the history of the game.

He was in Aurora on Monday — his 82nd birthday — for an appearance at the Golf for Kids Outing at Orchard Valley Golf Course. It’s the annual fundraiser for the First Tee of Aurora & Fox River Valley, a program that introduces the game to local youths in addition to helping them develop life skills, improve academically and socially and achieve personal growth.

A late-afternoon thunderstorm blew through, forcing cancellation of a putting demonstration by the personable Casper but he had dinner and interacted with the golfers and was treated to a chorus of “Happy Birthday” and a cake presented by some of the First Tee kids.

Orchard Valley is one of 150 courses Casper’s management company operates, under contract with owner Fox Valley Park District.

The USGA governs golf in the United States and Mexico, with the R&A overseeing much of the rest of the world. They jointly author a set of rules for the game.

“They allowed (anchored putting) to get into the amateurs and into little kids and everything else,” said Casper, who added he’s never tried a belly putter. “I’d like to have seen them handle (the issue) a long time (ago) before they banned it.”

The rule won’t be in full effect until 2016 and doesn’t ban the use of a belly or long putter, just the act of anchoring it against one’s body. Many argue it gives the user an unfair advantage.

A Depression-era baby, Casper learned the game hanging around San Diego Country Club in his pre-teen days and working there as a caddie.

“You couldn’t caddie until you were 12, but I got to know some of the members. I’d sell them golf balls I had found and when I was 11, one lady would let me take her bag on the second hole and caddie for her through 17 and pay me 75 cents,” said Casper, who began honing his putting skills there, too, practicing on a putting green late into the night in the dark.

Players in the successful First Tee outing received an autographed copy of Casper’s book, “The Big Three and Me,” which details his rise from meager beginnings to a top touring pro many feel is the most underrated star of one of golf’s great eras. It also details his relationships with touted golf greats of that time, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.

From 1962 to ’70, Casper matched Nicklaus with 33 PGA wins each; Palmer had 30 and Player eight. The other three, though, shared a powerful agent.

“Billy Casper is the most underrated golfer of all time, hands down,” former PGA standout and current TV analyst Johnny Miller told Golf Digest. It’s part of an expanded quote printed on the back cover of the book, which is a delightful read, detailing the exploits of a three-time major winner (two U.S. Opens, one Masters) who holds the record for most points (23½) scored by a competitor in Ryder Cup play.

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