Tributes to the late Billy Casper have been strangely silent on the subject of his heroic 106 on the first day of the 2005 Masters, a record that was made to last. Not content to compile the worst ever major championship round – Billy is 11 strokes clear of his closest rival – Casper also achieved the highest score at a single hole, his 14 at the 16th (five lost balls and a three-putt) beating Weiskopf’s 13 at the 12th, among other unlucky 13s. Casper would surely have made it into golf’s Hall of Fame sooner, had he not pocketed the card and headed for the airport, understandably confident that he would not make the cut. This led to disqualification, and the 106 never entered the official scorebook.
Never mind the steadfastness required for a great champion to complete a round of 106 strokes: running up a 14 – at a par 3, mind – takes almighty determination, not to mention a deep bag of balls. I know this, having once witnessed a 16 at a par 5 in Corsica. John Daly, who knows about double figure moments, put it well after an 18 at Bay Hill: “I didn’t quit. I was just a little too determined.”
On better days Casper enjoyed great success as I discovered when I found my ball impeded by a small item of course furniture on the 14th fairway at Crans sur Sierre. It turned out to be a plaque commemorating Casper’s albatross 2 during the 1975 Swiss Open, now known as the Omega Masters. I gave myself a free drop, played my third shot, and put it in the lake.
The only time I met Casper was glass in hand in the clubhouse at King Hassan of Morocco’s favourite golf club, Dar es Salaam near Rabat. Casper spent a lot of time there as a well-paid golfer-in-waiting and coach to the King, and consultant in the noble Royal project of making golf an important component of the country’s tourism. “He’s nuts about golf,” Casper told me; “plays every day, weekdays and weekends.” King Hassan built himself a floodlit course inside the grounds of the Royal Palace in order to be able to play golf during Ramadan, after dark, without breaking the rules.
How does he run the country? “From the golf course,” Casper replied. “Ministers have to come and find him. You often see a queue of them at the back of the green with documents for him to sign.” The King survived many assassination attempts – none on the golf course so far as I know – and was a notoriously unforgiving monarch. One suspects that many of the documents Casper saw him sign were death warrants for imprisoned opponents of the regime, mercilessly dispatched at the stroke of a pen after a short one that lipped out. How satisfying must that have been to his serene Majesty?
Thus could it fairly be said (and was) that King Hassan ruled Morocco not with a rod of iron, but a graphite shaft.
Was the king any good? “That depends who you ask,” said Casper. “Officially he’s an expert golfer.” And unofficially?
Casper looked around to check that no one who mattered was in earshot. “18 on a good day,” he whispered.