HAPPINESS IS A HIPPO STEAK

For years Billy Casper plodded along pained by sinus, backaches, muscle spasms and a bulging waistline. Now, thanks to an exotic diet, he has the health and figure to match his golfing genius
February 07, 1966

Having consumed eight celery stalks smeared with caviar, a bag of potato chips and a handful of grapes grown in the organic manner—without the use of chemical fertilizer or noxious sprays—Billy Casper, who has won more money at professional golf than any man in history save Arnold Palmer, was ready to have his dinner. From the kitchen of his motel suite came the crackle of a duck roasting in a deep steel skillet, fired of necessity by electric coils, since gas heat affects Casper like poison. For some reason the duck smelled as if it had been seasoned by a wizard chef, but Shirley Casper had put only salt on it. No fancy sauces for her husband. They give him headaches and other unpleasant physical reactions. So does sitting on a foam-rubber couch, playing golf in Florida, eating a honeydew melon and driving through Akron, Ohio. Those things, where Casper is concerned, are simply not healthy, and without his health a professional golfer is like an opera singer with laryngitis.

As side dishes for dinner on this same evening the Caspers had a choice among Jerusalem artichokes, avocado, lettuce, radishes and parsnips. All were grown organically on a farm in Vista, Calif. and delivered that day in crates to the motel in Carmel where Billy was staying during the Crosby pro-am. Dessert could be, if Billy wished, rice cakes and honey washed down with a cup of herb tea. In other crates, shipped by a Chicago supplier, were cuts of buffalo, bear, hippopotamus, venison, rabbit and elk, meats that were selected for their variety. The Caspers believe that, ideally, no victual should be eaten more often than every third or fourth day. As Shirley Casper, a small, attractive woman wearing a gold watch that hung from her wrist as if she had borrowed it from a fat friend, began to set the table, a squirrel appeared on the limb of an oak tree outside the kitchen, looked in the window and then, perhaps recognizing itself as a potential meal, dashed off. The evening before, Billy Casper had eaten an entire rabbit, except for one piece that went to Shirley and one to a visitor. Although he is 50 pounds lighter than he was a year and a half ago (see cover), Casper eats almost three times as much as he did then. And he ignores calories. The difference is he now eats foods that do not weary him, sicken him, fatten him or provoke him to shout at people.

"Now if anything bothers me I can handle it in a way that doesn't make me look like a jerk," Casper said. He was sitting in the living room of the suite with his shoes off. He had just finished a round of the Crosby, and by his standards had not played well. "Two years ago you'd never have seen me after a round like this," he said. "I'd be slamming clubs and jumping up and down."

"He used to get awfully grouchy," Shirley Casper had said earlier. "He was all right when he first woke up in the morning. I'd hear him singing in the shower. Then he'd have a big breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, milk and orange juice and we'd start to the course. As we drove along I could feel him getting depressed. He'd begin complaining about having to play golf and say he wished he had some other occupation."

"It was terrible," said Billy. "By the time I got to the first tee, all I wanted to do was go to sleep. I was grumpy and fidgety. Everything on the course bothered me. I was using up a big bottle of aspirin every few weeks. I was always sick. If the flu came anywhere in the neighborhood, I got it. But the depression was the worst thing. That's the worst form of illness there is. I never really came to the point where I wanted to jump out a window, but if I had continued the way I was I might have."

It is said that inside every fat man is a thin man fighting to get out. Although vestiges remain—a bag of flesh below the chin, a slight bulge at the waist—the thin man in Casper has made it. His appearance is so different that to old friends he is all but impossible to recognize on a golf course. He may be no better golfer than when he was fat and unhappy, but his changed shape and his altered mood are getting him the kind of attention from the public that he has long gotten from his peers. The attitudes he used to display on the course, the scowls, the gloom, the sulks, made it seem that he did not enjoy what he was doing, and the public, not knowing Casper was sick, refused to make a hero of him. Galleries treated him with respectful apathy, appreciating that he was good at his business but not caring to watch him. Instead they swarmed around Palmer, Nicklaus, Player and Lema, all of whom appeared more human, more capable of joy and sorrow rather than mere pettishness.

Casper trudged along beset by headaches, sinus, backaches, muscle spasms, irascibility and a ponderous belly. He was cheerful at times, but more often dour. He kept at the game as at a chore, and he won tournaments, including the U.S. Open in 1959. But most of the stories that were written about him referred either to his putting or his stomach. "He's a nice, fat young player," Cary Middlecoff said in introducing Casper at a clinic in 1957.

Fans thought of Casper as a large, rumpled man whose shirt—and stomach—fell over his belt. Casper did not admit that such descriptions worried him, but he tried several diets, resorting more than once to starvation. He would lose 10 pounds and then gain them back. "He ate a lot of junk," says his friend Bob Reynolds, co-owner of the California Angels. "He was a candy bar man on the golf course, he would have a banana split when he came in and he would wind up at a soda fountain before the day was over." The eating was Casper's way to cope with his nervousness and irritability.

When Casper was through playing a tournament round it was not his habit to pal it up in the clubhouse with the other pros. He would go back to the motel with Shirley. Not only did he not socialize with his associates, he beat them regularly, which did not make him their darling. They called him a loner or worse.

Even then, in his blue period, Casper was in splendid financial condition. Bill Casper Enterprises, Inc., in which Casper, Shirley and Shirley's mother are officers and consider themselves a team, prospered with endorsements and tournament paychecks. It was an oddity for Billy to finish out of the money. (In 12 years as a pro he has won $471,999.17 in official money, second to Palmer's $643,982.17, and has thus averaged $39,333 per year, a fact that seldom fails to surprise golf fans, for they rarely comprehend what a fine and consistent player Casper is. In 1965 he won pro golf's award for consistency, the Vardon Trophy, by averaging 70.586 strokes per round in tournament play. In the past six years he has won three Vardon trophies, averaging 70.366, the best Vardon record on the tour.) But Casper, then 32, was tired of marching his 225 pounds around golf courses, and Shirley was not much better off herself. She weighed 140 pounds, far too heavy for her 5-foot-3 frame. She had edema, a swelling of the feet and ankles. Doctors told her that her dizziness was an inner-ear ailment, she had migraine headaches and she got airsick when she and Casper had to fly to a tournament. Their 9-year-old son Billy had a rare hypo-gamma-globulin anemia and had to have shots every two weeks. He was a slow student, was hypersensitive and jumpy, had convulsions and fevers. Outwardly the Caspers seemed to be doing very well. The reality was something else.

At the Masters in 1964 Casper was having his usual attacks of sinus, exhaustion and despair. Shirley described his ailments and her own to a friend, who suggested they visit Dr. Theron G. Randolph, a Chicago allergist and internist. She put it off, but finally she went with her three children to Dr. Randolph for a week of tests that revealed enough allergies to fill a medical dictionary. A few days later Casper decided to see Dr. Randolph. The doctor began by asking what foods he ate most frequently, and then started testing. The initial results so astonished Casper that he still looks shocked when he remembers. "Breakfast was killing me," he says. "Three of the things I was allergic to were eggs, wheat and citrus—exactly what I ate for breakfast every morning of my life."

Those foods, of course, vanished from the Casper menu. He began to feel better but then had a relapse, which is typical with allergies. Once the initial allergy is neutralized, other allergies mysteriously show up. Casper went through three relapses, each time returning to Chicago for treatment and losing more foods from his approved list. Chocolate and beans went out, then lamb, chicken, apples, melons, butter and other dairy products—a succession of the foods he had been eating. Eventually Dr. Randolph discovered that Casper also was allergic to certain chemical and petroleum products. Golf courses in Florida are sprayed heavily because of fungus and insects, so Casper will not play in Florida while that allergy lasts. Akron is called the Rubber Capital and the smoke of its factories is thick with chemical residue. Goodby American Golf Classic. No plastic, no foam, no gas heat for the Caspers.

The family began a fantastic recovery. Shirley lost 25 pounds, her edema and dizziness disappeared, her sunglasses no longer fit, her dress size changed from 11 to 6. Son Billy's anemia went away, his disposition improved, his grades shot up. Casper's weight dropped, his head cleared and his useless anger left him.

As the Caspers got healthier, their problems of living on the tour increased. Because of Dr. Randolph's theory in such cases that no major element in the diet—especially meat—should be eaten more often than every third or fourth day, the Caspers had to carry a large assortment of foods and receive weekly shipments from the farm in Vista and from Czimer Foods, Inc. in Chicago. In the workings of Bill Casper Enterprises, Inc. it is Billy's job to play golf and win money and Shirley's job to cook—Shirley's mother cares for the Casper children. Shirley keeps records of meals to avoid repetition. She uses only steel cookware because she believes aluminum expands with heat and food particles get into the pores to be released into the next night's dinner. When possible the Caspers try to stay with friends along the tour, but if they must check into a motel they insist on electric heat and air conditioning, and no foam rubber in pillows, mattresses or couches. Shirley has such an allergy to gas heat that recently, when she went with friends to the jai alai frontón in Tijuana, she passed out during the second game. It was then discovered that the frontón was warmed by gas. The Casper home in San Diego, a manse on three acres of ground that once belonged to the Spreckels sugar family, is furnished entirely of wood, cotton and wool materials—and the heat is not gas.

Eating in restaurants, though, is not as much of a problem as might be supposed. The Caspers save their beef and fish nights for dining out. In a restaurant they may order sliced avocado, a baked potato with olive oil, shrimp cocktail with no sauce and a beefsteak seasoned with salt. "If we have any difficulty explaining to the waiter that we want no sauce or seasonings we leave, because we know the chef will foul it up," Shirley says. "Also I test Billy's food so that if there is anything wrong it will make me sick rather than him. He's the one who has to play golf.

"We are not health food addicts. We eat game and organic vegetables for variety and taste—elk tastes like gamy beef, bear like pork, buffalo like beef—and for our own well-being. We like buffalo best, then bear, venison and elk. We do shop at health food stores, because we can buy purer foods there. Foods in grocery stores have too many additives. About the only things we can buy in a grocery store are soap and paper towels."

Shirley can tell immediately in the morning if her husband is free of allergies. On the day of the final round of the San Diego Open last month Billy awoke with clear eyes—a good sign—and went to the Stardust Country Club, where rain and strong winds were wrecking scores. Casper shot a 64, one of the finest rounds of golf he has ever played, and won the tournament. "If the physical self is ideal you don't feel mental stress," says Shirley. "You can't separate the body from the mind. Leaving luck out, Billy is capable of winning every tournament he plays. I knew he would win at San Diego that day. There was something about his method, his deliberateness that told me. Billy's like all men in that he hates to be told he's sick. He thinks it's an indication of weakness. He used to get mad when I'd tell him, 'Billy, you're acting allergic today.' But now he smiles. If he starts getting depressed and irritable, I realize it's the allergies, so I follow him along like a puppy dog and wait for them to go away."

Casper began playing golf at the age of 5, hacked around a three-hole course on his grandfather's ranch in New Mexico, and by the time he was 12 began to show some precocity for the game. He stayed a semester and a half at Notre Dame on a golf scholarship, quit because of the cold weather and joined the Navy during the Korean war. "I made several crossings," he says, "on the San Diego ferry." He operated Navy driving ranges and golf courses for four years in the San Diego area, and after his discharge he was sponsored on the tour by two San Diego businessmen. By then he had married Shirley.

When Casper went on the tour he had three goals—to win money, to win a tournament and to win a major championship. He won money—$33.33—in his first tournament, won an event, the LaBatt Open in Quebec after 13 months, and won the U.S. Open in 1959. The Open victory changed him as a golfer. Before that, when other players spoke of Casper, it was to commend his putting, with the implication that putting was all he could do.

"They were pretty much correct," he says. "I used to rely on my putting and chipping to score. But after I won the Open I began to work harder and learn the game. I'm a conservative player. I try to keep the ball in play and save shots. If Palmer hits it in the woods, he's liable to go for the green through a small opening. Not me. I hit it back into the fairway unless there's a very good reason not to and a large margin for error."

Casper does not believe in labor on the practice tee, except to improve his timing after a layoff. "I hit 40 to 60 balls to warm up before I play, but I can't see the need to do more than that," he says. "If you are playing six times a week and not hitting any shots too poorly, that's enough practice. You can lose your game hitting 150 practice balls. But I do work on putting, maybe more than anybody else on the tour. In San Diego I practiced putting at least an hour after every round. Still, I changed my putting stance last year from a wide one to a narrow one and then back again, and I used two different putters in the first two tournaments this year. [The latest is an offset putter with a long heavy blade that he calls his "tire iron."] I stroke the ball with overspin, but the real secret to putting is touch—sensitive hands. That is why you see some surgeons who are great putters." Most of his contemporaries spend hours in golf shops honing and shaping their equipment, altering lofts and weights. Not Casper. "I'm not a clubmaker," he laughs. "About all I can do is add a strip of lead tape to my putter and sometimes I don't get that right."

There is more to Casper than golf, certainly, and as Billy began to cure his allergies a parallel course was developing in his life. Some time ago he and Shirley went to Salt Lake City for an exhibition and met a number of Mormons. "We noticed there was something special about them," says Shirley. "They had fellowship without having to have a blast. Bill was never comfortable around wild parties. He avoided them, which is one reason he didn't get much publicity, since people seem to expect golfers to be such Jet Setters. Eventually, I asked the Mormons to send missionaries to talk to us. They did, and I could see Bill getting intrigued."

Casper has never been a drinker. Only wine and champagne, and those in vintages before chemical spraying became common. Nor has he ever smoked. (Coincidentally, the Caspers say, cigarettes can have apples in their formulas, just as pills and toothpaste sometimes have a corn base—things people like the Caspers inquire about.) His relaxations are fishing, about which he is very serious, bridge, golf with friends, and the San Diego Chargers, who give him a seat on the bench during home games. "So many people think you have to go to a party and get drunk to have fun," Billy says. "But the Mormons enjoy each other without getting plastered. Meeting a Mormon is like meeting an old friend."

On January 1 of this year Hack Miller, sports editor of the Deseret News in Salt Lake City, baptized the Casper family into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—a church, it so happens, whose advice in some areas conforms to the nutrition rules laid down by Dr. Randolph for Casper. "Bill is more purposeful now," Shirley says. "He is not just globbing for money. He has a deeper meaning to his life."

It has been almost six years since Billy Casper won his U.S. Open. He has been chasing the very best for a long time, and now, with his new figure and his new attitude, he is presenting his biggest challenge to the regime of Nicklaus, Palmer and Player. But, win or lose, it is a different Casper. In March, after playing in the Philippines Open, Billy will go with Tony Lema to Vietnam to put on exhibitions and clinics for the troops. "It's a sort of debt," he said as he sat down to the duck dinner in his Carmel motel. "I've been blessed by my talent as a golfer. This is my way to put something back into the game." The crates were stacked in the corner of the kitchen and the windows were open to a dark sky and a clean ocean wind. To Casper, who has not had more than six aspirin in a year and a half, whose sinus and backaches have vanished along with most of his belly, who no longer arrives at the golf course feeling as if he had been chewing on goat fur, and who is at last becoming recognized outside the tight little society of the PGA, most everything he does these days seems a blessing.

PHOTOSHIRLEY CASPER, WHOSE COOKING HAS TAKEN A BIZARRE TURN, SERVES UP DINNER IN MOTEL ROOM

WHAT BILLY EATS IN A WEEK

MONDAY
Breakfast: Peaches, rice toast, honey. Lunch: None. Dinner: Ground moose with bay leaf, peppers, celery; tomatoes served over boiled celery root. He drinks herb teas (mint, Kaffir, chamomile, papaya, rose hips, etc.) and spring water. There are now no alcoholic beverages in his diet, but this is due to religious, not nutritional considerations. Some snacks are permitted, but are carefully chosen because certain ones could cause allergic reactions. The only seasoning is salt or herbs. He eats no sauces or flours. Calories are not counted.

TUESDAY
Breakfast: Oatmeal with maple butter; figs. Lunch: Salmon, avocado. Dinner: Fried rabbit, cauliflower, and cranberries.

WEDNESDAY
Breakfast: Filet of sole, sliced tomatoes. Lunch: Sardines with buckwheat crackers. Dinner: Duck, baked potato.

THURSDAY
Breakfast: Rice toast with honey, sliced bananas. Lunch: None. Dinner: Hippopotamus, carrots.

FRIDAY
Breakfast: Swordfish, artichokes. Lunch: None. Dinner: Buffalo steak, hearts of lettuce, broccoli; fresh pineapple and honey.

SATURDAY
Breakfast: Fried shrimp, tomatoes. Lunch: Sardines with buckwheat crackers. Dinner: Bear pot roast cooked with celery and herbs; parsnips.

SUNDAY
Breakfast: Sliced bananas, oatmeal with maple butter. Lunch: None. Dinner: Elk stew; eggplant casserole with sesame seed and tomato.

THE NEW CASPER OUTLINES THE OLD

After 18 months on his nonallergy diet, Casper's waistline has shrunk from 40, the size he models above, to 34. Along with his loss of 50 pounds, his shirt collar has gone from 17 to 15½, his suit size from 46 long to 40 regular, his sweater size from 46 to 42, his sport-shirt size from extra-large to large and his sock size from 12 to 11. Casper has bought three new wardrobes in that period, but now thinks he will weigh in permanently at 175 pounds.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)