Pro golf pioneer Billy Casper dies at age 83

Billy Casper, who won the 1966 U.S. Open, lines up a putt.

ATLANTA (CNN) – After an illustrious golf career that spanned more than four decades, one of the sport’s legends has died.

Billy Casper, a pioneer of professional golf, died at the age of 83, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

The PGA posted news of Casper’s death as well, describing him as “one of the most prolific PGA TOUR winners in history and long considered among the sport’s finest putters.”

His resume included three major titles and 51 PGA Tour events — putting him seventh on the U.S circuit’s all-time list.

Known as “Buffalo Bill” for his strict diet of organic meat and vegetables that slimmed him down to a more athletic figure, Casper set about his golf career with the discipline he had learned in a four-year stint in the U.S. navy.

Last year, Casper recalled the evolution of enormous prizes for top golfers.

“The tour when I started in 1956 was for about $650,000 total purse for 40 tournaments,” Casper once told CNN.

“It started growing in ’58 and we grew along with it. It took (Arnold) Palmer about 12 years to become a millionaire. I was the second millionaire, and it took me 14 years.”

By contrast, pro golfers these days can become instant millionaires by winning one event.

“It was really a different time of training and building one’s life,” Casper recalled. “There wasn’t a lot of money available. You had to stay with it.”

“I approached golf tournaments the same way — I was never worried about majors, I just wanted to play the best I could each week. I wasn’t like (Jack) Nicklaus — he geared himself to winning majors and he played for the majors. I wanted to play every week. I always played for my family.”

A devoted family man and devout Mormon, Casper said last year that he still had a “close relationship” with the military. In the 1960s, he visited U.S. troops (“hitting golf balls off aircraft carriers”) at bases in Vietnam, Thailand and Japan.

In the past several years, Casper’s golf facility operations company has helped raise more than $1.1 million for the Wounded Warrior veterans project via the “World’s Largest Golf Outing” event.

“Recently I gave a lecture and a gentleman came to me and asked how I’d like to be remembered,” Casper said. “I’d never been asked that before, so I thought for a few seconds. And I said I want to be remembered that I had a great love for my fellow man.”

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