Long before he became globally famous as one of the top golfers of his generation, Billy Casper was a typical teenager looking to find his way -- and make a little money at that.
He found both at the local golf course, which quickly became his window to the world. As a rookie caddie at age 13, Casper began a special relationship with the sport that would define him for decades to come.
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Toting golf bags from dawn to dusk marked his first steps on an upward journey that would take him to golf's greatest heights, highlighted by 51 career PGA victories.
For all his accomplishments and accolades, however, Casper's biggest take-away from golf is much more valuable than victories. In short, golf taught Casper the game of life, and those lessons have served him well.
Now he's serving them to others. For the last 25 years, Casper has been actively involved in promoting charitable causes that benefit children. On Monday, June 24, he'll be carrying on that tradition right here in Aurora when he makes a visit to Orchard Valley Golf Course for the 19th annual Golf for Kids Benefit Outing.
Casper will host a meet-and-greet with registered golfers and provide each with an autographed copy of his just released book, "The Big Three and Me," while also regaling a few tales -- perhaps the one about his thrilling comeback in the 1966 U.S. Open when he roared back from seven shots down on the final nine holes to tie Arnold Palmer and subsequently beat "The King" in a stirring playoff.
Most importantly, however, he'll be helping The First Tee of Aurora and Fox River Valley raise funds that provide opportunities for area children to learn, grow and excel in society.
"I feel it's important for people who have attained success to be involved in charitable work that betters the lives of other people," Casper said from his home in San Diego.
A summer golf camp he began in 1988 has touched the lives of more than 4,000 youngsters.
"I'm always interested in helping young people," said Casper, "because they are the future of our country."
That's evident, based on the size of his family -- 11 children -- five with wife Shirley and six of them adopted.
They are a big reason why he began "Billy's Kids" -- a youth foundation he has run for 21 years that has raised more than $3 million for children's causes.
For all the lessons golf has taught Casper, he's taken that wisdom and reinvested it into the sport that has given him so much and the children who carry the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the next generation. Golf is a reflection of life with all its intrinsic challenges, rewards and decisions.
"Golf is a game of discipline that requires self-control," he said. "It's a game of commitment, a game of sportsmanship and a game of education -- you always learn something on the golf course.
"Golf is a wonderful game that can enrich the life of every individual who plays."
His prestigious credentials include induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1978 and the PGA Hall of Fame in 1982. During a six-year span from 1964-70, Casper won more tournaments than any of the era's "Big Three" -- Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.
He played on eight Ryder Cup teams, accumulating more points than any American golfer, and is renowned as one of the game's greatest putters. Golf Digest magazine ranks Casper as the 15th greatest golfer of all time.
But nothing is more gratifying than the causes he's championed off the golf course.
"When you're contributing to the lives of young people, it's very humbling and rewarding," Casper said. "When you touch the life of a young person and give them someone to look up to, it makes them a better citizen and a more productive person in their community.
"It's very rewarding to see young people grow and excel and become a credit to society."
Feels even better than a perfect golf shot.
• Jeff Long is the public relations manager for the Fox Valley Park District. To register for the Golf for Kids Benefit Outing on June 24, visit www.foxvalleyparkdistrict.org or call (630) 966-4516.