US Open countdown: Trimmed-down Billy Casper wins his second Open, bringing down ‘The King’ in a playoff

66th U.S. Open/June 16-20, 1966

Olympic Club Lake Course, Daly City, Calif.


x-Billy Casper, United States 69 - 68 - 73 - 68 278
Arnold Palmer, United States 71 - 66 - 70 - 71 278
Jack Nicklaus, United States 71 - 71 - 69 - 74 285
Tony Lema, United States 71 - 74 - 70 - 71 286
Dave Marr, United States 71 - 74 - 68 - 73 286

x-won in a playoff

Many were thrilled to see a slimmed-down Billy Casper rally to win his second U.S. Open title — except that more were stunned to witness Arnold Palmer’s final-round meltdown to open that door for somebody else’s triumph.

There was a growing knock on Palmer — albeit one that was not trumpeted loudly. Multimillion business ventures were steering “The King’s” attention away from full-time golf.

Sure, Palmer was still winning on the PGA Tour. But he was also not as sharply focused as he had been in the past.

It seemed a mere formality for Palmer heading into the back nine at Olympic Course in the final round. He had just shot a 3-under 32. His lead was seven strokes over Casper. He was more in tune to reeling in Ben Hogan’s tournament scoring record of 276, set in 1948. All he needed to do was shoot 36 coming home to break it.

But Casper made birdie — Palmer a bogey — at the 15th and 16th holes to reduce the lead to one shot. Palmer then bogeyed No. 17, and he and Casper were tied and headed to an 18-hole playoff the next day.

Nearly 12,000 gallery members came out to watch as Palmer built a two-shot lead in the playoff heading into the back nine after a Casper bogey at the ninth hole.

But Casper birdied the 11th on a 25-foot putt. He canned a 35-footer a hole later to grab the lead. And at the 16th hole, a par 5, Palmer advanced his golf ball 20 yards out of the right rough on his second shot, leading to a fatal double bogey — and his third playoff loss in a U.S. Open (1962, 1963, 1966).

Casper shot 69; Palmer a 73.

This was a different Casper who won, too. When he won the 1959 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, he was pudgy at 235 pounds. By the time he showed up to Olympic Club, he had shed nearly 70 pounds, adhering to a strange diet consisting of eating just buffalo and bear meet; shrimp, avocados and berries.

The champions’ winnings increased to $25,000 that year.

On a sad note, this was the final U.S. Open for Lema, 32, the 1964 British Open winner. The Bay Area native died in an airplane crash a month later.