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FedEx Cup: Billy Casper was pioneer for PGA Tour's multimillionaires

By Gary Morley, CNN
updated 11:00 AM EDT, Sat September 21, 2013
Billy Casper was one of the most successful golfers of the 1960s, leading the way for today's multimillionaires. Billy Casper was one of the most successful golfers of the 1960s, leading the way for today's multimillionaires.
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Golf's 'Buffalo Bill'
Golf's 'Buffalo Bill'
Golf's 'Buffalo Bill'
Golf's 'Buffalo Bill'
Golf's 'Buffalo Bill'
Golf's 'Buffalo Bill'
Golf's 'Buffalo Bill'
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • This weekend the winner of the PGA Tour's lucrative playoffs will be crowned
  • A $10 million jackpot is available following 2013's fourth end-of-season tournament
  • PGA Tour makes multiple millionaires each season -- a far cry from its formative years
  • It took Billy Casper almost a decade and a half to become golf's second millionaire

(CNN) -- Come the end of Sunday, one lucky golfer will go home at least $10 million richer.

That same man may also pocket another cool $1.44 million, depending on whether he manages to win the PGA Tour's season-ending Tour Championship.

Some $8 million will be on offer to the elite 30-man field at Atlanta's East Lake course, and a handful of those players will be hoping to grab the bumper jackpot bonus for being top of the FedEx Cup playoffs standings.

Brandt Snedeker did so last year, taking home $12.5 million from the final four tournaments after winning the decider.

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The U.S. circuit can potentially make instant millionaires at 34 of its sanctioned events -- 35 if you count the $990,000 on offer to the winner of the Tampa Bay Championship.

But it was not always so and prize purses have come a long way in the past two decades -- especially since the advent of a certain Tiger Woods..

"The tour when I started in 1956 was for about $650,000 total purse for 40 tournaments," recalls Billy Casper, one of professional golf's pioneers -- a man who was something of an unsung hero compared to the well-marketed "big three" of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.

"It started growing in '58 and we grew along with it," Casper told CNN. "It took Palmer about 12 years to become a millionaire. I was the second millionaire and it took me 14 years."

Now 82, Casper can look back on a 45-year playing career in which he won three major titles and 51 PGA Tour events -- putting him seventh on the U.S circuit's all-time list.

Read: From figure of fun to major champion

But it says something about the development of the game that the most money he ever won came in his final victory on the seniors' Champions Tour -- a $60,000 first prize.

"I played about 45 years and I won $7 million. If I'd played 45 years from, say, 1960 on I'd have made a couple of hundred million."

In order to start out as a professional, Casper had to go into considerable debt, borrowing $15,000.

FedEx Cup standings

1. Tiger Woods

2. Henrik Stenson

3. Adam Scott

4. Zach Johnson

5. Matt Kuchar

6. Steve Stricker

7. Graham DeLaet

8. Phil Mickelson

9. Justin Rose

10. Brandt Snedeker

"I had no money to start with, my wife had no money. I had a three-year contract and at the end of three years I paid back the people who'd advanced me the money and gave them a large percentage (reportedly 30%) of what I won," he says.

"I had a small sum in the bank, a little house and I owned a '57 Cadillac and I was on my way."

Known as "Buffalo Bill" due to a 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.

Read: Snedeker's battle against bone disease

"It was really a different time of training and building one's life. There wasn't a lot of money available. You had to stay with it," he says.

"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 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 says he still has 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.

Even now, he is giving back to the armed forces through his charity work -- in the past three 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.

Read: Furyk joins the 59 club

Last month's staging, held at 110 of the 150 courses run by Billy Casper Golf -- the largest domestic operator in the U.S. -- brought in $725,000.

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Casper says the abolition of conscription in the early 1970s has led to some of the United States' present social problems.

"There was a time when it was mandatory, they had a draft. Young people spent a certain amount of time in the military and it gave them a wonderful base to launch their lives by," he says.

"They got their feet on the ground, they understood what life was all about and they could make a decision as to what they wanted to do -- stay in the military or get out and follow something else.

"When that was abolished, that's when we started having problems with our young people. I think it was a wonderful program and it helped young people to build their talents, skills and abilities to go into society and be productive and carry on for their lives and education. I think we missed a lot when that was stopped."

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While golfers these days earn massive amounts of money, they also give a lot back -- this year the PGA Tour's total charitable donations have reached almost $2 billion, dating back to 1938.

Everyone from world No. 1 Woods to your average tour pro seems to have a cause celebre, and Casper believes they are a breed apart from their fellow athletes in other sports.

"Most of them do a lot of charity work. I had my own tournament for 22 years and we've given over $3 million to kids," he says.

"Everybody seems to have something they're involved in -- they're raising funds and they're grateful for the life they're leading and they're willing to share what they earn.

"Other sports are nowhere near as close to this. I think it's a top class of people who play the game. They have the chance to be involved with all the big companies and are very interested in helping people."

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Read: Win puts Stenson top of FedEx standings

Despite the recent years of economic hardship, Casper says his company has actually grown -- taking over struggling public courses in 24 states and turning them around.

"Everybody is having problems right now and they're looking for ways to keep afloat," he says. "There are a lot of courses that have gone to grass, they've shut down."

Casper says the secret to his business success is down to traditional values.

"We run our courses as if we are dealing with family -- all of our clients and clientele we deal with like they're family. When you deal with people that are family you deal differently than if you're in business," he says.

"We develop this wonderful relationship that if you come to one of our courses then you feel wanted and you want to come back."

Casper, who has achieved so much for so long, hopes that he can continue "to be of service to my fellow beings through the game of golf."

"Recently I gave a lecture and a gentleman came to me and asked how I'd like to be remembered. 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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