|- Why it Matters|
|- FTSG Editor Note: This is a reprint of 2015 article from pgatour.com that gives an insight into who Billy Casper was.|
When, after 46 years at the Masters Course, you finally meet the man to whom you owe all the happiness and joy you feel blessed to have enjoyed for most of your life, how long a hug is enough?
Clebe McClary wasn't sure, so as the embrace intensified, Billy Casper leaned in and whispered, “Don't let go till you want to let go.” So right there in front of dozens of patrons, in the shadow of the iconic oak tree behind the Augusta National clubhouse, McClary and Casper hugged . . and hugged . . . and hugged. “We hugged for five minutes,” said Casper, who choked back tears. But McClary? He didn't even try to hold 'em back. He cried like a baby, and so, too, did many others. “We all just cried our eyes out,” said Julia Cervant, one of Casper's eleven children.
On any day, Casper is a wonderful story, a righteous man with a keen sense of human kindness. But on this cool, breezy Masters day, his story was even more wonderful thanks to a reunion with McClary, who told everyone how Casper had saved his life. It was 1968, the height of the Vietnam War, and Casper, in the prime of his golf career, was in Japan to play some off-season tournaments. While he was there, he was asked if he wanted to visit some wounded American troops who were convalescing from Vietnam. Casper said yes, because that's his warm-hearted nature. “I was recently asked by a man how I want to be remembered,” Casper said. “I told him, I want to be remembered for how I loved my fellow man.”
That day at a hospital may have shown Casper at his warmest. He looked over at a young man who was so wounded that he could barely be recognized. As the golfer moved closer, a doctor told him not to bother Marine 1st Lt. Patrick Cleburne "Clebe" McClary because he was ready to die, but something made him approach the man. “I will never forget that day,” said McClary, who had been wounded during his 19th reconnaissance mission in Vietnam. McClary lost his left arm and his left eye. As he lay in bed that day, “I'd given up," he said. "I wanted to die, and I'd have died right there if not for him.”
Casper, by 1968 a two-time U.S. Open champion and one of the most prolific winners on the PGA Tour, sensed McClary's hopelessness. “He put his arm around me, leaned in and said, ‘God could use you today. Don't give up,’” McClary said. “Then he thanked me for what I had done for our country and said, ‘God bless you’.”
Somehow, McClary found the resolve to fight. He survived, left that hospital in Japan, and settled in his native South Carolina, near Myrtle Beach. As the years went by he often wondered about the gentle golfer who brought out the fight in him. “I mean, I didn't know golf from polo,” McClary said.
But one day more than a year ago, McClary was talking with a neighbor, a guy named Jay Haas, telling him his life story and how his life should have ended in a hospital in Japan, if not for a golfer. Haas’ ears perked up. “Who was the golfer?" He said, “Billy Casper. Do you know him?" Haas resolved to reunite McClary and Casper. The Masters would offer the perfect opportunity. Casper, the 1970 champion, would never miss it. Neither would Haas, who competed 22 times at the Masters and whose son Bill is a regular participant and whose uncle, the irrepressible Bob Goalby, won in 1968. Haas met McClary behind the clubhouse and found Goalby, who tracked down Casper.
When the long, emotional hug was finally over and the pictures were taken, Casper and McClary had much to say. The Marine told the golfer that he had thought of him often over 46 years. The golfer nodded, because he felt the same way. McClary said that he was proud of his life, not because of the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts, or for the book he wrote, “Living Proof.” He was proud because he heeded Casper's advice. “You're the reason he's living,” one of McClary's friends said to Casper. McClary smiled, wiped away tears, and nodded his head. “My guardian angel,” he said, pointing to Casper.
McClary had to have one more hug and a promise from Casper that, if the Hall of Famer were ever in Pawleys Island, SC, he must stop in. Casper agreed. The former Marine handed his business card to someone standing nearby. It read: I'm just a nobody who wants to tell everybody about Somebody who can save anybody.