Johnny Miller, Billy Casper reflected in the new generation of junior golf

It was kind of an iconic moment at Soldier Hollow Golf Course in Midway when the grandson and great grandson of two Hall of Fame players, Johnny Miller and Billy Casper, posed for a photo after a golf tournament for 10-year-olds.

There you had Nicklaus Miller, son of BYU golf director Todd Miller and grandson of legendary Johnny Miller, and Linkon Casper, son of former Dixie State and UVU golfer Ashton Casper, who is the son of Bobby Casper, who is the son of the late storied Billy Casper.

You may remember Linkon’s famous great-grandpa, Billy Casper and Nicklaus’ famous grandfather, Johnny Miller.

Billy Casper remains one of America’s most successful Ryder Cup players, a man credited with basically ending the competitive career of Arnold Palmer when he beat Palmer in the extra holes of the US Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco in 1966.

Johnny Miller, who recently retired as one of golf’s most entertaining, albeit very blunt, TV color commentators, set the course record of 63 in the final round of the 1973 US Open at Oakmont, considered one of the toughest golf courses in the world.

Miller was one of the best iron players in the world in the early ’70s when he dominated desert courses in Arizona and California following an All-America career at BYU for the late Karl Tucker. He won 25 times on the PGA Tour.

Casper was a deadly putter who took up the game while in the Navy in San Diego. He won a whopping 51 times on the PGA Tour and had additional trophies in Europe.

Both Johnny and Billy are members of the World Golf Hall of Fame housed in St. Augustine, Florida. Both are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Casper died in 2015.

Every day after school Shannon Miller drops her son Nicklaus off at a golf course in Provo, where he hits balls until picked up to go home for dinner and homework.

Nicklaus has won six straight golf tournaments in Utah for 10-year-olds on the Salt Lake City Local Tour and along with Jake Neff, of Holladay, the two are considered the top up-and-coming players in Utah junior golf heading into the first UJGA event this weekend, the Jay Don Blake Junior at Bloomington Country Club in St. George.

With courses set up for 80- to 150-yard par 3s, 200- to 350-yard par 4s, and par 5s at 350 to 450 yards, Miller’s nine-hole scores include 33 at Glenmoor; 37 at The Barn Golf Club; 35 at Oquirrh Hills; 36 at River Oaks; 35 at Soldier Hollow; and a 35 at Thanksgiving Point in the Tour Championship.

“Nicklaus has a lot of flare of his papa Johnny,” said Todd Miller. “He really enjoys the pressure of competition. I like that he’s not so infatuated with winning tournaments but by playing his best golf.

“He’s extremely straight and long off the tee and can hit all the shots around the greens.”

Linkon’s father Ashton is a 2-handicap player and his grandfather, Bobby (Billy Casper’s son) is scratch.

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Linkon Casper gets a putting lesson from PGA Tour legend Johnny Miller.

“Linkon loves playing baseball and playing on a traveling team,” said Bobby Casper. “He just played in his first competitive golf tournament at Soldier Hollow. The day before, I played with him at Hobble Creek and he was getting upset about his shots. I said, ‘Buddy, today doesn’t matter. You just want to start kind of getting a feel of hitting the ball. ‘ He went up to Soldier and was 6 over par after three holes. He finished with a birdie and shot 8 over par, the first birdie he ever made. It was awesome and he’s only 10. ”

Linkon’s father Ashton said Linkon played in the Thanksgiving Point Junior League the past three years but the US Kids Golf event at Soldier Hollow was his first individual tourney.

“He was ecstatic with how he finished with a birdie but disappointed in his fifth-place finish,” Ashton said.

Linkon is obsessed with golf, said his father. He has a close connection with his late great-grandfather Billy and has his room decorated with Billy Casper memorabilia.

“He’s an extremely talented baseball player and his golf game is quickly catching up. He hits the ball hard, but has a great touch and feel when he needs it, ”said the father.

“If you ask him, golf is his favorite sport and his goal is to play on the PGA Tour and win the Masters one day like his great-grandpa. I can’t remember a round the last few years where we’ve headed down the fairway after our tee shots and he hasn’t said, ‘Golf is just the best!’ “

In 2019, Ashton took Linkton to San Diego to participate in the Billy Casper charity tournament. Linkton was just three when his grand-father passed.

Learning about these young Utah kids reminded me of the days Tony Finau and his brother Gipper used to hang out at tournaments when they were about the same age. In scramble tournaments they would offer to hit shots for groups that came through. Later, we saw them begin to play and dominate.

It also reminds me of a time Johnny Miller spoke to the media at Thanksgiving Point before an event, telling how his father took him under his wing and started him playing the game. He said as a father, he’d take his kids in a cart on the course and let them hit balls in the lake – just to promote the fun of hitting the ball.

Miller also declared how big it is for parents to give their children affirmation, positive feedback and encouragement. He pointed to the late Earl Woods and how he gave Tiger Woods a plan and kept affirming to him that one day he would be the best player in the world.

“We can make a difference in how we encourage our children in whatever they do,” Miller said that day.

It will be fun to see how these two young golfers, with the remarkable DNA of legendary PGA Tour veterans, progress through time.

That’s what it’s all about: seeing stories bloom and careers take off, and tie it to fun times that might seem insignificant but really are moments that we shouldn’t take for granted.

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