15 June 2019

Soul Searching, A Revival, and a Ryder Cup Hero

At 41-years-old Paul Casey may have passed his youth, but he’s not passed his prime. The mature English player still manages to put in good performances and hold his own in the midst of much younger players. 

Innisbrook Resort is certain to always stand out in Paul Casey’s mind. It was there that he won the 2018 Valspar Championship, which was not just a title but also the end of a title drought from 2014-2018 that led to self-doubt, soul searching, and ultimately an attitude overhaul. Casey has undergone something of a personal and professional transformation, continuing on strongly from this success to triumphantly defend the Valspar title this year, making his professional wins up to a grand total of 19.

Casey became a well-known British player after turning pro in 2000 and  experienced a period of glory from 2004-2009 when he reached his highest world ranking. But personal problems and injuries led him into a gloomy period and he was only able to finally claim a title again in 2011 at the European Tour's Golf Champions tournament in Bahrain.

Things have changed a lot over the last four years since Casey chose to play on the PGA Tour. At an age that is atypical for golfers to succeed, Casey has managed to resurrect his game. Here is a brief look into the world of the Arizona State University alumnus. 

What was Casey’s experience as an amateur golfer like?
He was known as one of Britain’s most talented players, displaying an exceptional playing record while studying in the US. While there, he won the Pac-12 championship three consecutive times in 1998, 1999 and 2000. At the 2000 edition of the event, Casey even broke records held by Tiger Woods. During his amateur years, he also represented Great Britain and Ireland in the Walker Cup during their 1999 win, at the Eisenhower Trophy in 2000, and was victorious at the St. Andrews Trophy also in 2000.

Casey rejected an invitation to play in the Saudi International last February while many of the world’s top players accepted seven-figure participation fees. Why?
As a Unicef ambassador, Casey cited concerns over the country’s human rights abuses. He reflected on the decision earnestly and with self-awareness. “Anybody who says sport isn’t political, that’s rubbish, sport is very political and we’ve seen it through the years. I’m glad I took a stance, more so if it highlighted the issues within the region, especially next door in Yemen,” said Casey, as quoted by the Guardian. 

What is the highest position Casey has reached in the World Ranking?
He climbed to World No. 3, his highest ranking, after winning the BMW PGA Championship in May 2009. 

Casey won the Valspar Championship in 2018. How emotional was it for Casey?
It was nine years in between the Valspar and his previous win at the Shell Houston Open in 2009. The 2018 victory ended a title drought of 132 PGA Tour starts. Speaking after his victory, Casey explained: “Having been that length of time, and having struggled with my golf game, it was really satisfying. I’m now in a place that I’m more mature and there are other things in my life, but it was satisfying to wake up the next day and think, ‘Yeah, I won again. This is cool!’.”

This year, Casey secured back-to-back titles at Valspar. How has the game evolved or changed for Casey at 41?
“The older you get, the more you learn, the more you understand. You're actually better equipped,” said Casey, who believes it’s more of a mental game. 

“You look at Phil (Mickelson, 48) - he’s very vocal about what he’s working on. He’s working on speed. He's embracing technology.  He’s trying to hit the golf ball as hard as he possibly can and then he’s just going to go find it and hit it again. I mean, my goodness, some of the tee shots he hit at Pebble were all over the place. A hundred yards left of the fairway and he finds it, hits it again and doesn’t care.”

After a ten-year absence, Casey returned to the Ryder Cup team for the fourth time after being selected as one of Thomas Bjorn’s four Captain’s Picks. What was the story surrounding that? 

Bjorn approached Casey at the 2017 Open and asked him to be part of his Ryder Cup team. “Honestly, I’d thought I might never be able to play in the Ryder Cup again. My last full point was in 2006 at the K Club when I beat Jim Furyk,” he laughs. “It was a bloody long time.” 

How does Casey feel now having appeared in the 2018 Ryder Cup and knowing it may have been his last?  
“It was probably my last European based Ryder Cup but it’s such a drug, it’s such an addictive feeling to be part of it. I still use a Ryder Cup ball marker till this day, I’ve got it in my pocket right now,” he said, as quoted by the Independent. “The team is extremely close. Golf can be so individual and it can be a lonely sport sometimes, but it doesn’t feel like it.” 

What are his feelings on how his 2018 Ryder Cup comeback unfolded?
“That was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had on a golf course. It’s tricky to describe, I mean, it just doesn’t get any better, does it? How can it?”

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