02 Nov 2020

Paul Casey – I love the fact that the next two Majors are at Augusta National

At the age of 43, Paul Casey is a veteran of the game with an impressive professional career spanning almost 20 years, since becoming a European Tour Member in 2001. The Englishman has enjoyed solid success having won 14 times on the European Tour and three times on the PGA Tour. Despite reaching the latter stages of his career, he doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

The talk of the town over the last year has been the number of talented youngsters bursting onto the world stage, with the likes of Viktor Hovland, Collin Morikawa and Matthew Wolff all enjoying their time in the spotlight. But Casey proved that the old guard can still go toe-to-toe with the new kids on the block after producing his best Major result at this year’s US PGA Championship with a share of second place at Harding Park.

“The odds are certainly against me winning because not many players aged 43 or older have won a Major, let alone in this age of golf,” said Casey, who followed up his runner-up finish in San Francisco with a top 20 place at the US Open. “I still feel like I have got as good a chance – if not better – than I have ever had. I’m relaxed, I’m happy and I’m hitting it long, which is great. I found out that I was in the top 10 in driving distance at the US Open, even with some bad ones. It’s funny that I’m hitting it so far since I don’t do any speed work in terms of trying to smash it 330-odd yards, but it’s there in the tank if I need it and I’m fairly strong. “There are people who say that I should have won a Major and ask if it bothers me that I haven’t, but the simple answer is that it really doesn’t matter to me. I feel zero pressure, if I win, then great, and if I don’t, then it is what it is. It’s not going to change my life in any way whatsoever.”

GIVING AWAY DECADES

Five players in the top ten at the US PGA were 26 years old or younger, including the champion Morikawa, who is 20 years Casey’s junior. Many would be envious that their counterparts were winning Major Championships at such a young age, after years of grinding away, searching for that elusive victory in one of the four Majors,- but not Casey. “I really enjoy the challenge of competing with these guys and it drives me forward to become evenbetter,”hesays.“Ialwayshaveagoodlaugh with them and I’m old enough to be their dad! I’m probably not seen as much of a threat to them. “They are probably more wary of players like Rory McIlroy or Justin Thomas so I can quietly befriend these guys, play a few practice rounds with them, get to know them and then try and beat them on a Sunday afternoon – which is quite good fun! I really like it when young players come on Tour because they bring something new and I get to learn from them because the game evolves with so many different attitudes, styles and equipment.”

When golf returned from its hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Casey struggled in his first four outings as he missed the cut twice and failed to finish inside the top 30 in his other two starts. During a television interview after round three of the PGA Championship an emotional Casey revealed that he was missing the ‘roars of the crowd, the excitement and sometimes screaming from the absent fans. “It’s the classic line, ‘you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.’ Everybody likes to be appreciated for what they do and everyone wants to be told, ‘well done today.’ We are no different,” he says. “You hit a great golf shot and when you get no one clapping, it’s really soulless and it’s very sad. I realised how much energy, excitement and enjoyment I get from people watching me play, whether I’m doing well or not so great.

“Sometimes playing in front of a big crowd can be intimidating, sometimes it hasn’t been enjoyable when you get certain crowds who can be hostile. But I realised that I actually miss the atmosphere. In golf, you relish that challenge. You can walk away from an event or any round and you think to yourself, ‘I know I didn’t shoot the lowest number I possibly could but I’m happy with how I faced the challenge,’ and that challenge is not currently there. “It’s nice seeing people’s enjoyment in coming to watch us play. There is nothing cooler than somebody getting enjoyment out of what we do, good or bad. Trust me, there have been plenty of times when I have provided people with entertainment by playing bad golf as well! We are all entertainers to a certain degree and we have no one to entertain at the moment.”


Earlier this year, Paul Casey was named as a Porsche ag brand ambassador – the first and only such ambassador from the world of golf. from a Porsche poster in his childhood bedroom, to a Porsche logo on his golf bag, it was an ideal collaboration fit for both parties. “It’s a pretty big deal being the first golfer to be a brand ambassador for Porsche,” said Casey. “I’m so honoured and overwhelmed. it’s the stuff of dreams. I have always been a car fanatic and I had the Porsche 959 poster on the wall when I was younger. My dad used to take me to Brands Hatch to watch the motor racing as a kid so to have the Porsche logo on the bag and to be a part of their ‘family’ is surreal. It’s the perfect match. Nothing about it is forced – it’s totally organic and makes utmost sense. To win the Porsche European Open last year was very cool and it has blossomed into this.”


UPBEAT AND RELAXED

Despite missing the fans, Casey was visibly more upbeat at Harding Park and could be seen on television sharing a few laughs with his final round playing partner Brooks Koepka. The four- time Major winner had a rare and disappointing final round, yet he was his normal care-free self, which is something Casey has come to realise is the best way to play out on the course. “I figured that I play my best golf when I’m upbeat and relaxed, in a way,” he says. “There would be many a season in the past when I would try to get my own way, and I’d try so hard to be fully focused. I had this understanding that in order to play good golf I have to be serious – but that could not be further from the truth! “I think the Sunday at Harding Park was the perfect example of that. There certainly was pressure and I was a little bit nervous, but I was so relaxed I just embraced it. Playing with Brooks is a lovely experience. He’s an interesting personality because I see a one-sided Brooks. I get to play golf with and against him and I really enjoy playing with him.

“He is a real gentleman on course. He says ‘good shot,’ when I hit a good shot. He stays out of the way; he doesn’t distract you; and he plays flat out. He puts his foot on the pedal and just goes and plays with such fluidity. I like that. Some people would call him arrogant for his nonchalant approach but I wouldn’t. It’s just the way he plays. He dragged me along that day. I know he didn’t play his best golf but that didn’t affect my game. Sometimes when players play bad golf they become distracted but not him – you wouldn’t have known whether he was bothered or not.

“I have a lot of respect for him, not only for what he has achieved but for how he plays the game. I know he ruffles some people’s feathers with his comments but I really enjoy playing golf with the guy.” Another man who has brought more fun to the course has been Casey’s caddie, John McLaren. The pair have been working together for the last five years but McLaren wasn’t available for the first four outings since the coronavirus shutdown, due to family commitments. He made a welcome return at Harding Park and he felt a lot more comfortable having his old friend alongside him. “Since I started working with Johnny he has bought a massive sense of enjoyment onto the course,” he says.

“He’s great fun and doesn’t like grumpiness. In fact, he doesn’t do anything other than happy. He’s so positive and brings that positivity into my life, which I really like and it helps me. He’s also incredibly diligent. He’s the hardest working caddie I know on Tour and I’m not just saying that because he’s my caddie. He’s always looking to improve my game and he’s driving that bus. He will say, ‘we can make a one-shot difference this week if we do this or that,’ and I love that. He’s in it 100 percent and works as hard as I do. Before Johnny and I started working together he was on the bag for Luke Donald and I think he was massively instrumental in Luke’s success in getting to World No.1. He has helped me immeasurably, and in general, he is a really good guy to be around.”

Casey and McLaren will make the unusual trip to Augusta National this month as they get set for a Masters in November for the first time in the tournament’s history. It’s a course Casey knows better than most. He has enjoyed success at Augusta with his best result a tied fourth in 2016, in addition to finishing inside the top ten on four previous occasions in his 13 trips down Magnolia Lane. Could this be the best chance for Casey to finally get it over the line in a Major Championship?

“I love the fact that the next two Majors are at Augusta National, a place that I know well and have played nicely at,” he says. “It’s bizarre though isn’t it? Having two Majors in such a short turnaround at Augusta is not something we are used to. I hope that April next year is going to be the usual Masters with the patrons lining the fairways and the beautiful azaleas in bloom.

AUGUSTA SURPRISES

“I don’t know what to expect of this coming edition, I have never played Augusta in any month other than April. We’ll be teeing off earlier so we don’t clash with the NFL games, so it will be very cold early in the mornings, so what does that mean? How is the grass different? How is the moisture in the ground different? Does the ball just stop on the fairways? Will the greens be fast or slow? Does the wind blow from different directions at this time of the year?

“All these questions and various other little things are making it unpredictable for us, and I am really excited by it all. This whole pandemic is awful. So many lives have been lost, the financial hardship and the mental strain that people are going through all around the world is just terrible. “Selfishly though, I am really looking forward to playing Augusta without the fans! We are going to look back at this Masters in history and say,‘remember in 2020 when we played in Augusta with no fans?’ It’s a unique moment in golfing history. It’s going to be so surreal. I’m excited about having the chance of winning a Major in November. We are going to have five more Majors in the 2021 season so it’s the best opportunity I could ever get to win one.”

Looking ahead, Casey has opted to not play in this year’s DP World Tour Championship due to the travel restrictions in place and the fact that he wants to enjoy some time away from the course to fully recharge for what will be a jam-packed 2021. With an Olympic Games and Ryder Cup scheduled for next year, Casey wants to make the most of it while he’s still at the peak of his powers. “Next year is going to be a massive one and I really want to make The Ryder Cup team and the Olympic squad,” he says. “I want to have a nice tracksuit with Great Britain on it. Imagine being 44 years old and going to the Olympics. Every time I speak to Justin Rose he literally says ‘gold medal’ in every sentence. I do think I can get a medal and to call yourself an Olympian would be really cool – and, selfishly, you could wangle tickets to almost all the events there!

OLYMPIC DREAM

“I want to be at the Olympics if I feel I can contribute and help win for Great Britain. Olympic athletes don’t go just for the experience because if they did then no one would win anything. When athletes like Chris Hoy and Tom Daley win all their medals it just lifts everyone, and that’s a big thing for me. “The qualification is tight, as they take the top two players in the World Ranking and there are a bunch of English players right up there with Justin Rose, Matt Fitzpatrick, Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood and me. You have got five of us within about 10 spots of each other. I don’t care who goes, just as long as I’m in there!”

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