Paul Casey earned a memorable victory at the 2021 Dubai Desert Classic and still feels as hungry as ever to compete with the world’s best. His record is sublime in the UAE with a further two wins in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in 2007 and 2009. We caught up with the 44 year old at a Rolex round-table event during the DP World Tour Championship where he finished tied-ninth.
Worldwide Golf: As the reigning champion, what do you think about the Dubai Desert Classic becoming a Rolex Series event?
Paul Casey: I feel like it’s finally been elevated to a position that a lot of us had always thought it was. For an event which is so new in the annals of golf, it gained quite some prestige among the players. And I think the trophy for the event has helped that. I think we can all agree that the trophies for the tournaments in the UAE are quite stunning. To me, it’s fantastic news. Rolex, and their continued support of golf, is very much appreciated by the bulk of the membership and I think also golf fans globally. These events are significantly different, so I’m looking forward to it.
There was always a rumour or myth that if you won a trophy three times – I remember Martin Kaymer won the Falcon Trophy in Abu Dhabi three times –you get to keep it after the third win. I’m not sure if he did get to keep that one though!
WWG: Is there a moment in your victory at Emirates Golf Club that sticks out as being pivotal?
PC: I arrived on the Tuesday night having played the week before in the United States, so I woke up on Wednesday and had no clue where I was. I played the Pro-AM quickly in a bit of a daze and then went on to win the event. It’s interesting because I was heavily jet-lagged from that. But it showed that energy can sometimes come from somewhere else – another source. At that point we were heavily locked down, they didn’t let us outside of the hotel that week. But at the course we had about 500-800 spectators – mostly members and guests. And the energy that we were getting as players in these little pockets when you got near these people – it was brilliant. Because we hadn’t really played in front of anybody. In the USA there were very few, and it was nice to see their enthusiasm. That was what was really cool for me. That energy. And it’s one of the coolest events on the Tour. I love the trophy, obviously. I’m a big coffee fan!
WWG: You were very emotional afterwards. What did that win mean to you and why did you get like that?
PC: I’d played some really bad golf coming out of the pause that they had on the PGA Tour. I’d struggled. It was about three months off and I didn’t play well and struggled the rest of that season. Therefore I tried to figure out what I needed to work on and where my motivation was. I wanted to get 2020 behind me, probably like everybody else on the planet really. Our performances on course is what is always talked about, but I had a bad time away from the course. At home with the family not being able to operate the way we normally would which is just like everybody else so I was ready for that to be over. It was a culmination of it being my 15th win, the Dubai Desert Classic – which is just cool – and the fact that 2020 was a write-off. I had worked hard to make 2021 something successful then boom – the second week out, there it is. You don’t often get the pay-off that quick. Sometimes you never get the pay-off. I had worked hard, set a plan and accomplished it. It was really cool.
WWG: You’ve competed in the Olympics, Ryder Cup and in all the Majors. What’s the goal next year with no Olympics or Ryder Cup?
PC: Typically, it’s been a big ticket thing for me – to make that team or make the other team. It’s important for either cause that I play consistently well and think about winning events. And I’ve spoken to various guys, my coach, and asked ‘is that still the way to do it?’ Or should I have the goal of 2022 of just taking two or three categories, looking at hitting one more fairway per round. Or maybe see a category in which I’m ranked 100th on Tour and look to improve into the top 25, and have that as the goal. And then that will feed into my practice and my game and how I spend my time. Maybe that’s the thing, I don’t know. I’m yet to figure it out. Right now, I’m not lacking motivation to get on a plane – coming from Arizona to Dubai for the DP World Tour Championship is a 16+ hour journey. I still want to do this.
WWG: In the UAE there are impressive amateurs who believe the best opportunity to elevate themselves is to go to college in the USA. You did the same, and so did Luke Donald. What advice would you have to those players?
PC: I don’t know the scene in the UAE across the amateurs well enough to know what opportunities they have out here to improve the trajectory of their golf careers. But for me, from the UK, it was kind of dead-end in that you either turned professional and try to play professional golf, or you worked in a shop. I tip my cap to Ian Poulter because very few guys have made their way from the pro-shop to the highest level. But you can’t go to university in the UK and play golf, so to me, those two options seemed scary. My parents were keen on me furthering my education so the college thing made total sense. And it is such a vehicle nowadays, looking at the players coming through their systems now. It’s almost like a no-brainer for a lot of kids.
I actually dropped out before my four-year degree course was over, so I didn’t get my degree. For the first six months I was homesick and did struggle. But everything you do as a college athlete prepares you for being a professional golfer because it is away from home. The level of competition is tough. I was playing against guys like Adam Scott and Luke Donald week in, week out. The facilities and you way you train. And you can get a degree if you want because there might be a trend in the future when players retire earlier and maybe they want to do something else. Thousands of kids go to college with dreams of being a touring professional golfer and fail. So that education could be a wonderful thing. The underlying thing for me, is just go for it. Because if you don’t like it you just go back home. The error for me would be not trying it so if there is a system in place in the UAE that supports amateurs, funds them, educates them and provides a structure and support system that allows them to focus on becoming a pro golfer – wonderful. They don’t have to go the college in the USA. But there wasn’t that in the UK. It was the English Golf Union and the R&A and that was it. They are better now.
WWG: I read a quote from you that you feel better about yourself after 40? Is this true and are you more relaxed now?
PC: Yes, I am. I used to really live and die by my results when I was in my 20s and even into my 30s. And I get that because when you’re trying to become a successful athlete on Tour, you never know if you’re going to make it or win. And you get people chirping in your ear: “you should be winning twice a year” or things like that. And then you suddenly look back after ten years and it’s not happened. It’s never good if you start to live up to other people’s expectations. There’s a whole bunch of noise going on!
WWG: Can you see yourself playing on, perhaps onto the seniors?
PC: Yeah, I’m still hungry to compete and am hopefully not getting too soft or reflective. I’m able to strike a balance between reflecting a little bit – like I can look back on the Olympics and know it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had because I set a goal and made the team. Also the Ryder Cup in 2018 was like that. Some athletes don’t want to look back until they’ve finished but I find that I am able to look back and think ‘that was a really cool victory in Dubai’ – but it doesn’t make me soft for that week. I still want to go out there and beat whoever I’m playing. But I can do it and enjoy it and if it doesn’t happen I’m OK with it. Because, to me, the success thing – what is success? It’s not about the trophy – of course we want to win. But it’s more about having a happy, healthy family, a bunch of friends and the fact I love playing golf for a living. That’s pretty damn cool.
WWG: Are you a scoreboard watcher?
PC: On Sundays I tend not to. I get distracted a bit. I don’t know why. If I’m in contention, I just try to execute the same game plan that I had been doing that got me to that point. It’s different because the pin positions will change and the wind might be different, but the feelings are there. If I do look, it’ll be on the 18th tee or the 17th. It’s my caddies’ job really. If I need an eagle on the last to win – he’ll tell me. If I’ve got a three-shot lead on the 18th tee, he might hand me the 6-iron. It’s his role to take control or remind me.
WWG: As a self-confessed petrol head, do you get your hands dirty?
PC: Yes, but I’m rubbish. I can break stuff and get someone to fix it. I can change wheels and oil filters, things like that. The sun visor fell off one of my old cars the other week and I screwed it back on – that’s about it, but changing the oil, I can do that. It’s not bad. With modern cars it’s more difficult!