There was a time in the not too distant past when Paul Casey thought nothing about embarking on a 362-mile bike ride through the Dolomites in the Italian Alps. On what was practically the eve of the 2015 PGA Championship, no less.
These days, the father of two young children is more apt to have tricycles and training wheels in his life. He still gets out to ride occasionally—Casey says he loves the “mental release” cycling provides—but family, and then practice, come before his other life-long passion.
Content in his life off the golf course—and contending on it, the friendly Englishman with the engaging smile is playing some of the best golf of his career at the age of 42.
The Renaissance man had once been ranked as high as third in the world, behind Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. But a litany of injuries—torn rib muscle, turf toe and dislocated shoulder—contributed to a slide that saw him tumble as low as 169th in June 2013.
In 2015, though, Casey recommitted himself to playing the PGA TOUR. He has climbed back into the world’s top 20—one of a handful of 40-somethings holding their own in an increasingly young man’s game. He was also one of Thomas Bjorn’s captain’s picks for the Ryder Cup last year, making his first appearance since 2008.
And although he’d won overseas in the interim, Casey ended a nine-year PGA TOUR victory drought when he held off Woods at the 2018 Valspar Championship. He successfully defended his title earlier this year and appears headed for his fifth straight appearance in the TOUR Championship as well.
Casey, who is a collector of fine wine, vintage wristwatches and Nike Dunks, took some time at THE PLAYERS Championship, for this conversation with the PGA TOUR Essential Guide to Golf.
Q: Who influenced you as a golfer?
CASEY: Probably two factors; multiple people. So, my Dad would be the first, because he was a bad golfer, but he was a good athlete. He was a good rugby player, and cricketer, and so he introduced me to the game. He was the main influence, because he was always there through me starting my golfing career.
And then there’s just a plethora of guys. I’d like to pick one, but it was Seve, Faldo, Langer, Woosie, Lyle … those were the main guys who, for me, were my heroes. And I got to watch them when I used to go to events at Wentworth and stand up close and watch guys like Faldo and Seve hit the golf ball. So, they were the big influence, although I didn’t know them.
Q: But you played other sports, too. When did you decide you wanted to just concentrate on golf?
CASEY: Probably when I was about early teens, 13, 14. I was still at that stage playing tennis, quite a bit of football [soccer]. I actually was trying to get tennis scholarships and things like that when I was about 11 years old and soon figured out I was having more success withgolf than I was the other sports. And at that point it was just a sensible decision, so I stopped the other sports because they were taking away time from golf. That’s all it really was, but I loved playing everything. I still love other sports. It was just a process of elimination that led me togolf.
Q: So what prompted your decision to come to the States and play golf in college?
CASEY: It was a big move. But it was kind of forced, and I say that because there’s really no way of furthering your education after high school and playing a sport in the U.K. unless you go to Oxford or Cambridge and you’re doing crew as you call it over here. Maybe you could play a bit of rugby at couple of universities, but it’s really dead-end. For golf there were still very few opportunities, certainly nothing like the college system.
So it was, do I turn pro? Or do I pursue this college thing, which no one knew much about. Guys were going off to community colleges and stuff and bringing back snippets of information. The internet wasn’t what it is now—you can just google Arizona State, and see all the images and videos.
So, it was just more of a case of I didn’t want to turn pro. I didn’t want to maybe work in a pro shop and try to play golf, because I thought that wouldn’t give me enough time. My parents [though] if I could further that education, it was a perfect combo. So, my hand was forced. Very few guys, like Ian Poulter, turned pro very early, worked in a pro shop and went that route. They just don’t do it.
Q: So how did you find out about Arizona State? Or did they find you?
CASEY: There was a close friend of mine who I played junior golf with. I just remember him coming back when I was about 16 years old. He’d come back from the States, and he goes, ‘I’ve been to the greatest place on the planet.’ What is that? Where is it? He goes, ‘It’s called Scottsdale, Arizona.’ And so that stuck in the back of my mind, and then when I was looking into universities, I was pursued. Again, we didn’t know much. Like Augusta State would have their coach out, promoting Augusta State to play at Augusta National. It spiked everybody’s interest.
I’d been to the east coast a lot on vacation. Probably felt a little bit more comfortable on the west coast. Arizona State had just won nationals in (1996). … Chris Hannell, Pat Perez, was on the team, various other guys. So that was like the obvious one. And I’d written letters to Wake Forest and other people. But it was writing letters and sending videos of your swing. That’s what you did. And then mail. There wasn’t even really email back then. So, I got very lucky. It’s where I wanted to go because of their recent success at nationals. Just lucky that sort of popped up on the radar, and lucky I ended up there.
Q: You left Arizona State in 2000 after winning three Pac-10 titles and stepped into the big leagues quickly. You were the European Tour Rookie of the Year in 2001, won twice in 2003 and joined the PGA TOUR as a special temporary member a year later. What was that learning curve like?
CASEY: Getting used to standing on a range next to people I guess I’d idolized and watched on TV. You’re standing, watching, suddenly Tiger’s over there, and David Duval’s next to you. And oh my God, I remember the first time Jack Nicklaus walked past me on the range at TPC Heron Bay at The Honda Classic. I actually froze. I was just hitting balls, and I was like … I knew somebody stopped right there, and I turned, and it was Jack. It was like, ‘Oh! Mr. Nicklaus, how are you?’ I was, and still am, pretty shy. Yeah, that was the biggest thing.
And then understanding that my golf was good enough as well. You think you need to be something extra special. I was clearly not bad, having played good in college and had a good amateur record. I had the skills is what I’m trying to say. It’s just getting to know that and getting used to it, and building that confidence, but I was in at the deep end and out of my depth in the U.S. for a couple of years. It’s probably why I had more success in Europe early on.
Q: You’ve have had success all over the world, but you recommitted yourself to playing the PGA TOUR in 2015. How did that help your career?
CASEY: From 2014, when my son, Lex, was born that’s when I was outside the top 50, and I said, ‘That’s it. I can’t do that.’ And I quietly stepped away. I didn’t want to make a fuss, but I stepped away from Europe. Just didn’t renew my membership, and it’s shown since then. I’d have to look at it. Certainly 2015 or 2016 onwards, I’ve had good success. Solid four years. TOUR Championship, I think, every year. I should’ve done that earlier.
Q: What did it feel like to break that nine-year victory drought at the 2018 Valspar Championship?
CASEY: So, so satisfying. It was a lot like my first victory ever in Europe at Gleneagles back in 2001, because that was the realization like, ‘Wow, I can do this. I’m a tour winner.’ All that work I’d ever done as a kid, as a junior, as an amateur at college, suddenly it’s like, ‘Wow, I kinda belong.’
Winning at the Valspar Championship was after having sort of obviously tasted success all over the world, but then lost form, lost confidence. I’ve worked incredibly hard to get it back. That was almost a very similar feeling going, I’m back again. The work has paid off, and yeah, it was a really cool feeling.
This article first appeared in the PGA TOUR June-November 2019 issue, which can be read here.