Peculiar Paul Casey glad his Ryder Cup career is back on track
The Englishman is playing in his first Ryder Cup for a decade this week in Paris
Paul Casey is an interesting character. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho
On Planet Ryder Cup, gravity’s pull is generally the strongest force in the atmosphere. Once you’re in, you’re in. The very thought of being out doesn’t occur - or if it does, it is something to be dreaded. The idea that someone would deliberately absent themselves from it doesn’t really chime with the whole vibe of the event. Check out any time you like but why would you want to leave?
Consider, then, the ever-so slightly curious case of Paul Casey, the Englishman who is playing in his first Ryder Cup for a decade here this week. Since the 2008 edition at Valhalla, Casey has won five times on the European Tour and twice in the States and been as high as number three in the world rankings. Yet he’s watched the past four Ryder Cups on television, occasionally because he had no choice in the matter but at least once because he didn’t make himself available.
Casey could never be mistaken for the cuddliest character in the European team but he is comfortably one of the more interesting ones. He has a slightly uneasy way about him, as though he is mentally counting his way through the next five chess moves that will result from anything he says - even though they’re moves only he is generally interested in. It occasionally means he loses his train of thought, leaving pauses that grow inexorably into full stops.
Much like his Ryder Cup career, in fact. It began in 2010 when Colin Montgomerie chose Pádraig Harrington ahead of him despite Casey being ranked seventh in the world at the time. Nobody doubted the decision based at least in part on the fact that Casey was based in America and made minimal appearances on the European Tour. Nonetheless, Casey was unabashedly hurt by the snub and his Ryder Cup career has only now recovered.
He went into the wilderness for a few years and dropped outside the top 100 in the world. By the time he built himself back up to compete again, he had relinquished his membership of the European Tour, unwilling to play the required number of counting events this side of the Atlantic. It meant that he was a de facto non-starter in the 2016 matches, even though he was the world number 13 when they were being played.
When he came in for his turn on the interview stage here, Casey was positively brimming with delight at being back. He had watched every one of the Ryder Cups he missed - “Oh, yeah, of course - it’s best thing on TV.” But when it came to talking about how he coped with missing out, he chose his words more carefully.
“I think after I missed out in 2010, and I want to say - my memory’s vague, but 2012 and 2014 where I had struggled with my game - those were probably the times when I wondered and hoped if I’d play another one if my form wasn’t there. I remember I had a really good relationship with [Paul] McGinley and wanting to play for him, but just wasn’t playing nearly the golf I wanted to or needed to to get close to making his team. Same with Ollie.
“And then missing out in 2016, not being a member, not being eligible and not being a member of The European Tour. I felt like I could and would - it was just a matter of when.
“How did I cope? I mean . . . I’ve always had ups and downs in my career. When you’re over here playing bad golf, you can never see how to play good golf again. And when you’re playing good golf, you can never understand how you play bad golf. You just get on with it as a player, as an athlete. I always loved the work, so when I struggled with my game, in 2012 or 2014 when I didn’t make these teams, it was just a question of, let’s get better.”
Ultimately, Casey is here because Thomas Bjorn and the European Tour went to him and asked how they could get him back in the fold. Keith Pelley dropped the number of tournaments required to keep European Tour membership from five to four plus the majors and WGC events, purely with Casey in mind. With all that swirling around, it would be normal for Casey to feel he had something to prove here. If he is, he isn’t copping to it.
“Not a point to prove, no” he said. “I’m just here to play the golf I’m capable of and see what that produces. We’re playing against a brilliant US team and we have massive respect for them. You know, on paper, they are better than us on paper. There’s no point to prove. Just here to do my bit and we’ll see what happens.
“Ryder Cups in the past have gone so quickly and I just want to make sure I remember this. You know, at 41, I don’t know how many opportunities I’m going to get to play another European-based Ryder Cup. I don’t want this to be my last European-based Ryder Cup but plain and simple, at 41, it’s got a chance that it is. So I just want to make sure that I pay attention to it and enjoy it, deliver points, play my heart out but enjoy it at the same time.”
Gravity found a way to pull him back in. If his demeanour is anything to go by, it has him for good now.