by Graham Otway
Ahead of his second round-robin match against Adam Scott in the WGC-Cadillac Match Play, Paul Casey was working hard on the practice green at San Francisco’s TPC Harding Park.
From a range of around 12 feet, the Englishman was putting ball after ball under a line of string stretching down to the hole. It was a case of head down and total concentration.
Under such circumstances, to have interrupted a player – known throughout the golfing world for bluntly speaking his mind at any time or place – had the potential to lead to an ear-bashing of the highest order.
But The Golf Paper wanted to break some good news to Casey to put an end to 15 hours of doubt in his mind about whether his long-term plans would allow him to be part of Europe’s Ryder Cup team next year.
Now playing full-time on the US Tour, Casey had until last Friday to take out full membership of the European Tour in order to be a part of the team points qualifying process, which starts in the autumn.
For family and golfing reasons Casey had not complied with that rule. Instead, his scheme had been to take out membership in December at the start of the 2016 Race to Dubai and then play a crash programme of 13 events in an attempt to win a place in Darren Clarke’s squad.
However, it was only after The Golf Paper checked with Tour headquarters at Wentworth that, after weeks of uncertainty, Casey learned that his plan was acceptable and he could pursue his ‘burning desire’ to earn his first Ryder Cup cap since the defeat at Valhalla in 2008.
“That’s great news,” he said with a grin that overlooked the interruption of his pre-round putting routine. “That means that I can try to qualify the way I want, and I will go for it.”
Taking the unconventional route to Hazeltine next year does put Casey at a disadvantage because he will be joining the qualifying points gathering process four months later than his rivals. However, it is a mountain he is determined to climb, saying: “If I hadn’t been able to delay until December I would have been up a creek without a paddle.
“But I am prepared to have one short, fast go at it. Playing the golf I am playing – and I feel I can get better and better – there is no reason why not. Is it going to be difficult? Yes it is, but knowing what I am capable of doing, why can’t I do it?
“It’s one hell of a challenge, but I have always liked a challenge, you know that. With my back up against the wall I play some good stuff.”
Casey’s recent form of four top-ten finishes on the US Tour, which included a sixth-place finish at The Masters – equalling his career-best finish at Augusta – suggests his move to the US Tour has been a good one.
It was undertaken for two reasons. Last year, he and his wife – the Gadget Show presenter Pollyanna Woodward – had their first child, a son called Lex, and playing Stateside means he can regularly get to see at him at their home near Phoenix in Arizona.
But he also feels at the age 37, and only just back in the world’s top 50, that his golf will benefit by only playing one tour.
Playing both in Europe and the US in 2014 saw him finish a lowly 46th in the Money List as he chased a place in Paul McGinley’s 12-man Ryder Cup team at Gleneagles.
He says: “I feel like I have been playing good golf for two years now, but I have not showed it until this year because I have been so fatigued flying all over the place because I was outside the top 50.
“But this year I have shown myself, and maybe some others, that when I play a little less, I play better.
“I don’t think I played great golf at The Masters and I finished tied sixth, and I didn’t play great golf in Houston, and I was top ten.
“I have played some good golf this year, but I haven’t played great golf yet, and I almost had two opportunities to win.
“There’s only a very fine line between what I have been doing and what could come now. There has been some good stuff, and I have just got to go and fine tune it. And having posted an easy sixth at The Masters, what I am after is not very far away.”
It was at Augusta that Casey told Clarke of his Ryder Cup hopes, and he also told the captain he would be prepared as an older player to play an active part in the team room, helping any younger guys and Ryder Cup debutants as they face the potential cauldron of the American galleries.
“As I said to Clarkey, I could not wait to get back in there, but also to be a big part of it and contribute massively, because maybe I would end up as one of the older guys in the team.
“So it’s not just about me being back at the Ryder Cup; it’s doing my bit not only by winning a ton of points, but also being one of the team. If needed to, I would take that kind of role on.
“All the teams I have played for have had different dynamics in the team room. I am very happy to play any role that Clarkey needs – especially if it’s one of showing a bit of leadership.”
Had Casey not been able to qualify for the team by delaying a return to full European membership until December, he would have raised the issue with the Tour on behalf of future youngsters wanting to beat a fast path to the Ryder Cup.
“That would have been very unfortunate for me,” he said. “But what would have also frustrated me about the situation was what would happen if a young hotshot came out of Tour school, joined the Tour and started winning everything.
“Then, because he would only be playing half of the qualifying season, under that rule he would not be in the Ryder Cup team. At least now that’s not going to happen.”
*This article was originally published inside The Golf Paper on 6 May 2015