It was a week when it seemed nothing could stop Paul Casey from laughing. They weren’t just tiny titterings … they were full-blown guffaws.
It started on Wednesday with him laughing alongside his pro-am partners, despite a 16-hour flight from Los Angeles, California, that inverted his body clock by a full 12 hours, and ended on Sunday with him laughing all the way to the bank as the new champion of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
The Englishman chuckled when he muscled a 6-iron to the par-5 18th hole and made the 15-foot putt for eagle on Saturday. He had a broad smile even after smashing his tee shot on the par-3 fourth hole that sailed over the green and left him with what looked like an impossible up-and-down for par. Of course, he was chortling after a chip-in from there for an unlikely birdie.
Casey insists it’s not an act. He is not playing any mind game with himself. Life is good – and he wants to celebrate it.
“I wasn’t always happy in the earlier part of my career,” said the Scottsdale, Arizona, resident after winning the oldest tournament in the Middle East by a whopping margin of four shots. “I was a grumpy man for the first 10 years or so. But I am genuinely happy now … it’s not a mind game.
“I have an amazing wife and two wonderful children. I’m incredibly happy at home. I kind of understand where golf sits in my life and its level of importance. I’m acutely aware, certainly, over the last 10 months or so, of how fortunate I am.
“I’m also enjoying my golf. I am at a stage where I feel – I don’t want to say content – but I feel kind of fine with where I’m at. I’m at peace with whatever happens in terms of my golf career from here on.”
Probably, it was a good time to puncture his enthusiasm and remind him that he is now 43. Would he turn grumpy if I called him old by modern-day golf standards?
The ploy failed miserably.
“I am a veteran and Champions Tour, here I come,” said Casey, obviously with a hearty laugh. “Look, I am still OK because one of the assets of my game, one thing that has kept me near the top, is my strength and the distance I hit the golf ball, my driving.
“I really think I have still got quite a few good years left in me. If I was a great putter but unable to drive the ball long, I’d already be struggling out here. You’ve got to hit it a long way on the tour. I hit a driver and 6-iron into the par-5 18th today and I am chuffed about that.
“I feel very optimistic about my golf. I don’t know how long I have got in the game, but I feel like Phil (Mickelson). I am not as good as him, but I definitely think I can go on till I am 50.
“(Lee) Westwood has given me inspiration as well. He has won the Order of Merit at age 47. And I drive the ball way longer than he does.”
"I am at a stage where ... I feel kind of fine with where I'm at."
A very important part of Casey’s success is his caddie, John McLaren. Known as “Johnny Long Socks” for his habit of wearing colourful, long socks, McLaren teamed with Casey after spending a considerable time with Luke Donald and helping him reach the world No 1 ranking.
“He does a lot of work that people don’t see,” said Casey. “I have a 100 percent respect for the guy.
“He is crunching data and statistics and telling me what I need to work on or what golf courses I need to play because it would suit my game.
“And he has got this upbeat spirit. When I am feeling a bit down, he just lifts me. We have basically flown around the world for these last five years having a laugh.
“Johnny and I, we committed to five years when we started this journey (2016) and last year was the end of five years. I said to him, ‘You can’t stop now.’ He was in England during the COVID lockdown and I told him, ‘You’ve just had six months off. You’re not quitting on me now. That’s unfair. You owe me at least six months.’ So I coaxed him back.”
One criticism of Casey’s career has been his lack of major titles. He will be playing the Masters next, and the new world No 14 has got a very good record at Augusta National Golf Club. In 14 starts, he has five top-10s with his best finish being a tied fourth place in 2016.
“I need a bit of help,” said Casey, assessing his chances of winning the green jacket. “You look at Dustin (Johnson) or Rory (McIlroy). Rory’s got a lot of pressure on him obviously, but his game is unbelievable. There will be a lot of talk about Bryson (DeChambeau) obviously with his length.
“I need a bit of help from those guys, as well, don’t I? Let’s be honest, if we go my best golf against them, I’m going to get beaten. But yes … I’ve got a good chance.”
Casey next plays the Saudi International, a tournament he has been critical about in the past.
“I will put up my hands and say I have been critical of them, but I am wrong,” he said. “I am being a hypocrite by not giving them a chance. I have done a lot of research in these past couple of years and I don’t think there is any country on this planet that has a perfect human rights record.
“I think there have been many changes there in recent times, and that’s all we can hope for. I have also been told by many people that you’ve got to be inclusive and that’s what I am trying to do – not shut the door on people.”