If you find yourself driving home after attending a PGA tournament, and you see a cyclist on the road, look closely. It might just be PGA and European Tour pro Paul Casey under that helmet.
Currently the 23rd ranked player in the world, Casey’s latest ride was a 47-mile outing on the lush back roads of Connecticut immediately after the first round of the 2015 Travelers Championship.
“The guy who drives the big truck around, who delivers luggage for us [PGA pros] takes my bike,” Casey said. “During the week, I get the bike out of the truck depending on if the terrain and weather are good. Next week, I’ll be at the Greenbrier in West Virginia so I’m looking forward to training on some quiet rolling hills again.”
The ride helped Casey, as he forced a playoff against Bubba Watson in his first Travelers Championship to take 2nd place.
From the peaceful golf course to muted bike rides, the 37-year-old pro from Weybridge, Surrey, England might be mistaken as a tame, ho-hum guy, who gets his rush by sinking a shot for eagle like he did on the 3rd hole at the Travelers Championship.
However, Casey, who has 15 professional wins under his belt (one PGA and 14 international), craves the thrill that comes from extreme sports. In fact, a snowboarding injury stalled his golf career in 2012, just a few years after he vaulted to No. 3 in the world.
In an effort to prolong his Tour career, Casey has been “banned” from action sports, but that hasn’t stopped him from fostering fun athletic opportunities for children back in the UK, especially during a time when funding for sports in schools is being cut back.
A portal into the sport
Before Casey started to focus intently on golf at 13 years old, he played soccer, rugby, and cricket. When he was 11, he even tried out for a tennis scholarship at Foxhills Golf Club, a nearby country club in Weybridge. A scholarship meant a free membership to the club and unlimited coaching. He didn’t get the tennis scholarship, but found out the following year that they offered the same scholarship opportunity for golfers. So he tried out again, and made the cut.
“I had four years of free coaching and free membership,” Casey said. “My family didn’t have the money to join something like that. It’s programs like that where I was very lucky that people went above and beyond to make sports available to me.”
Valuing his own childhood surrounded by sports, Casey started the Paul Casey Foundation in 2007, which encourages youth to live healthier lifestyles by participating in sports.
“I look at the UK now and talk to people back home, and it seems like the door is almost closing,” Casey said of the lack of sporting opportunities. “Sports have become less and less prevalent in the UK. Education seems to be key, but sports isn’t anymore. As an athlete, I know how much sports contribute to the growth of young kids. To me, it’s important to try and keep those doors open.”
Casey has partnered with Youth Sport Trust to help thousands of children develop their skills in a range of sports, with an emphasis on developing agility, balance, and coordination. Through the STARS Squad program, his foundation also supports schools that have four or more athletes deemed especially talented.
While some of his tournament earnings go toward supporting the foundation, Casey finds that the biggest impact he can make is just showing up to events.
“It’s amazing how you can give as much money as you want but when an athlete turns up, then you see the eyes of the kids light up,” Casey said. “To me, that’s the biggest thing. Sports is my livelihood, but it’s also what I love. If I can share my love of sports with them and encourage healthy development that way, then I know I’m doing my job.”
Kick, push, coast to the mountain medical clinic
In 2009, Casey was ranked 3rd in the world, but then came a string of injuries from a torn rib muscle to turf toe. In 2012, came a shoulder injury from a snowboarding accident at Vail.
Casey began skiing and snowboarding after coming to the U.S. to attend Arizona State. He often traveled with college friends to Colorado, where he discovered that gliding down a mountain on snow was “the coolest thing ever.”
During a snowboarding lesson in the back bowls of Vail, Casey had one foot unbuckled in order to kick himself over to another lift. He hit some ice and caught an edge, which didn’t take him down completely, but forced him to drag his right arm on the ground. In doing that, he ripped his shoulder out of its socket.
“It was really benign, which was the sad thing,” Casey said. “A lot of people were expecting me to say I was in the terrain park or something. I’d like to say I was trying to pull off some great trick, but I wasn’t.”
His sponsor, Nike, had been sending him snowboarding gear, encouraging his participation at the time.
“Nike said, ‘Send us some pictures and show us your skills on the slopes,’ so I sent one from the emergency room at Vail Medical Center, which didn’t go down too well,” Casey said. “I’ve now been banned from snowboarding. Nike wrote in my contract that I’m not allowed to participate in extreme sports. It’s something I miss, and something I’ll probably try and get back into when I can, a little bit later.”
When a club toss helps
The shoulder was popped back into place, and no surgery was needed, but Casey had to miss a handful of tournaments during a Ryder Cup year. When he did play, his game was off.
“I just wasn’t playing my usual golf. Mentally, I didn’t really realize what that had done to me. Looking back on it now, I had no idea that there was this mental block that I still had to overcome.”
Five months after the injury, his shoulder was feeling “great,” but he was dropping rapidly in the world rankings.
“I wasn’t able to hit the golf ball straight because I didn’t ‘let go,'” Casey said of not being able to swing the club fully. “If you try to guide it, it’s the worst thing you could ever do playing golf. It damaged my psyche. I was getting scared of all the trouble out on the course, — the trees and bunkers — so my golf game was in the pot, and my confidence was dropping.”
It wasn’t until he started working with Arizona Diamondbacks trainer Dave Edwards that he realized he wasn’t trusting his shoulder.
“The breakthrough was actually me throwing a baseball,” Casey said. “I was in Dave’s gym in the summertime, and some guys were throwing a baseball. They convinced me to throw, and gave me pointers saying ‘Just let it go.’ I said ‘I don’t want to. I’m worried about my shoulder.’ It was that light bulb moment where I thought if I can’t throw a baseball as hard as I can throw a baseball, then I’m certainly not going to swing a golf club the way I should be.”
That’s when Edwards decided that Casey should be throwing golf clubs to gain that confidence back. So, they went to a hot dirt parking lot across the street from the gym with about five clubs.
“I set up in a golf posture with one hand, and he [Edwards] wanted me to throw the golf club as far as I could,” Casey said. “It’s therapy. I think everybody should throw golf clubs at one time or another. It was that moment where I knew I could let the golf club go. That’s when the shackles came off and the mental blockage started to go.”
A divorce following the injury didn’t help his psyche either, but by June of 2013, Casey was back in business. He ended his two-and-a-half year winless streak by capturing his 12th European Tour title at The Irish Open.
“I look at golf and the great shots I’ve hit, or the victories I’ve had, and it’s what I’m supposed do. It’s my job.” Casey said. “Getting to No. 3 in the world, overcoming injuries, dropping down to the 100’s, and then coming back into the winners circle again, that’s probably the thing I’m most proud of athletically.”
Family, golf, and the rest
Perspective as a pro athlete can be an elusive thing, but Casey seems to have a firm grip on it.
His love for sports, outside of golf, isn’t just limited to winter activities. He used to mountain bike alongside professional riders in Whistler, British Columbia, hitting step-up jumps and holding his own with some of the world’s best.
“When you play a sport as a job and then you play other sports, which are more hobbies and fun, you don’t give yourself as much credit as you maybe should for your own sport,” Casey said.
Now a husband to Pollyanna and a father to 10-month-old Lex, Casey looks back at his early years as a pro, and often wonders exactly what drove him then.
“When I was single, I was incredibly selfish, flying around the world playing golf,” Casey said. “You think about that and what was the purpose?”
Now, his purpose is to “look out” for Pollyanna and Lex, and make sure they have a husband and a father they can be proud of.
“I play the game right with respect, honor, and integrity. I play to win, but if I don’t, it doesn’t matter because they’re right there,” Casey said.
Casey’s other intention within the game resides in giving back to the sport and elevating it.
“I can put my name in the history books with the things I’ve done on the golf course, but I want to try to get people into the game of golf and get people to cheer about something,” Casey said. “If I encourage people to try it and play it, it makes the game better. That’s what I’m here to do. I’m not that good at other things. If I can make a difference to my family and other people through golf, then I’ll be a very happy man.”
Happy and filled with an alternative form of adrenaline.