Paul Casey: The Long Grind Back From Injury

Englishman, Paul Casey, built a very successful professional career on both the European and the PGA Tours. He turned pro out of Arizona State University in 2000 where he won the Pac-10 Title three years in a row and was a big factor in the 1999 Walker Cup. By 2011 he had won 12 European Tour titles and one PGA Tour title, the Shell Houston Open. He had also been a force in 3 Ryder Cups and 4 World Cups.

And then he went snowboarding in Colorado over the 2011 Holidays. Like most skiing accidents, he never saw the dislocated shoulder coming. While it hurt like hell being transported down the mountain, the doctors popped it back in and the pain went away. Relieved, he had no idea that it would be three months before he’d be playing again. And much longer than that before he would be playing well. 

He returned in time for the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral in March and finished T51. Not bad. But that was the only cut he made in eight events through the PGA Championship in early August. The following week he finished 75 at the Wyndham and 2012 was done. He made a mere $56,800 and lost all but one of the most obscure status categories on the PGA Tour. And he’s on the bottom of that list.

In 2013, he’s gotten into three events so far, finished 77th in Puerto Rico (opposite Doral) and missing the cut in the other two. He qualified for the U.S. Open and finished T45. Meanwhile, he was rehabbing on the European Tour to middling results save for a T8 in the Volvo China Open. “Middling” in terms of his pre-injury play.

In short, it’s been tough.

But this last weekend all his hard rehab and psychological work finally paid off: he won the Irish Open by three stokes over Robert Rock and the Netherlands,’ Joost Luiten. It was as if the seas parted and the sun came out again after the long darkness.

Most victory media sessions have a giddy quality to them, but this one was at a whole different level. What exactly did it mean to him after all his struggles and could this be the harbinger of wins to come?

Second part, yes.  Psychologically, I think this is huge.  This is almost like — it feels like a first win again, that kind of feeling [because it’s been so long].

I have struggled with the confidence, and this is a huge relief, knowing that I’m moving in the right direction; that I’ve got great golf left in me for another ten‑plus years.  This is a massive confidence‑boost.

This is quite telling about the nature of confidence that a player of Casey’s stature would be so stricken by self-doubt after the injury. There were moments when he feared for his career:

Yes. Yeah, it’s difficult to put sort of a moment, but just a period where I really struggled with getting the shoulder back to where I wanted it.

You know, in hindsight, did I come back too early?  Probably, because the swing changed, trying to protect the shoulder, which led to losing confidence, because the swing had changed and I was not hitting the shots I wanted to hit.

Yeah, there was a time — I said to somebody this week, when you’re playing great golf, you have no idea how you ever played bad golf.  And when you play bad golf, you’ve got no clue how you ever played good golf.

I mean, looking at some of my mates, hitting great golf shots, and I’m thinking to myself, I don’t quite — I can’t see myself doing that right now, and I don’t have the confidence to do that, and that eats you.  That really hurts, quite a painful place to be.

One of the big factors in Casey’s rehab was his coach, Peter Kostis, the teacher and CBS golf analyst, who’s been going through his own medical problems:

Yeah, he’s recovering.  He’s actually going through chemo for colon cancer right now.  Got a Formula I bet with him, so hopefully the drivers I picked are beating him — he may be a little bit sick but I still want to beat him.

He’s like my — he’s sort of my adopted — I’m his adopted son.  He’s my other dad.  He is not just my swing coach or coach for the game of golf.  He’s my sort of life coach, as well.  He has been a massive part of sort of my comeback; and I always think he never stopped believing in me, and for that I can’t thank him enough.

I think I’m very lucky to have him as a coach and as a friend.

When you are huntin’ and peckin’ your way back to the player you know you once were, inspiration is where you find it. Justin Rose’s U.S. Open victory was a big boost:

Yeah, Justin’s victory was phenomenal.  He’s a good friend and I was so proud of what he did; the way he played; the way he conducted himself.  And it’s just another one of those moments where I thought, I just want to replicate what Justin is doing.

His career started off indifferently; well documented how he struggled at the beginning.  I’ve seen the work that he’s put in.  You guys have seen the work that he’s put in.  And he is one of the world’s best players.

I’ve been there before, and I desperately want to be back in control of my golf game winning championships again.  I just — yeah, watching him just gave me another little sort of kick, another sort of prod.

Unless you are really centered and completely understand the “power of positive thinking,” it is very easy to become morose in the darker days of something like this. In those moments it is hard to see how fruitless despair is. He had the benefit of a girlfriend who is naturally sunny.

It’s great.  Pollyanna’s fantastic.  Yeah, I think she understands me very well, and for those that have met her will understand the positiveness that she carries with her at all times.  It’s very infectious and it’s something that — I’m not that way, and I need that, and it’s nice to have that around.  She is very calm, and I think that’s been a very positive influence on my golf and on my life in general.

Ah, women. God love ’em, what would we do without ’em.

To add insult to injury, he was having a real issue with his big toe; it was also part of the swing adjustments he had to make:

My toe is actually very sore.  I’ve got no cartilage in the right big toe joint.  I’m not very technical on names of bones, but yeah, it is quite painful.  At some point, I’ll probably have an injection in it to relieve that pain, and probably end of the year, I might have it cut open and cleaned out, which might mean some time off.

But I’m manning up and I’m dealing with the pain (laughter).

And now that he’s given up snowboarding…he has given up snowboarding, right?

I just haven’t been back — I haven’t really given it up.  But I believe it’s now in my contract, my Nike contract.  (Laughter).

After this instantaneous change of fortune, what does he see for his future in the way of winning majors?

Yeah, again, watching Justin, that really lit the fire.  A few years ago — I was ready back in 2009 when I was playing some really spectacular stuff and obviously injuries hit, but I’m really ready now to deal with everything, everything that happens after a major victory.  That is the goal, and watching Justin, that just makes me so excited, and I just want to do that.

I want to replicate that and still be — I’m in The Open.  Go and win the Scottish and get myself in The Open; I still want to be an Englishman lifting the Claret Jug.  Those goals have very much been thrust back into my mind again.

What a difference a day can make.

Big goals being thrust back in his mind again is the first step from discontent to possibility. A big step. Once we start living life out of possibility, the rest is inevitable.

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