Paul Casey Shoots 27 on the Back and Talks About the Zone

Paul Casey could use a good tournament. He’s had a bad couple of years due to injuries that included coming back from turf toe, of all things, and a dislocated shoulder while snowboarding, of all things. So now he’s back in the pink

But he’s back in the pink now in everything except his exempt status on Tour. Dropping into the Past Champions category, he only gets into tournaments after enough players higher than him have chosen not to play a particular event. That’s what happened this week at the HP Byron Nelson Championship.

And Casey has made the most of it so far with a first round 1-over 71, followed by a second round 7-under 63 that included a 27 on the back nine. Brendon Todd (68, 64) is the leader at 8-under, but he has a pack of hounds right behind him at 6-under including Casey, last week’s Players Championship winner, Martin Kaymer and past Masters champion, a philosophical, Mike Weir, on the rebound from a couple years of misery. 

The latter two were very eloquent in their post-round comments, Kaymer on managing player responsibilities to tournament sponsors and Weir on the long road back. But Casey was so ebullient after the back nine 27 (the eighth in Tour history, the record 26) he became irrepressible in talking about how he did it. It was, he admitted, by getting in the zone.

It began inauspiciously with bogeys on 3 and 5…which he offset with an eagle on the par-5 7th…which he mucked up with another bogey on 9. 1-over is not the stuff of legends. But when that caused him to fall into an absorbing purposefulness of just making the cut, the 27 on the back was.

“I’m thinking, wow, I’m struggling around this golf course…and thinking I’ve got a job to do, I’ve got to focus and I’m not finding it particularly easy.”

But then, as he says, “the seal was broken” when he birdied 10:

“The seal was broken when I got to 10 and it spiraled from there and I had no concept of the score, I was still very much focused on trying to guarantee I was playing the weekend and then trying to give myself as long of a line as possible.”

“Even coming up four, five holes to go, 1 or 2 under, for the total, knowing that level par was kind of looking like the cut, grinding away and trying to make as many birdies as possible.  It seems very jammed, seems like 6 under is leading and level is just making it, so trying to give myself a chance this weekend.  That’s all it was.”

He only parred 12 and 17 and birdied everything else except 16, which he eagled. And he was clueless about the whole thing until his caddie started adding up the scorecard:

“When my caddie told me, walking off 18, he was struggling to add it up!  Par 35 threw him — he said I think that’s 28 — he’s like, oh, yeah [not par 36].  Genuinely I had no concept of what I was doing out there.”

This guy has been a top world-class player for some time now, but he can’t remember anything like this in his career:

“No.  I shot — I would have to look back. I remember certainly breaking 30, but I actually — I don’t know if I broke 30 on Tour.  I may have done it in Germany one year.  I shot a 62 in Cologne with a bogey, 10‑under with a bogey and I may have broken 30. And I remember shooting 29 at Paradise Valley [Country Club] when I was at ASU playing college golf and then choked and shot 38 on the back.  (Laughter.)”

“Genuinely can’t — I like to think I would be pretty good at shooting low rounds of golf through the past, but certainly nothing like that.”

And to a question filled with innocence about whether he had ever been in the zone before and how do you get there, he had this to say:

It wasn’t — I think if you try to quantify what the zone was, it wasn’t like it was the best ball striking round you’ve ever seen.  I missed fairways and shots even on that 27.”

“It was the fact that I was so into every single shot and I was in the moment.  I think that’s the best way of explaining it.  I stayed present in the “now;” didn’t Ben Crane do something about that?  [Yes, one of his slapstick videos.] I have an image of him dressed up [in a helmet and wetsuit and mystically lurking in a water hazard] that’s not good!  (Laughter.)”

“That’s to me what I was in today, in the zone.  I was in “the now.”

The questioner pressed on. Was that something that you can get to voluntarily? Did somebody take you there? (The latter, in the spirit of the moment, tongue-in-cheek I presume.)

“Who was he?  (Laughter.)”

“Yeah, I think we all dance — all these guys out here dance in and out of that.  But it’s trying to do that.  Sometimes it’s very easy to do in a difficult shot: you see the shot and you’re forced into having to be creative and there is only one option and you’re really, really into it and you don’t hear people talking and you don’t hear the guys cleaning the trash or whatever it is”

“But it’s doing that when you’re standing in the middle of the fairway with a fairly benign shot and I did that today for whatever reason.”

And so that difficult shot criteria would apply to Friday’s windy conditions, would it not? One of the ways I think about this is that he just “included” them as he points out in his answer:

Certainly.  Although the wind was swirling and I had to — we were in between clubs on 17 with the wind picking up; it didn’t affect me.  Even though the elements are still there, I was very aware of them, but I didn’t dislike them or have an issue with them.  Yeah, just very‑‑ sorry, silly, like “total consciousness” popped into my mind”

Actually, his sudden self-consciousness about this conversation aside, there is nothing silly about it. It is we human beings operating at our highest and best state of consciousness, utilizing every power that God gave us. Dopers think you have to do it with drugs. You don’t.

But it was this mind state that allowed him to turn his round around. And it was verbalizing the circumstances and intended shot that led his mind into natural, intense focus:

“I think it’s easier when your back is up against the wall, like I was today.  3‑over through six holes isn’t exactly a stellar position to be in.”

“It was a little bit like having that shot out of the trees recovery shot.  I was forced — I was backed into a corner and had to do something.  A little shift in, let’s say, attitude, a little shift in goals.  You focus that point you’re aiming at a little bit more.  I spent the last 12 holes describing the shot to Paul, my caddie.  We got very — we verbalized everything is the best way of explaining it.”

“A little bit like I’ll be watching Jordan Spieth on TV and how he’s talking through every shot [with his caddie, Michael Greller].  It was a little bit of that situation today. Not knowing this golf course, I verbalized everything to Paul and described everything I was going to do. That way I was accountable for it, he knew if I didn’t hit that shot, then I didn’t pull it off.  And it allowed me to be incredibly specific with what I was trying to do and I think when you’re picking out such a small target your misses are then smaller as well.”

Pretty good stuff, yes? He does a marvelous job of talking about getting into that expansive state of mind known as “the zone” by using the real situations he encountered in Friday’s round.

It’s not something that you can take notes on and then go pedantically do it. But it is something that you can immediately comprehend and then go experience for yourself. Introducing yourself to meditation is an excellent primer for the possibility that higher consciousness is readily available and achievable.

Happy trails!

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