After overcoming a slump that saw his ranking plummet, Paul Casey, 38, brings his new and improved game to the Old Course—and shares the secret to happiness.
After several down seasons, you're having a superb 2015, with five top 10s on Tour, including one at the Masters. How did you manage to turn your career around?
There was nothing groundbreaking, no epiphany. It's simply hard work that's paid off. Putting has been a weak link, but when I make putts, I have a chance to win.
You were once ranked as high as No. 3 before falling outside the top 50 for a while. Do you feel any pressure to crack the top 5 again?
I don't look at it in terms of a number, because I can't control what other players do. My quest is to play better golf than ever. If that results in No. 1 or No. 5, then fine. Maybe my best golf isn't as good as Rory's best golf, so picking a number is very dangerous. My goal is to get back in the winner's circle.
You have 16 worldwide victories. What does it take to win at the professional level?
Winning on Tour is like solving a jigsaw puzzle, except that the puzzle picture is all blue sky—no clouds. [Laughs] You can feel lost. I've felt lost with my game at moments. A few years ago, I was battling everything at the same time: I was going through a divorce, and I dislocated my shoulder. The divorce was affecting my mind, and my shoulder was affecting my swing. In golf, you can battle a personal problem or a physical problem, but two distractions at once is very difficult to handle.
What does it feel like to go from World No. 3 to seriously slumping?
There was a lot of fear. I was scared on the course. I was afraid of missing the fairway, of hitting it in the water. These were doubts I'd never had that had suddenly crept in. And it's a vicious cycle, because when you struggle, it's easy to go down the rabbit hole of searching for that magical answer: a tip from another player, a magazine article on putting. I'd gotten away from basic fundamentals, like how far I stand from the ball with my 7-iron, or my grip. Here's a great tip: Video your swing when you're playing well, so you can go back to it as a reference when you struggle.
You turn 38 this month. What advice would you give the 28-year-old you?
[Laughs] Maybe, "Don't go snowboarding." That's how I dislocated my shoulder. No, there are no regrets. Why change anything? I can't say, "Don't get married" or "Don't go snowboarding." At that moment, I was in love with that woman, and snowboarding was great. The path led me to who I am.
Unlike some of your stone-faced peers, you have a lot of fun when you play. What do you enjoy most about being a pro?
I love the challenge of trying to beat the course—that lifelong quest for the perfect round. I enjoy being able to do this for my job. At PGA West late on Sunday this year, the sun was setting, the light was amazing, and I thought, "This is the best job in the world."
Which major do you want most?
The Open Championship, because I'm a Brit. The U.S. Open would be a close second. And then the Masters—the green jacket would be the coolest of the four.
What's something about the swing the average golfer doesn't know?
It all comes down to good fundamentals— and there's nothing really new going on. I have an ancient, insanely detailed book by Sir Henry Cotton. It's from a different era, yet it teaches all the same basics we work on today: setup, address, how far you stand from the ball. Fix those fundamentals and you fix a lot of swing problems.
If you could change anything about golf, what would it be?
The idea that it has to be one way. It doesn't. Golf is whatever you want it to be. If your vision of golf is a turned-out country club with expensive members' rates and no women, okay, you can have that. But someone else might want to play in shorts, no shirt, holding a can of beer. Love it! Or someone might play putt-putt into a clown's mouth. If I see a kid with his dad on the local football field, and they're hitting plastic balls, to me they're playing golf. And not only that, but that kid might be having the best golf memory of his life.
Speaking of golf memories, a countless number of them have been made at the Old Course. How excited are you to play there?
I love the Old Course, but I love every course we go to, because it's all about the challenge. Some courses are relaxing. Some are aesthetically beautiful. Some are aesthetically awful. I love them all because they're unique. To me, each course is like a snowflake.