Paul Casey is a superstar in waiting, one of a dozen or so players on the PGA Tour who fit that description. As it happens, many of those players are on Europe's Ryder Cup team, which means they are superstars incarnate for three days every two years.
What distinguishes Casey, 31, is a 2004 interview that started out with a dismissive comment ("the vast majority of [Americans] simply don't know what's going on") and then got sliced and diced by a sensationalist headline writer ("'Americans are Stupid. I Hate Them,' says Ryder Cup Star Paul Casey").
It was a long time ago, so you vow to let it go, and for a while it works. But then you mention Ian Poulter and radioactive quotes, and, well, that does it.
As Casey jockeys for a spot on his third European Ryder Cup team, he discusses Tiger's wimpy calf muscles (uh-oh …); Jim Furyk's other life as a rap star; and, with his eyes starting to water ever so slightly, his year in tabloid hell.
Let's talk Ryder Cup. If you could have any one American on the European team …
… not so much for the golf, but for the team spirit and the pubs after the rounds.
I'll tell you who really amused me last time was [Jim] Furyk, in the team room. When we went into their team room on Sunday after it was over at the K Club we found them all in there singing karaoke and playing Ping-Pong, in various states of inebriation. [Tom] Lehman did a really good job of building team spirit, from what I saw, and everyone on the team had to sing at least one karaoke song that week.
Vaughn [Taylor] won't like me now, but Vaughn was so shy he really struggled. He was going to sing … well, not sing, really … a 50 Cent song, the first 50 Cent hit that everybody remembers. Tom was trying to get it going, and Vaughn stepped up with the microphone, and he really struggled. So Jim stepped up and basically sang, or rapped, word for word, perfectly, that 50 Cent song.
I don't know if that's Jim's thing, rapping, but he can do it.
Wow. That seems pretty out of character.
Yeah. But like I said, I've got to pick Tiger, because that's a huge morale boost when you've got him on the team. But if you're not going to allow me to pick him, I'd pick Furyk.
Who can put away the most Champagne for team Europe?
It's certainly not me. I was done by midnight, one o'clock — there's so much adrenaline that flows through you that week, that as soon as it's done you just hit that brick wall.
Nobody really noticed this, but while all the players were on the balcony, spraying Champagne, having a good time, Monty was nowhere to be seen. He just wants a quiet moment, and I can understand that.
You've said that the best two weeks of your career were when you beat Shaun Micheel 10 and 8 at the 2006 HSBC World Match Play and then went unbeaten (2-0-2) in the Ryder Cup, with an ace. What could possibly top that?
Winning a major could top that. Don't you think?
Do you hold them in equal regard, playing on a winning Ryder Cup team and winning a major?
I can't compare the two because I haven't won a major. It's a fantastic feeling to win as part of a team, nothing like it.
Would you rather demolish the U.S. team in Europe or in America? You've done both now.
I feel very lucky to beat them wherever the Ryder Cup is.
That sounds like a very politically correct answer.
I don't think it's easier in Europe compared to the U.S. And does it feel better in any particular place? No. I think you're just relieved that it's over.
Would you like the Ryder Cup to be competitive again? Are you worried that U.S. fans might lose interest?
It is competitive. [How much] was the U.S. team down going into Sunday when they came back at Brookline? We never felt like we had them beat at the K Club.
[Has a Ryder Cup captain ever said or done anything to make an impression on you?]
[Bernhard] Langer was very helpful for me in 2004, my first Ryder Cup. He didn't play the rookies on the first day except for Luke [Donald], but he made sure we all came to the first tee to see the opening shots and the atmosphere. He wanted us to feel a part of it. He said you've got to stick to your routine, there's a reason why you've made this team, great words of encouragement. He basically just let us play, he didn't over-captain, didn't overthink it.
Ian Poulter took flak for reportedly saying that when he's reached his potential, 'It'll be just me and Tiger.' He said he was misquoted. What's your take?
Well, yeah, I know all about being misquoted. But I wasn't misquoted — I was killed with a headline.
In what way are you misunderstood? How have the media and fans gotten it royally wrong?
Well, I think the famous one, back at the end of '04. There's some stuff, having matured and looking back on it, I shouldn't have said. But it wasn't that article that hurt me. It was the headline from the [Daily] Mirror, which was something I didn't say.
You know, that's being misquoted. Words like the word "stupid." I never said "stupid." It's nowhere in the piece that Paul Forsyth wrote. You know, that's really tough to accept, stuff you didn't say, and people — everybody does it, I do it, you read headlines and you don't read the piece. That hurt a lot, because everything that followed afterward, the conclusions people came to, it wasn't a reflection of me.
Having lived here now 11 years and all the rest of it, I don't need to go into it. But to be honest, the thing that hurt the most was people assuming that they know what I'm thinking or know what I'm like because of something they read.
I didn't battle with it from the players or the public for that matter. I think the golf public is very knowledgeable, they know what goes on, what people are like. But it was the fact that it just kept coming up and coming up and coming up, and the media just ran it and ran it and wouldn't let it die. That was the thing that hurt me the most, and I took it to heart.
Tom Lehman told me you gave him the most sincere apology he's ever received in his life.
That's very nice. I do remember talking to Tom; I don't remember exactly how I put it. I'd say most of the guys out here are great, because they know — I think almost everyone at some stage has said something that's gotten twisted or it's not come out the right way. People who are [written about] in the media understand that. So when I walked through locker rooms and stuff like that, most of them would say things like, "What was that? What did you say?" Because most of them didn't read it. And I'd say what happened, and then they'd go, "Oh, s—."
You suddenly realize that there is a sense of family out here and people genuinely care. You're trying to beat these guys, but it's not like it's the Olympics where it comes around only once every four years and that's what you live for. There are enough tournaments for everyone to have a chance.
Who was especially good to you during the crisis?
I was mainly in Europe at that time. Monty, Thomas Bjorn, Paul McGinley, [Padraig] Harrington, Michael Campbell.
Yeah, just [giving] nice words of encouragement. Thomas has struggled, Michael Campbell has struggled with the game— those guys, when I was playing poorly, they knew what it was like to go through a low time. They knew what to say.
Did having your words twisted and all of that lead to your slump? Is it that simple to say it was cause and effect, that one thing led to another?
So you were robbed of a year or two of your career.
It's done now. If I was — I don't want to say tougher, but if I didn't honestly care as much as I do, then it wouldn't have affected me, but that's the person I am. If that was the way I felt about the U.S., what everybody thought, then it would never have affected me. And that's the biggest example right there, to illustrate that what people thought of me, and my opinion of the U.S. — just look at the way I played. I care. That's not me.
You were an aspiring tennis player as a junior. What made you shift gears?
It was a golf course called Foxhills, where I got my first membership in the area where I grew up in Surrey.
When I was 10, I tried for a scholarship in tennis and didn't make it. I was upset, but then I found out they did it for golf as well. And that was the end of my tennis career. I've got a good forehand, but my backhand is rubbish. My serve isn't very good, either.
As a former Pac-10 star and a Nike guy, you've been compared to Tiger a bit. What do you make of that?
It's very nice. What have they said? [Laughs.] I've got bigger forearms than he does.
For a workout fiend like Tiger those are fighting words.
We'll have a forearm contest. He's got small calf muscles. You ever seen his calf muscles? [Laughs.] No, he's certainly the guy to measure yourself with in everything, fitness included. People have said, "Oh, you've beaten his Pac-10 scoring record [with a 60 in the conference championship]," or whatever it is, but that doesn't matter when you come out here.
I learned that in a hurry. Look at what he's done compared to what I've done. It's a joke.
What have you learned from watching him play?
That I don't have the check 3-wood swing that he has, like at Augusta last year. I was playing with him. Badds (Aaron Baddeley) was the other guy in the group. He was on the 13th tee, and these two sparrows or something flew overhead just as he was loaded up, and their shadow flew straight through his ball. And he stopped. I think it hurt him, his wrists and back.
I said, "That's one of the most impressive things I've ever seen you do." For two reasons: One was the physical strength to stop that club with the momentum he'd already created, and two, the awareness, and how much time he has in his mind during the golf shot, from that shadow going through the ball to thinking, "You know what, that's distracted me, I'm going to stop. It was a split second."
You work with Don Greene, the sports psychologist who worked with former Olympic diver Greg Louganis. How did you meet?
Through [Peter] Kostis, when I was struggling in '05. I went to see Don in New York, and he was teaching at Juilliard, helping the musicians perform. We read books and hit airflow golf balls up on his roof in Manhattan.
Did you hit the balls off the edge of the building?
No, no, they didn't go far enough. It was a big, flat roof terrace. We were working on stuff like pre-shot routine, visualization. He'd give me books to read, I'd go sit in Central Park and read and come back and discuss it. I've read more since meeting Don than I ever did in university.
You said recently, 'I feel a sense of urgency because I'm 30 and graying.' Is it that dire?
I don't know, at least I'm not losing it on top. I could dye it, but what's the point?
With eight victories on the European Tour, are you about on schedule with where you felt you'd be at age 31?
I don't want to be complacent with what I've already done. I've played in a couple of Ryder Cups, won some, fine. As far as I'm concerned I haven't done anything yet.