I interviewed Paul Casey, whom I coach, Saturday evening for CBS after he shot a 69 in the third round of the Masters. Jim Nantz then said, “That must have been a little surreal for both of you. Paul is usually the one asking questions to his mentor, not the other way around.”
I’m in a unique situation. There are plenty of swing gurus and coaches hanging around the driving range at tournaments, but I’m the only one who moonlights as an on-course commentator. On Sunday Paul will be in a unique situation, too. He has a shot to be the first European player to win a green jacket since Jose Maria Olazabal won the Masters in 1999. For both of us — Paul on the course and me in the tower behind the 13th green — Sunday is going to be a big day.
Neither Paul nor I are into self-promotion. We don’t wear crazy clothes, say ridiculous things or draw a lot of attention to ourselves. Paul has been ranked higher, but he’s now No. 34 in the world. He flies under the radar, and that’s fine.
Going into the season’s first major, Paul and I worked together in Scottsdale on his fundamentals. Paul’s grip was a little weak, so we made a minor adjustment to it. We worked on establishing and maintaining his posture throughout his swing. Nothing fancy. The last thing a good player should do is tinker with his swing in the days leading up to a major.
But what has helped Paul more than anything this week is his positive attitude. I know it’s a cliche, but at the Masters you have to stay in a here-and-now mindset. And you can’t just say it; you’ve got to believe it. Paul will only have one chance to hit his opening tee shot Sunday afternoon. When he’s doing it, he’s must be completely focused on it, and then, regardless of the outcome, focus on the next shot.
Paul has been intermittently brilliant at doing this over his career. In his two Ryder Cup appearances, he’s hit a lot of great shots, and even scored a hole-in-one at the K Club in 2006. (Paul gave me the ball after the match.) When he won the HSBC World Match Play Championship that year, he destroyed his opponents. Paul routed Retief Goosen (6 and 5), Mike Weir (5 and 3), Colin Montgomerie (6 and 5), and, in the 36-hole final, Shaun Micheel (10 and 8). He did a great job taking it one shot at a time. Paul will need that kind of focus and determination tomorrow.
If the wind kicks up Sunday, as it is forecast to do, Paul will also need to follow my Three Commandments for Windy Play:
1. Hit the ball solidly.
2. Hit the ball solidly.
3. Chip and putt your ass off.
After I finished my duties for CBS, I was asked what winning the Masters would mean to Paul. It would validate all the work he’s put into his game. I’m proud of the fact that he’s still getting better, that he’s still improving.
For me, as his coach, it would be rewarding. I think I believed in Paul and his talent before he did. If Nantz thought it was surreal to have a coach interview his student on TV, I’d love to hear what he’d say if I interviewed Paul after he’s won the Masters.