Since Nick Faldo, British golf fans have been looking and hoping for the next “big thing”. Colin Montgomerie provided the “big”, if not the Major victories through the 90s. Various Ryder Cup heroes have produced sparks of excitement for three days every other year but no British golfer has dominated and intimidated the world’s professionals since old Nick.
As a result, the fans, the media, the sponsors and the agents have put their eggs in a small variety of baskets hoping that golfers like Justin Rose, Ian Poulter or Nick Dougherty will come good. They are all missing the mark – the next big thing is here, but Paul Casey doesn’t like to shout about it.
Casey is England’s best golfer – it’s official. He is the highest ranked Englishman in the world, yet he commands a small percentage of the column inches and television coverage that Rose and even Faldo still do. Apart from a burst of publicity about two years ago where every newspaper or magazine seemed to be publishing a “Young Guns” article about the up-and-coming homegrown hopefuls, Casey has played around the world, quietly winning stacks of cash and the odd event.
It is this “Young Guns” tag that has begun to annoy him, not the lack of publicity. He explains: “I do get sick of that line, I cringe every time I hear it – why can’t they think of something different?” He has a fresh approach to exposure – he understands it but doesn’t crave it – he can sense when a story’s got old, so he’s had enough of being a “young gun”.
This is the first reason he’ll be the next “big thing”. Money, publicity, exposure come second – golf comes first. The second reason is his ball striking. He hits it miles. Watching 5’10” Paul Casey swing is like watching a controlled nuclear explosion. The energy, the dynamism and the balance are breathtaking. He is one of the longest hitters in the world and has a fair touch with the putter – a good combination for Augusta then? “People say the Masters is most suited to me.” His fifth-place finish on debut bodes well for future years at a traditionally European friendly Major.
Casey, though, is a very American European. He grew up in Surrey, playing at Foxhills near Ottershaw, but moved to Arizona State University on a golf scholarship. It was this move that realised his talent. He went from good county and international golfer to world beater as he broke various collegiate scoring records (held by Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson) and carved out an impressive amateur career. He fell in love with the Sunshine State and now spends most of the winter there in his own house.
Strangely, though, as an Englishman based in the States, he plays frequently on the European Tour. Why? “I am very attached to the European Tour. As long as I have my membership I will play a lot of events in Europe. I am more happy playing over there, it feels like home, simple as that – especially in the British Isles.” Here is the third reason he’ll be the next “big thing”: air miles.
The best golfers in the world play all round the world. Ernie Els, Vijay Singh even Tiger Woods are liable to turn up at any big event, wherever it is on the planet. This is what develops versatility and mental toughness – variety in life and golf leads to success in the biggest events. Colin Montgomerie has always been reluctant to play in the States, Phil Mickelson leaves his homeland few times a year. Both have (until this year’s Masters) suffered Major failures.
Casey’s experiences in the States give him a stiff backbone in the face of intimidating courses, crowds or opponents. “The crowds in the US don’t really bother me – there is heckling at events like the Phoenix Open. It doesn’t matter who you are. They boo when you miss the green at the 16th (par-3) and cheer if you hit it. That is just obscene, a lot of the guys don’t like it. I don’t know if it is right but it is quite funny. You are bricking yourself halfway through the round, you can hear the cheers from the hole as you are playing – it is a great experience.”