No scars for Casey as he tackles 'monster'

Bethpage Black's a brutal US Open course but the world No 3 won't scare easily

While the majority of the field may tiptoe on to the grounds of Bethpage Black these next few days as they remember how brutally their professionalism was defiled the last time the US Open was staged there, Paul Casey will stride through those gates supremely confident in his virgin status. "I don't have the scars from 2002," says the Englishman.

Neither does Casey have the tremble in the hands, the shake in the voice or the quiver in the bottom lip whenever the name of the New York State public course is evoked. Yet he has seen and heard all three in motion. Only last Monday he was at a charity event in Philadelphia, standing in a huddle with a reporter from the Associated Press, as Jim Furyk and Kenny Perry poured forth their insecurities.

"Gee I hope it's not winter there again," sighed Furyk, recalling how only Tiger Woods broke par. "It was in the 50s, raining sideways and blowing. Of all the US Opens I've played in, that probably caused me the most problems." Perry nodded his visor. "There wasn't a birdie hole out there," he said.

All of which was music to the young pro's pricked ears. "I've heard all the stories about how tough it was," he said. "But I didn't experience it and no, I don't have the scars of 2002. So many people have told me about it recently. Even the fans. They've been coming up for autographs and advising me about some of the holes. Let's just say I'll be excited to see it."

A day later, Casey made the short trip north and with his coach/mentor, Peter Kostis, embarked on an exhaustive reconnaissance mission of the monster of Long Island. "Paul told me he was very pleased by what he encountered at Bethpage," reports his manager, Guy Kinnings. "He wanted to sample it for himself and one thing Paul will never do is go into a major unprepared. Paul has matured into being very comfortable in his own skin and will have made up his own mind about the place. No, he won't have been distracted by all the scare stories."

So one big hairy distraction down, it seems, and just a few more grizzlies to conquer. Take his new status as the world No 3, and a British world No 3 at that. Not since Colin Montgomerie came within a shot of Ernie Els at Congressional in 1997 has a Briton entered the US Open with such a high ranking. And even the young Monty was not on the roll that the young Casey is enjoying.

Having won his first PGA Tour event in Houston, his biggest European Tour event at Wentworth and collected more money (£2.5 million) and more ranking points than anyone else, Casey, by his own admission, has been the hottest player on Planet Golf in 2009. Only a fool, or perhaps an Irishman with unconditional faith in the major powers of Padraig Harrington [the Dubliner missed yet another cut in Memphis yesterday], would deny that Casey is Europe's best hope of filling the 39-year-old US Open void which stretches back to Tony Jacklin's win at Hazeltine in 1970. Which, of course, brings its own itinerant pressures.

"Obviously Paul goes into this event with everyone saying he has a big chance and yes, a certain amount of pressure will be perceived to be on him," says Kinnings, who also oversees Montgomerie. "But I'm telling you all that will not affect him one bit. Of all the golfers I've worked with, I'd say Paul is the best at not letting anything distract him and in turning down things that he realises could distract him. You know, that's not an easy thing to do, particularly when people are offering inducements and so forth. But Paul says no, this is what I need to do and nothing he can't control is going to deflect from his purpose."

Of course, it was not always like that for Casey. There was a time when his purpose bounced off the peripheral issues like a pinball. In 2004 the tabloid-generated "I hate America" controversy led to him embarking on a slump and retreating into a siege mentality that plainly did not suit this essentially coy persona. In the 2005 US Open at Pinehurst he risked the wrath of the organisers when withdrawing from the second round after an opening 85. That was as low as it got. As he said at the time: "Everything seems broke."

Fast forward four years and everything has clearly been fixed. The immense talent has been unlocked. Kinnings hesitates in taking any of the credit himself – although Casey's switch to the IMG agency did neatly coincide with his resurgence – and instead points to Kostis as the primary factor. "Of course most of it has been down to Paul, but Pete's done an outstanding job with him," says Kinnings. "He's more than just a coach as it's not just Paul's game he is focused on, but everything – his mindset, his schedule, his targets. There is a real clarity about everything Paul does now."

Not least in his personal life. "Nobody should underestimate what the marriage to Jocelyn, his long-term partner, last year has meant to Paul – it gives him certainty," says Kinnings. And then there were the objectives Kostis set out for him on the now famous "list of goals". In December, the pair sat down and wrote down 16 aims for 2009 and so far the manifesto has been as prophetic as it was ambitious. Yet, glaringly, one submission still requires a tick next to it.

To win his first major this week Casey needs not only to deny an apparently back-to-his-best Woods, but also the emotional energy which will be created by the presence of Phil Mickelson (competing as his wife Amy prepares for imminent breast cancer surgery). To this end the USGA's decision last week not to pair the top three in the world together for the first two rounds must have been much welcomed by Team Casey.

"If I was to be honest I was pleased when I found out," confesses Kinnings. "But I doubt whether Paul would have really cared. Of course, the crowds would have been massive and there would have been a lot of moving around, but my guess is Paul wouldn't have been bothered at all. He knows he has to beat them both to win anyway and would have welcomed the challenge. That's where Paul is right now." Long may he stay there.

Thirty years of hurt

How Britain's other world top-five players have fared in the US Open.

Sir Nick Faldo: Destined never to fare better than on his second appearance – in 1988 – when he lost an 18-hole play-off to Curtis Strange at Brookline. He only recorded four more top 10s in 16 US Opens, though he did shoot the week's lowest score (66) when tied for fifth as a 44-year-old in the last championship at Bethpage.

Sandy Lyle: While the Scot won the Masters and the Open, his record in the US Open was the stuff of nightmares: one top-20 in 10 starts, a tie for 16th at Hazeltine, Minnesota, in 1991. Lyle was probably too erratic a driver for golf's toughest test.

Ian Woosnam: He announced himself to the American public when, on his US Open debut, he finished in a tie for second, one shot behind Curtis Strange, in 1989 at Oak Hill. That was as good as it got for the little Welshman, who managed only one more top 10 in his next nine appearances. He did win the Masters, however, in 1991.

Colin Montgomerie: Jack Nicklaus was so certain that the Scottish debutant had won when he signed for a 69 on a windswept final day at Pebble Beach in 1992 that he shook his hand and called him champ. Alas, Tom Kite broke Monty's heart, and runner-up slots in '94, '97 and '06 broke it again. The Mr Nearly of the US Open.

Lee Westwood: Seemingly made for the US Open with his pinpoint driving, last year he came closer than any Briton this century to landing the elusive major. Played with Tiger Woods in the final round and matched him all the way until the 18th when a par saw him miss out on the play-off by one. It was Westwood's second top-five finish.

James Corrigan

Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
News
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003