Paul Casey: How a big hitter found his drive

When his coach wrote Paul Casey a list of goals for 2009, he set the quiet Englishman on a course to the top. James Corrigan asks if he'll soon be ticking off victory at a major
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While the travelling circus that is the European Tour yesterday made the treacherous trip across the M25 from Wentworth to the London Club for the latest stop, the European Open, Paul Casey was undertaking an even more arduous journey from Berkshire to Texas, via Arizona. Such are the demands placed on the global professional nowadays, particularly on the global pro who, by his own acknowledgement, happens to the hottest player on Planet Golf right now.

At some stage today, Casey will arrive in Fort Worth and after checking in for this week's PGA Tour event at the famous Colonial Country Club, he will meet his coach, Peter Kostis. These two wine buffs have arranged to share a celebratory meal and, if the chosen sommelier knows what is good for him and his corkscrew, his list of Pinots and Cabernets will be up to scratch. Yet it is another list that will bear the closest scrutiny. Its heading reads "Casey's Goals for 2009". And Sunday night's dramatic win in the BMW PGA Championship provided further proof that here is a document almost as prophetic as it is ambitious.

Consider what has already been crossed off it, since Casey and Kostis drew it up in late December after a campaign in which the Englishman did not do his immense talent justice.

"Quick victory in Europe": Completed (on first tournament on his schedule, Abu Dhabi).

"First career victory in America": Completed (on second PGA Tour tournament on his schedule in Houston).

"Break into world top 10": Completed (after seven tournaments on his schedule).

"Win at least three titles": Completed (within 11 tournaments on his schedule).

"Break into world top three": Completed, with victory at Wentworth on Sunday.

In fact, it is hard to envisage what else Casey can achieve this year, apart, obviously, from the goal which possesses any wannabe golfing Galactico. The 31-year-old admits that there were 16 objectives jotted on his and Kostis's manifesto and that, yes, "winning a major" figured quite highly. But here we are now, barely into spring, and the "major" milestone does not seem like a dream in ink but more like a natural progression. The US Open approaches (in three weeks' time) and the course (Bethpage Black) should suit. It is appropriate that a golfer should know the importance of striking while the irons are hot and Casey has no doubts about the merits of his form.

"I'm proud that I've won more ranking points this year than any other golfer," said Casey. "That is the list I like to look at most. It shows who's hot and who's not."

Nevertheless, Casey recognises that if class is permanent then temperature is temporary and would also acknowledge that to earn widespread respect as the third best golfer in the world he will have to make some important inclusions on his resume. He has to finish in the top five of a major, andhas yet to compete at the business end. "It's not something I've really done yet, no," he says. "I've yet to come down the stretch with a real sniff of winning. Of course, that's a position I crave to be in."

If and when he finds himself knee deep in that cauldron nobody who knows anything about Casey, or indeed about the game, will be in the least bit surprised. As Ronan Rafferty, the former European No 1 and now Setanta pundit, put it yesterday: "Paul has always been a very, very good player but he was always plagued by this frustrating inconsistency. He would always throw in some really bad rounds just as he looked set to push forward. He now looks capable of realising his full potential. Kostis has helped him bring everything together."

Kostis was the first person who Casey credited straight after his one-stroke victory over the inspired Ross Fisher. "He is more than a coach," said Casey. He did not go further but he could so easily have described,the man who he first met when enrolling at Arizona State University 13 years ago, as "a mentor", or even as "a father figure". Kostis has had to pick up Casey when he has been down and perhaps just as importantly put him down when he has been up.

"I'm fortunate to have Kostis," says Casey. "To put it politely, he'd kick my backside if I looked like I was getting comfortable. He's a great motivator."

Whatever his body language may claim, Casey is not over-confident by nature and is not addicted to the limelight like certain colourfully-slacked compatriots. He has eschewed the traditional golfer's home-life of a mansion in a gated-community and instead he and Jocelyn – the long-term partner he married last year – reside on a ranch in Arizona. So it is not a wholly-ineffective gate which protects the newly-weds from the public glare, but approximately 1,000 cacti.

Perhaps that explains why Casey's profile does not soar as it should do, certainly not in his homeland. "Paul doesn't wear crazy clothes or draw a lot of attention to himself," is the way Kostis sees it. "He likes to fly under the radar, and that's fine."

The problem starts when the stronger radars fail to pick him up, as was threatening to be the case last year. When Casey won the £1m first prize at the HSBC World Match Play in 2006 and crept to the brink of the top 10, it seemed certain he would kick on. But he didn't. He coasted. "I didn't have a clear idea of what I was trying to achieve," says Casey. Hence, Kostis introducing "the list" and Casey suddenly feeling leather on posterior. "There's a sense of urgency now, because I am in my thirties and greying," adds Casey.

Still, his ranking dropped to 41 and there remained something missing from the Casey armoury, a weaponry that was power-packed what with those Popeye forearms. Kostis decided that this golfing Bluto required a bit of the Olive Oil in his game. "Our philosophy was to identify Paul's weaknesses and make them strengths," so Kostis told the American magazine Golf Digest yesterday. "At the end of 2008 those were sand play and putting. Like every golfer, Paul, who has always been a wonderful player tee-to-green, has been prone to spending time on things he already does well rather than those he doesn't. Since he stopped doing quite as much of that and more of the other, he hasn't looked back."

Now, his line of sight has been upwards. How high should he look? Well, as far as the rankings are concerned Phil Mickelson's predicament as his wife Amy battles breast cancer gives that question an insensitive feel. And anyway, Casey's immediate concern is to show he belongs up there.

"The world ranking is a big motivating factor for Paul," said Kostis. "As he plays in both the US and Europe it is the most accurate measure of just how well he is doing." The answer is "very, very well". So well, in fact, that back-to-back, dual-continent victories must be a possibility at the Colonial this week. Why, it could even be on that list of his.

Current golf standings

1 Tiger Woods (US) 9.41pts

2 Phil Mickelson (US) 8.23

3 Paul Casey (Eng) 6.92

4 Sergio Garcia (Sp) 6.55

5 Henrik Stenson (Swe) 6.26

High achievers

*Other GB & Irl: 8 Padraig Harrington (Irl) 5.18, 16 Rory McIlroy (NIrl) 3.80, 17 Lee Westwood (Eng) 3.78, 19 Ian Poulter (Eng) 3.69, 22 Ross Fisher (Eng) 3.38, 25 Luke Donald (Eng) 3.30, 38 Justin Rose (Eng) 2.71, 45 Oliver Wilson (Eng) 2.45, 47 Graeme McDowell (NIrl) 2.32.

Brits in the top three

*Nick Faldo (last in top three, 1996)

The only Englishman before Casey to have featured in golf's top three, Faldo set up almost permanent residence there in the late 1980s through to the mid-1990s. Six majors helped him stay on top of the rankings for a total of 98 weeks.

*Sandy Lyle (last in top three, 1988)

The Scot spent 167 weeks in the top 10 of the rankings when they were inaugurated in 1986. However, despite victories in both the Open and the Masters, he never managed to secure the world No 1 spot.

*Ian Woosnam (last in top three, 1993)

The pride of Wales was crowned No 1 in April 1991 courtesy of his final-hole win in the Masters that month. The Welshman was a paragon of consistency, regarded by almost every expert as one of the game's very best.

*Colin Montgomerie (last in top three, 2000)

The only member on the list, apart from Paul Casey, who has not won a major. However, has won eight Order of Merits and his amazing consistency on his home tour took the Scot as high as No 2.