AUGUSTA, GA. – Paul Casey has complained about playing golf in a pandemic. He says he misses the fans, and the energy they bring to tournaments. This is proof that we often don’t know what’s good for us.
On Thursday, Casey shot a 65 in the first round to take a two-shot lead at The Masters. He has never won a major despite compiling 20 victories around the world. Before 2020, he had failed to finish in the top 10 in his previous 11 majors.
Then, at the fan-less PGA Championship at Harding Park, he finished second. He finished in a tie for 17th at the U.S. Open, and now he leads The Masters.
And he’s enjoying the experience. Casey joked with his caddie on the seventh green and greeted an official behind the green, saying, “Good to see you again.”
After he walked off the ninth green at the conclusion of his round, he gave the thumbs-up sign to a couple of photographers, greeting one by name.
Major championship golf is supposed to be draining. Casey is displaying the demeanor of someone playing pop-a-shot at Chuck E. Cheese.
“You know, this is something I’ve looked forward to,” Casey said. “I was vocal earlier in the year at Harding Park about not enjoying golf in a pandemic. I’m acutely aware that I’m in a very fortuitous position. I still get to be a professional golfer and play championship golf, but I didn’t know how the fanless experience would be.
“And so far, I’ve not enjoyed it, and it’s lacked energy, for me. I’ve had nothing or very little to draw from being out playing tournament golf. The Masters, though, this week, it still has a buzz to it. There’s an energy and a little bit of a vibe. Yes, it’s clearly a lot less than what we are used to, but there’s something about this place that is still — I felt excited to be here.”
At the 2019 Masters, Casey shot 86-82 to miss the cut. Thursday, he was 21 shots better than in the first round of 2019. That’s hard to do.
“I was rubbish last year,” said the Englishman who lives in Arizona. “Rubbish.”
He had struggled of late, but his coach, TV analyst Peter Kostis, recommended that he swing harder, more aggressively. Kostis told him he was swinging to avoid mistakes rather than to produce great shots. Casey adopted the advice and, unlike many players who think mechanically, said he tried to adopt the same tempo for every club in the bag.
“I was trying to get things matched up, and it seems to have paid dividends the last two weeks,” Casey said.
Casey said he kept his children from playing with friends for the past week so he could pass his COVID test and be eligible for The Masters.
“The history of this championship, this tournament — so many people like myself are just excited to play this,” he said. “You know, this is a treat. It always has been and always will be a real treat. There’s many great golfers who are not here this week because they are not high enough in the rankings or how they didn’t qualify, and they are envious of every single player in the field.”