NAPA, Calif. – Like many top players, Paul Casey always viewed the fall portion of the PGA Tour schedule as a chance to rest and ready for the next season, despite the PGA Tour’s transition to a wraparound calendar in 2014.
He played just a single event in the fall each of the first two years of the wraparound experiment, but he decided this year to try something different.
The Englishman is playing the Safeway Open for the first time since 2011, when it was called the Frys.com Open and played at CordeValle. He added the event to his schedule for a variety of reasons.
As players like Kevin Kisner and Kevin Na proved last season, a solid fall can pave the way to a career year and a start at the Tour Championship.
There’s also the competitive reality that if you spot lesser-known players a half-dozen starts in the fall, it can make for a difficult summer.
“The Web.com Tour guys and the new guys want to play well [in the fall] because of the reshuffle, and rookies are having great seasons now and you can’t let them get too far ahead,” said Casey, who was tied for second place after an opening 64 on Thursday at Silverado Resort & Spa. “The more established guys are like, I have to put my foot down. It can be a springboard.”
Casey said he plans to play three times this fall, including the CIMB Classic and WGC-HSBC Champions in Asia, with an eye toward an early-season jump start, as well as a new regulation to help bolster weaker fields.
Under the new rule, players who didn’t play at least 25 events in the previous season must add an event to their schedules that they hadn’t played in the last four seasons. For Casey, adding Napa to his dance card was an easy choice.
“This is a home run, this is sweet,” he said with a sweep of his arm. “Take care of the rules so [the Tour] doesn’t get all over me.”
Getting right back to work also gave Casey a chance to continue the momentum he had to finish last season, when he posted two runner-up showings and a fourth-place finish in the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
So after less than two weeks at home, he picked up where he left off with eight birdies and no bogeys on Thursday at the Safeway Open, but he admitted it’s not a best-case scenario for a 39-year-old veteran with a history of injuries.
A thoughtful type who is often willing to play devil’s advocate, Casey pointed out that Justin Rose is taking a drastically different approach to the fall season. Rose announced earlier this month that he would take an eight-week break to relax after an “intense summer schedule” and allow a lingering back ailment to heal.
“You can also have the attitude, like Justin who is taking the rest of the year off, and shut it down and decide that all my energy is going to be into when I come back,” Casey said.
Casey’s caddie, Johnny McLaren, recently reminded him that McLaren's former boss, Luke Donald, once took three months off between seasons before producing one his best years, a two-victory, two-runner-up campaign that lifted him to No. 1 in the world golf ranking.
“You can just fully charge,” he said. “It’s not a bad idea.”
But it’s an idea that will have to wait for another season, with Casey planning to play through the end of October and eyeing a possible return to competition at the Sony Open in mid-January, if not sooner.
“Kapalua?” he smiled in a wishful nod to the winner’s-only Tournament of Champions that starts the year.
Although Casey enjoyed a solid, some would even say stellar year, he failed to find the winner’s circle on Tour for the seventh consecutive season. Although he’s climbed back into the top 20 in the world ranking and has reestablished himself as one of the game’s top players, having not won on Tour since 2009 is a common topic.
It was a particularly glaring hole on his resume after he started the final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship in September with a three-stroke lead but lost to Rory McIlroy, and again at his next stop when he finished second to Dustin Johnson.
For all of the expedient reasons to add to his fall schedule, getting a victory, any victory would work, is the most compelling motivation to get back to work this week.
As for the distinction between wraparound seasons, it’s not a detail Casey seemed interested in making. “I would selfishly count this [Napa] as a win this year,” he smiled.