DUBLIN, Ohio – As clichéd as it may seem, there is no ducking the simple truth that character is measured during the bad times, not the good.
For Paul Casey, the good times were rolling in the summer of 2009 when he won on the PGA Tour (Shell Houston Open) and European Tour (BMW PGA Championship) within weeks of each other and climbed to third in the Official World Golf Ranking.
His fall was not nearly as meteoric.
There were injuries – too many to count, really – a painful divorce and a debilitating loss of confidence. He would tumble to 169th in the world and miss his first Ryder Cup since 2004.
There were also doubts, constant reminders that he no longer played the game like he’d invented it.
“It’s very difficult when you've played to a certain level, and then I genuinely had no clue how to play to that level at certain stages and you start to contemplate, ‘Well, why am I doing this? ‘” he said Friday at Muirfield Village. “I felt I was very close to being on the edge of being consumed by it.”
And, of course, there were the dark moments when he thought it might be over. “You can look up the scores, there were lots of moments out there,” he smiled.
But slowly his various injuries, most notably a dislocated right shoulder from a snowboarding accident, healed and his swing began feeling familiar.
Off the course, things also started to fall into place as well. He met Pollyanna Woodward, an English television personality, and began 2014 with news the two were engaged.
The turning point came last year when he won the Irish Open on the European Tour in “brutal” conditions, and he began this year on the PGA Tour on a mission.
During this offseason, Casey enjoyed an epiphany moment on the far side of the practice tee at his home club in Scottsdale, Ariz., with swing coach Peter Kostis.
“He needed one thing to break him out of his slump and ignite his confidence, and it happened on the back end at Whisper Rock,” Kostis said. “I asked him to start whaling on some drivers. That was exciting to him.”
Two weeks ago at the Byron Nelson Championship he showed flashes of the greatness that had made him a staple on those Ryder Cup teams, carding a closing-nine 27 on his way to a 7-under 63 in the second round.
Through 36 holes at the Memorial, the Englishman has just three bogeys and back-to-back 66s for a three-strokes advantage in a pivotal event if he’s going to reclaim his Tour status.
But most importantly he’s smiling again, regardless of score or status. There is a glide in his step that has been missing for some time, a confident indifference that only comes with perspective. That only arrives after one has bottomed out.
“It’s a testament to that guy’s character,” Will MacKenzie said. “That guy is world class. He made me and (William McGirt, who both played alongside Casey for Rounds 1 and 2) look terrible. He’s a man among boys.”
Casey revealed after his round that he and Woodward were expecting the couple’s first child in September. It’s a boy. It’s also a reason to keep the occasional bogey, or even a free-fall from third in the world, in proper perspective.
“I have a very good perspective on things,” Casey said. “I know where everything fits and how things stack up.”
Kostis figured Casey’s swing is nearly as good as it was in 2009 when he seemed unstoppable and this week it’s hard to argue with that assessment. He’s second in the field in greens hit, 18th in fairways hit and 23rd in putting.
Perhaps more importantly, however, he’s figured out golf – be it world class or otherwise – is no way to measure happiness.
“If I have to give something up in terms of family and friends and love and all, then golf would be – I could easily walk away from it from that point of view,” Casey said.
That’s not to say he takes his newfound form lightly. During a recent interview with Casey he became emotional while talking about the Ryder Cup, a testament to how important the biennial matches are to the three-time European team member.
As he exited the press center on Friday he was asked about the timing of his first child’s birth in September. The matches will be played Sept. 23-28 in Scotland.
“He’s due the first week of September,” he smiled, “so the Ryder Cup will be fine.”
So will Casey.