PGA comeback gives Casey something to smile about
Former world No 3 is all smiles after climbing back up the ranks following a shoulder injury
When Paul Casey reached the final green on Thursday, he looked over his right shoulder, craning his neck to peek at a leaderboard.
Once the world's third-ranked golfer, Casey had fallen to 169 in the world only a month ago. But near the end of his first round at the PGA Championship, Casey had found a reason to smile.
"It's been a while since I've seen my name up there," Casey said after he shot a three-under-par 67. "I couldn't help it. I just wanted to check it out. I appreciate being back on the big stage, because it has been quite a while."
On Christmas Eve in 2011, it had seemed like a good idea to go snowboarding. Casey wore a helmet and wrist guards. The snow was abundant in Colorado. A good athlete dedicated to a rigorous fitness regimen, Casey felt certain he was not endangering his vocation with the amusement of a holiday hobby.
But protective equipment was not enough to shield Casey when he slipped in the snow on that Christmas Eve day and toppled hard to the snow. When he got back to his feet, his dislocated right shoulder slumped halfway to his waist.
The joint was restored to its proper alignment in the hospital. But his fall was only beginning.
The 36-year-old Casey keeps the X-ray of his injury in his cellphone, a reminder of how quickly a working joint becomes a damaged, aching debilitation. "I became someone living on the couch and watching TV," Casey said. "I couldn't work out. There was a lot I couldn't do."
Casey avoided shoulder surgery but returned to golf too soon for his own good, playing in March 2012.
Casey endured a span of 18 tournaments when he made just four cuts. Stripped of his Tour card, his world ranking plummeted month by month: 35, 48, 70, 95, 112, 132, 169.
"It was a difficult struggle," Casey said. "When you're playing great golf, you have no idea how you ever played bad golf. And when you play bad golf, you've got no clue how you ever played good golf. That really hurts; it's quite a painful place to be."
But his shoulder was healthier and his swing more sound, and soon the results reflected those improvements.
His well-being restored on several levels, on June 30, Casey made a stunning closing charge at the Irish Open to win by three strokes. It was his first victory in more than two years and qualified him for the PGA.
"I came to realise how much I love being out here," he said minutes later, standing behind the Oak Hill Country Club's stone clubhouse. "Coming back isn't about proving that I belong, it's about being where I want to be. I missed it so much."