Casey's need for speed goes beyond his swing. He keeps a Lotus Exige 2 in England and frequently takes it to the racetrack for hair-raising, tire-melting fun. Casey also has an irreverent streak, which was on display at the 2004 Masters, his first. The player parking lot at Augusta National is a gravelly expanse off Washington Road, but every day Casey drove a few friends the length of Magnolia Lane, knowing full well he'd have to turn around at the end. What made the excursion all the more enjoyable were the tunes he blasted in his courtesy car: the theme song from Caddyshack one day, the Cult the next.
Casey had just as much fun on the course. He went into the final round only a shot off the lead and tied for sixth, by far his best finish in a major championship. "I always thought I had to play my best to contend in the majors, so I would try too hard," he says. "But I simply played my regular game and I was right there. It was a mental hurdle I got over." This was backed up by the 66 he shot to tie for the first-round lead at the British Open.
Casey accomplished his primary goal for 2004--earning a spot on the Ryder Cup team--and he was the hero of one of the key matches, making a bloodless par on the brutal 18th hole to win a four-ball with David Howell over Chad Campbell and Jim Furyk that blunted the U.S.'s desperate rally on Saturday morning. Still, Casey was disappointed not to win a tournament individually, after nabbing two victories in '03. Now, knowing the eyes of the golf world will be on him in '05, he says, "The motivation has come back full force. I've never been so focused in my life."
Already a buff 180 pounds, Casey worked out seven days a week in December. (Asked how tall he is, he says, "Five-foot-10." To which his droll agent, Francis Jago, snorts, "In heels.") Casey has also put in long hours on the range with his instructor, Peter Kostis, working toward further harnessing his awesome power and refining his wedge play. How good can Casey be? "I will be extremely disappointed with his career if it doesn't include multiple major championship victories," says Kostis.
Casey takes such expectations in stride. After touring the glittering 158,833-square-foot Tiger Woods Center on the Nike campus in Beaverton, Ore., he said, "I simply hope I'll win enough so someday they'll name a bench after me, or maybe a shed to park the golf carts."
Casey's switch from Titleist to Nike has thrown into sharp relief the culture clash between the two companies. Casey is still smarting from Titleist's World Cup-- week press release. "It was disappointing the way they handled it," he says. "I was disappointed with Wally."
Uihlein, in turn, was peeved that he received no heads-up from Casey about the gathering storm, and that the only contact from Casey during the World Cup was a short e-mail stating that he would not be re-signing. As for the pointed press release, Uihlein says, "We were receiving 25 to 50 e-mails per hour from U.S.-based customers threatening to boycott our products unless we clarified our position with Paul Casey. Players want to be independent contractors, free to say what they want to say. But they also want to be paid for representing the company. When any personal-opinion comments are made by a player, it is possible that those comments can put the company they are associated with in a lose-lose situation."
Bob Wood, president of Nike Golf, says there are no plans to address Casey's controversial remarks through advertising, but Wood doesn't seem to mind the buzz surrounding his newest endorser. "We're not afraid to be a little edgy here," he says.
Though Casey is ranked 29th in the world, he has always quietly gone about his business. Not anymore. "This has all been a surreal experience," he says. "I can't wait for the season to get going so I can let my clubs do the talking."
Pause. Smile. "Which will be a nice change."