SHANGHAI, CHINA | Paul Casey is suffering, quite literally, from head to toe and cannot wait to put 2011 behind him.
Though he thought he had started the year on the right foot when he won the Volvo Champions, that right foot suddenly began to give trouble as he was assailed by a dire case of “turf toe.” What followed, however, was a whole lot more painful: He and his wife of three years had been having their problems and, in June, they decided on a divorce that came through just more than a week ago.
Either experience would have been enough in itself to have a player who was No. 3 in the world as recently as 2009 plummeting from the top 125 on the PGA Tour money list and losing his player’s card. For the moment, though, such golfing repercussions are merely a side issue, even if they could turn into the best of therapies when he begins the fight back he has in mind for 2012. By then, as he says, he should be in a “better place both emotionally and physically,” and well able to make the most of the PGA Tour exemptions he will receive via his current world ranking of 22.
Paul and Jocelyn married but, as became ever more apparent, their interests did not.
“Our life on Tour was fun at the start but, little by little, it took its toll,” admitted Casey. “My career was costing Jocelyn her dreams.”
His ex-wife was a fine amateur horsewoman and Casey, though he himself is as nervous sitting astride a horse as another might be standing over a three-footer, often would watch her compete.
“She has a fantastic way with animals,” he said.
Jocelyn already had given up on an interior design course because of the demands of the Tour and, when she started to lose interest in her horses, Paul could see that she was losing herself, the girl that she was. The pair talked things through and the more they talked the more they realised that their relationship did not have a future.
“It was a mutual decision – very sad but for the best,” said Casey, who added that he was sure they would remain genuinely good friends.
“Now,” he continued, with mingled pride and sadness, “she is working as a therapeutic riding instructor and making a great success of it. It’s something she wanted to do.”
With regard to the Casey injury, no one took it seriously at the start, believing as they did that there had to be a limit to how much pain a single toe, even the big one, could inflict on a man.
When Casey first felt it, shortly after winning the Volvo event, he asked Peter Kostis to see if he could spot anything. The joint was swollen but the coach suggested, lightly, that whatever it was would heal in a couple of days. It was not as if he had been bitten by a scorpion.
But instead of getting better, it got worse and, after a couple of weeks, a worried Casey went first for an X-ray and then for an MRI scan, neither of which threw any light on the problem.
It was at this point that Kostis, who always has been quick to diagnose golfing disorders, suggested turf toe. To which Casey’s response was, “Don’t be ridiculous.” Yet, Kostis was right; his pupil was the victim of a condition which was unheard of in golf whilst being all too devastating in, say, ice hockey.
Indeed, when Casey mentioned the words “turf toe” to some ice hockey players, they recoiled in horror. “How,” they asked, “can you even think of playing golf with that?”
The marrow inside the bone was badly bruised and Casey was making compensations galore in his swing, all of them for the worse: “I was sitting back on my heels for a start.”
He iced the joint and took anti-inflammatories before Gary Gray, a leading physical therapist, noted that his subtalar joint, the one that permits a rolling action of the ankle, was the guilty party. Only when that had been “unlocked” could his toe recover.
Gray gave Casey some “weird” stretching exercises and, finally, this winner of 13 titles around the world – the most recent of them the Shinan Donghae Open – is feeling enough in the way of ongoing improvement to suggest that he could be quick off the mark in 2012.
Yet, he knows to expect ongoing aches of one sort of another.
Only last Thursday, when he was playing his first round at Sheshan, a couple of boisterous barks from an adjacent park prompted thoughts of happier days.
“It made me sad,” he said. “I worked out that it was six months since I’d seen our dogs.”
Against that, there was a touch of the old spark when, on the second day, he covered himself with as much mud as glory as he played out of the water en route to a 66.