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It Feels Like a Home Win

Paul Casey's popularity transcends golfing achievement as he wins Irish Open

Posted Jul 02, 2013 by Dermot Gilleece

paul casey

Certain sportspeople have a rather special gift for transcending political and social boundaries in their audience appeal.  Muhammad Ali was probably peerless in this regard, while among the more average practitioners, Paul Casey has invariably showed himself to be a gifted communicator.  Which was never more evident than in his Irish Open victory at Carton House over the weekend.    

Empathy with an audience is a difficult talent to nail down. Much of it has to do with the way a player behaves, especially in adversity.  None in golf did it better than Seve Ballesteros who could have galleries close to tears as he battled with a seriously flawed swing, later in his career.

Galleries also enjoy spectacle - and Ballesteros was good at that, too.  From the time he birdied the 16th at Royal Lytham after hitting his second shot from a temporary car-park, he rarely failed to offer something different, whether in the quality of his shot-making or the drama of its execution.

Greg Norman also had huge, public appeal.  People liked the swashbuckling style which could often land him in trouble on a golf course in moments of over-aggression.  And it was hard not to admire the extraordinary candour of the man when, at what must have been the very depths of despair, he was still prepared to face the media at Augusta National in the immediate aftermath of a crushing US Masters defeat by Nick Faldo in 1996.

And spectacle seemed to come easily to Casey, right from his early days.  His first season as a professional was 2001 after he had departed amateur ranks as a plus-four handicapper who was a member of the winning British and Irish Walker Cup team in 1999.  

When playing The K Club for the first time in the 2001 Smurfit European Open, he happened to partner the veteran Irishman, Des Smyth, who had captured the Madeira Island Open earlier that year.  Now Smyth would not have been counted among the longer hitters on tour, but he could still get it out there.  In the event, he admitted to being somewhat stunned by the power of the young Englishman.

To reach the green on the long fourth, Smyth needed a drive, three wood and 80-yard wedge, whereas Casey made the putting surface with no more than a drive and four iron.  Golf fans love that sort of power, especially the Irish, who thrill to the sight of a player giving the little sphere a full-blooded whack.  So it was that from then on, Casey became a very welcome visitor.

This was especially true in 2006 when he came to The K Club as a member of the European team to defend the Ryder Cup.  In contributing three points from a possible four, with two wins and two halves, Casey added the memorable spectacle of a hole-in-one at the testing 14th.  That was in foursomes on Saturday afternoon when it became the decisive blow for himself and David Howell in a 5 and 4 win over Stewart Cink and Zach Johnson, giving the home side a commanding 10-6 lead going into Sunday’s singles.

So we shouldn’t have been too surprised when his victory effort at Carton House culminated in similar spectacle.  This time it came in the form of a 60-foot putt for an eagle three on the long 72nd, which brought the response of the throatiest roar imaginable from a delighted gallery.

“This feel like a home win for me,” said Casey afterwards. And in the presence of Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, himself a keen golf enthusiast, the winner might have been a local lad, for all the difference it made.  With the innate sense of an accomplished communicator, Casey knew exactly how to react.  And the warmth of his smiles made it a memorable occasion.  In those climactic moments at Carton House, he had become an honorary Irishman.

- Dermot Gilleece

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