Paul Casey sets his sights on another unforgettable Dubai Desert Classic – ullasports

Golf, Paul Casey, Paul Casey recalls his triumph in the Dubai Desert Classic. Picture: Rolex, Paul Casey sets his sights on another unforgettable Dubai Desert Classic, sports, The 2021 champions return in January excited with golf's improvement in the UAE

Paul Casey sets his sights on another unforgettable Dubai Desert Classic

The 2021 champions return in January excited with golf’s improvement in the UAE

Paul Casey recalls his triumph in the Dubai Desert Classic. Picture: Rolex

Paul Casey recalls his win at the Dubai Desert Classic

Keen, like most, to hand over to the past 2020, Paul Casey is reaching for that soon to 2021.

Luckily, it only required its second event of the year. In January, the British man won by four strokes at the Dubai Desert Classic, sealing his 15th European Tour title and starting what he hopes to be an exciting campaign unaffected by the pandemic.

With the Olympics and Ryder Cup to come, Dubai is providing clear evidence that 2021 can offer more than 2020.

When Casey received the signature Coffee Pot trophy afterwards, he couldn’t contain his emotions. Tears are living proof of how much it means.

“I played really bad golf after the break they had on the PGA Tour,” Casey said during a roundtable interview conducted by sponsor Rolex. “That’s about three months off; I didn’t play well and struggled for the rest of the season.

“So I’m trying to figure out what I need to work on and where my motivation is. I want to get 2020 behind me, maybe like everyone else on the planet, really.

Paul Casey from England after winning the Omega Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club on Sunday, 31 January 2021. Getty

“Our performances on the pitch are what’s always talked about, but I had a bad time away from it – at home with the family unable to operate as usual, which is the same as everyone else. I was ready for it to end.

“So, that was the culmination of my 15th win, the Dubai Desert Classic – which was cool – and the fact that 2020 was an erasure. I’ve been working hard to make 2021 something a success, then boom: second week out, that’s it.

“You don’t often get paid that fast. Sometimes you never get results. I’ve worked hard, made a plan and got it done. It is very cool.”

Not that preparation week is ideal. Granted, Casey had started his season well by finishing 8th on Sunday on The American Express, but he then had to hot-foot from California to the UAE in time to tee at the Emirates Golf Club. Unsurprisingly, it took a while to get its bearings.

However, Casey’s struggle was greatly helped by the audience around the Majlis, although the number was limited due to the Covid-19 protocol in effect at that time.

“I arrived on Tuesday night, so I woke up on Wednesday and didn’t know where I was,” Casey said. “I played Pro-Am quickly in a bit of a daze and then won the event.

“It’s interesting because I’m very jet lagged from it. But it does show that energy can sometimes come from other places, other sources. At that point we were very much locked in; they didn’t let us out of the hotel that week. But on the pitch we have around 500-800 spectators, mostly members and guests.

Paul Casey is looking forward to the Dubai Desert Classic in January. Picture: Rolex

“And the energy that we were getting as players in these little pockets when you got near those people was brilliant. Because we hadn’t really played in front of anybody.

“In the USA there were very few, and it was nice to see their enthusiasm. That was what was really cool for me. That energy. And it’s one of the coolest events on the tour. I love the trophy, obviously. I’m a big coffee fan.”

A month from now, Casey will already be in Dubai, getting set to defend that trophy. Running January 27-30, the 2022 Desert Classic marks a new era for a tournament first staged in 1989, with new title sponsors and the event upgraded to the Rolex Series.

Now one of its five events – the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, the previous week, opens the series – the Dubai Desert Classic carries an increased purse of $8 million (this year, it was $3.25m). Already, Casey, four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, reigning Race to Dubai champion Collin Morikawa, and 2017 Desert Classic winner Sergio Garcia have been confirmed. Clearly, the tournament’s heightened status has had its desired effect.

“I feel like it’s finally been elevated to a position that a lot of us had always thought it was,” says Casey, a Rolex Testimonee since 2009, who has also won twice in Abu Dhabi. “For an event which is so new in the annals of golf, it gained quite some prestige among the players.

“The trophy for the event has helped that. We can all agree that the trophies for the tournaments in the UAE are quite stunning.

“To me, it’s fantastic news. Rolex, and their continued support of golf, is very much appreciated by the bulk of the membership and I think also golf fans globally. These events are significantly different, so I’m looking forward to it.”

As, no doubt, will be golf fans in the UAE. With Abu Dhabi and also the season-ending DP World Tour Championship stops on the Rolex Series – Casey is confirmed for the former – it bodes well for securing world-class fields and, subsequently, memorable action.

“It shows the importance of golf in this region,” Casey says. “The fact that Rolex chose Abu Dhabi and Dubai just shows the level of significance Rolex has with golf and the UAE.

“The first time I heard about Dubai was because of a golf event. If you look back at some of the first images of the Emirates Golf Club in Dubai, it’s amazing.”

Dubai aside, Casey’s professional highlights in 2021 include top fives at the Players Championship, the PGA Championship and the WGC Invitational, while he was T-7th at the US Open.

At the outset of the season, contesting a first Olympics and a fifth Ryder Cup represented major goals. Casey ticked off both: in Tokyo, he finished T-4th, while he was part of the European Tour side that – unfortunately for him – relinquished the trophy at Whistling Straits.

Naturally, this year’s objectives differ slightly.

Paul Casey putting on the 18th green during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Kasumigaseki Country Club in Kawagoe, Japan. EPA

“Typically, it’s been a big-ticket thing for me: to make that team or make the other team,” Casey says. “It’s important for either cause that I play consistently well and think about winning events.

“And I’ve spoken to various guys, including my coach, and asked, ‘Is that still the way to do it? Or should I have the goal in 2022 of just [improving in] two or three categories?’ And then that will feed into my practice and my game and how I spend my time.

“I’m yet to figure it out. Right now, I’m not lacking motivation to get on a plane [and travel around the world]. I still want to do this.”

Now 44, and with the competitive fire still burning, Casey says he is however more relaxed about the game. He no longer “lives and dies by results”, he admits, although that should not be mistaken for any concession of the winding down of a career that, to this point, comprises 21 professional wins and a climb as high as to world No 3. Currently, he’s ranked 27th.

“A lot of athletes say don’t look back until you’re finished,” Casey says. “But I’m definitely able to look back and think that was a really good victory in Dubai, but it doesn’t make me ‘soft’ for [another event] and trying to win. I’m still hungry to compete and am hopefully not getting too soft or reflective. I’m able to strike a balance between reflecting a little bit.

“I still want to go out there and beat whoever I’m playing. But I can do it and enjoy it and, if it doesn’t happen, I’m OK with it. Because, to me, the success thing – what is success?

“It’s not about the trophy. Of course, we want to win, but it’s more about having a happy, healthy family, a bunch of friends. And the fact I love playing golf for a living. That’s pretty damn cool.”

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