When Paul Casey was a kid growing up in the London suburb of Weybridge, he and his brother used to ride their bicycles everywhere. The draw of cycling can be easily explained.
“I think it's a kid's first taste of freedom,” Casey says.
Later, when the Englishman came to the United States to play golf at Arizona State, he couldn’t afford a car. So, bikes came in handy again – but it wasn’t long before his was stolen while Casey was in class.
“What you learn is you have to spend as much money on the lock as you do on the bike,” Casey said with a wry grin. “Or you get a really bad one nobody wants to steal.”
As he grew up, though, bikes became more than merely a method of transportation. Casey loved the simplicity of the way the wheels and pedals work together, as well as the feeling he got when he rode.
“I love cars and all sorts of things but ... for me it's when I'm on the bike, I don't think about the golf,” Casey says.
He doesn’t fish. He doesn’t hunt, either. So when the three-time Ryder Cupper wants to get away from the game, he takes out his bike. He even takes one on the road with him.
“It’s a big release for me,” Casey said. “It's a big, it's a big part of allowing me to do this, the golf thing. I have to have something.
“I think it's, for me, it's very healthy to have a distraction…. It's the one thing I'm okay at and I really like and … hopefully I keep doing.”
Casey, who ranks 17th in the world, lives in the Phoenix suburb of Paradise Valley, Arizona, and mountain biking was his first real passion on wheels. He dislocated his shoulder in 2012, though, and decided road biking was less dangerous.
“I love both of them,” Casey said. “They can be a little different group, attitudes, and just the way it is. I guess it's a little bit like skiers to snow borders, slightly, to a point something it's slightly different sort of cultures and backgrounds.
“But ultimately they all like to laugh, the cyclists.”
Mountain bikes have large, wide tires and a suspension system to cushion the blow while riding over trails pocked with rocks and boulders. The guys Casey rides with wear baggy shorts and t-shirts, although helmets are essential for either pursuit.
“It's fun, it's technically, sort of, technically slightly slower, … and you got those amazing views,” Casey said. “And you're getting dirty and muddy and it's rough and ready.
“And you drink -- when I finish, I drink beer.”
Road bikes, on the other hand, are sleek and aerodynamic – not unlike the Lycra compression shorts and shirts the riders wear.
“And there's a lot of discussion about power output and did you shave your legs yesterday and things like this,” Casey said, grinning. “And when you finish, you drink coffee.”
In some ways, Casey, who has 16 wins worldwide, says the overall cycling experience is like playing golf.
“You can spend lots and lots of money on equipment, you can spend lots of money on silly looking clothes,” he said. “(And there’s) the social aspect to it, I really like that.
“I've got a really good group of guys and girls that I get to ride with and I've met great people riding along, you just have no idea. And it doesn't take as long as golf as well, which is quite nice.”
When he’s home in Arizona, Casey will usually ride four or five times a week. On Tuesdays, he might do the Gainey Valley ride, a speedy 35 miles or so – “they call it the hour of power,” Casey says. Wednesday’s ride is often a big easy loop while Friday’s is a casual coffee ride.
“The great thing about Arizona, there's so many groups and so many great riders,” Casey said. “I've been out before, I've not scheduled anything, and I've seen a group go by and I jumped on the back and I see friends.”
On the road, Casey usually gets a couple of rides in between tee times. A place like Pacific Palisades, where Riviera hosts the Genesis Open each year, offers a particularly challenging climb.
Two years ago, Casey prepared for the PGA Championship with a grueling, 362-mile ride through Dolomites in the Italian Alps. The climb into the mountains covers more than 50,000 feet. The Giro d’Italia will be staged over some of the same roads this year.
The trip started in Verona. Among the dozen or so riders in 2015 was Eros Poli, who represented Italy in the 1984 Olympics and won a gold medal in the cycling team trial. Oh, and 10 years later, Poli won the 15th stage of the Tour de France.
So, in case you were wondering, this wasn’t exactly a casual ride. And the bikes everyone rode that week cost in the $10,000-range – a far cry from the ones Casey owned when he was at Arizona State.
“We drink a lot of wine and a lot of coffee,” says Casey, who is also a collector of the grape. “The big days there would be sort of 70-mile days, which are, which are big days for me, when you're in the mountains.”
But Casey absolutely loved the experience – so much that he’s going back this year.
Inside the PGA TOUR
Paul Casey: Arizona love