PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – If Paul Casey is going to claim the signature win of his 22-year career, he’ll have to do so without his former caddie John “Long Socks” McLaren.
Casey finished off his second straight round of 69 on Monday morning to improve to 8 under through 54 holes, and trails leader Anirban Lahiri by one stroke heading into the final round of the Players Championship.
But McLaren, 55, is in the midst of what he termed “an indefinite mental health break from the game,” so Casey has veteran caddie Shannon Wallis, who usually works for Jonas Blixt (not in the field this week at the Players) on the bag.
Casey and McLaren, known for his colorful socks rising nearly to his knees, won the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship back-to-back in 2019-2020 and also teamed for multiple wins on the DP World Tour. Asked if he tried to talk his sidekick into sticking with him, Casey answered, “No, I didn’t. Johnny may come back. It was always a sabbatical. It was burnout. More time at home with the family. The stresses of flying back to London every weekend, and if he’s going to test positive for COVID and be in a hotel and all that stuff. It was just stressful for him. I’m sure I was stressful for him, too.”
The shoes and socks worn by caddie John McLaren at the final round of the men’s competition at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Japan. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Casey flashed a wry grin. Their partnership over the last six years started through friendship and grew into something much closer – bosom buddies perhaps. After he finished his post-round news conference Monday, Casey was asked to describe the bond.
“I miss him,” he said. “I miss the chat.”
Earlier he added, “Everybody knows that we finished our six years together better friends than when we started, which is saying a lot. In this industry that can’t always be said. We’ve seen a lot of people who are ‘mutual agreement’ or ‘taking a break,’ which we all know is code for somebody got fired. Just nobody ever says that, but Johnny and I can generally look anybody in the eye and say, ‘We’re great mates and he just wanted a break’, and I fully support that.”
It was McLaren who helped Casey, who between 2005-2015 missed the cut five times at the Players and withdrew twice in eight appearances at TPC Sawgrass, develop a game plan for Dye’s masterpiece.
“He guided me around this place really, really well, and a lot of that has just stayed. There’s a way of playing this golf course,” Casey said.
Asked for specifics on what McLaren shared, Casey said, “Top secret, you know that. Yeah, I don’t tend to give away too many secrets. Johnny and I, we had some stuff – we had almost secrets, things that we’d work on, the way we would play certain shots that we feel nobody else was aware of, and we wouldn’t give that away. So, it’s our IP. We tend not to talk about it.”
Casey, 44, said he had texted McLaren after Thursday’s round when he started with a triple bogey on his first hole of the tournament, No. 10. Casey responded by making birdie at 11, a bogey at 12 and went 45 holes without another dropped shot until No. 13 of his third round on Monday. In his younger days, Casey conceded that not even McLaren could have settled him down from a disastrous start.
“I probably would have lost the head very quickly and exited stage left,” he said.
With maturity comes wisdom and sometimes patience.
“It was fairways and greens and try to slowly claw back the shots I gave away so quickly,” Casey said.
There’s also no quick fix to finding a new caddie to fill the void left by McLaren.
“I’m still looking for the caddie. It’s weird. I miss him,” Casey said. “Shan is just helping out. Shan was working for Jonas Blixt, and he’s worked for me before at various events. I know him, I’m very comfortable with him. He’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. He’s funny. We’ll see, but I just have not decided what I’m going to do long-term yet.”