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Valencia freshman Ricky Castillo already good enough for U.S. Amateur Championship
Ricky Castillo has seen the puzzled looks as he walks onto the first tee, the kind that seem to ask “What’s someone like you doing at a place like this?”
This is a men’s golf tournament after all, not one for a wiry, 120-pound kid like Castillo.
“So, I just try to show them what I can do,” Castillo said.
Then he strikes a 285-yard drive down the fairway. Take that, all you doubters.
If he plays his best, Castillo said he knows he can be hard to beat.
Sound cocky? Possibly, considering he’s just 14 and will begin his freshman year at Valencia in a few weeks.
But his results can definitely breed confidence. He made it to the U.S. Amateur Championship on his first qualifying attempt.
He earned his tee time for the prestigious USGA tournament, which begins today in Olympia Fields, Ill., by shooting a 1-over-par 143 at Hacienda Country Club and placing third in a 36-hole sectional qualifier last month. He played the par 5s that day in Hacienda Heights at 3-under par and he holed seven birdies.
“It feels really good (to qualify),” Castillo said. “It is so exciting to be able to play with good college players and high amateurs.”
In total, 312 players will compete at Olympia Fields Country Club, including Jake Knapp (Costa Mesa), and Beau Hossler (Mission Viejo) . The first two days consist of stroke play with the top 64 advancing to match play, which eventually determines the U.S. Amateur Champion.
Castillo hopes he can stick around for match play, but he said he’s not setting any goals for himself this week in Illinois.
“I don’t expect things,” Castillo said. “I just try to play as good as I can and see where that gets me.”
His game seems to be in pretty good shape. Last week, he won the first AJGA tournament of his career after leading all three rounds of the BBCN Bank Junior All-Star. He opened with a 5-under-par 67 at Morongo Golf Club at Tukwet Canyon in Beaumont and followed that with a 68 and 72 to post a 9-under-par 207.
To get ready for his 11:20 a.m. tee time in the first round of the U.S. Amateur, Castillo played a practice round at Olympia Fields on Saturday and Sunday.
“I have played a lot of nice courses but none with special meaning (like Olympia Fields) like how (Jim) Furyk won in 2003 (the U.S. Open) there,” Castillo said. “That really helps me because he is not very long either.”
It’s the second year in a row that a member of the Castillo family has tried to win the Havemeyer Trophy. Last year, Ricky’s older brother, Derek, qualified for the U.S. Am at Atlanta Athletic Club after finishing his sophomore year at Valencia.
Derek hasn’t given Ricky the inside scoop on what to expect when he gets to Olympia Fields. All Derek has told him is it’s a lot of fun to compete against all of the college guys who they have read about.
In the nine years that Ricky has been playing, a sibling rivalry has blossomed with Derek. Now, even when they are teeing it up with their father, Mark Castillo, at Green River Golf Course, it seems as if a green jacket is on the line.
The competition can be quite stiff for Ricky as Derek has become one of the top junior players in the nation, having committed to UNLV a couple years ago.
This spring the Castillo brothers will be teammates on the Valencia boys varsity golf team, which is coached by their father, Mark. It’s a moment that Ricky said he’s looking forward to because Derek is always telling his younger brother that he is going to be better on the golf team.
“But I know that I can beat him,” Ricky said. “I am confident.”
Had Ricky not had Derek pushing him for all of these years, Mark Castillo said Ricky might not be at the U.S Am this week.
“By all means that (their rivalry) has a lot to do with it. Derek played at a high level at a young age and Ricky had the advantage of not just playing with Derek all of the time but with all of his high-level friends too all of the time,” Mark Castillo said. “It has always made him a lot stronger.
“That’s why he tends to not be intimidated by big tournaments because he sees that level of play on a daily basis.”
He said he wasn’t nervous at all during his U.S. Amateur qualifier at Hacienda CC. It helps, though, when every tee shot splits the fairway right down the middle.
Castillo hopes he can control his driver as well as he did during qualifying, but consistency is something that’s still a work in progress for Ricky.
Take what happened at the Yang Foundation AJGA tournament in July at Yorba Linda Country Club, for example.
He opened with a 1-under-par 70 which put him in a tie for second after the first round. The next day, he posted a 9-over-par 80. Castillo was 3 under through six holes that day and then went 12 over on his next 12. He carded another 70 in the final round to tie for 11th.
“You can see that his good shots are really good. His marginal shots are bad and his bad shots are terrible,” Mark Castillo said. “That is just the process of making a swing change, though. Sometimes he is still reverting back to some bad old things.”
For about three months now, Ricky and his brother have been working with Chris Mayson at Maderas Golf Club in Poway. Mayson is trying to get Ricky to lessen the amount of rotation through the ball, come more shallow into the ball, use less hand rotation and have a stronger grip. That, Mark Castillo said, will give Ricky more consistency as he grows.
“I try to listen as much as I can. That gets me through a lot of things,” Ricky said. “It helps me to listen to older people who have more experience about the game than I do. ... You have to be consistent to win tournaments. You can’t be long and wild off the tee. ”
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