PARAMUS, NJ — Florida head coach JC Deacon was beaming as he left the par-4 18e green at Ridgewood Country Club Monday night.
“He was focused on every shot,” exclaimed Deacon, who is on his senior star Ricky Castillo’s bag for as long as Castillo lasts at that 122.n/a American hobbyist.
Judging by Castillo’s play on Monday — a 1-under 70 opening as cool as the SoCal native looks these days (shades, pukka shells, and a second chained cross necklace) — Deacon may want to -be planning at least a few more days away from campus. Castillo is just two strokes off the lead in round one after shooting one of three red-numbered afternoon wave rounds between the two courses, Ridgewood and Arcola Country Club.
“Just at the golf course, you really have to be patient here, and that really separates good golf from bad golf, and not only that, but good decisions from bad decisions,” Castillo said. “Having that experience really helps. It wasn’t easy today; it was very windy and the greens became very firm and very fast. I thought anything around par was going to be a good score, so coming out with 70, I’m pretty happy with that.
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That’s the key word: happy. At times last season, starting in the fall, golf started to look more like a job for the former National Freshman and 2021 Walker Cupper.
“I was so focused on winning that I wasn’t having fun anymore,” Castillo said.
His results suffered. He finished no better than T-39 in three fall starts, and although he rebounded in the spring with five top-10 finishes, his T-61 finish in the NCAA championship – and another failed attempt to make a game play by the Gators – left a bad taste in his mouth. He also finished the season ranked 68th.e by Golfstat and did not achieve All-America status.
Despite his rocky junior season, Castillo remains one of the top professional prospects. He has already prepared everything to turn professional after the NCAA next spring. He knows that in the end he can beat anyone.
Yet when summer arrived, Castillo had to step away from competitive golf. Not all golf, but for a few months he mostly practiced and played occasional rounds at Alta Vista Golf Course, the semi-private course near Castillo’s hometown of Yorba Linda, Calif., where he and his older brother, Derek, learned the game.
“I felt like I needed to take some time off, refocus and get back to my roots,” Castillo said.
Part of his recharge was to focus on the breathing techniques he learned earlier this year when Castillo and his Florida teammates sat on Zoom for two hours with Sean Foley. He didn’t go so far as to get back into yoga, a frequent team activity in the spring, but you get the idea.
When Castillo returned to competition, at last month’s Western Amateur, he found himself with renewed focus and, for the fourth year in a row, he made the Sweet 16 – a feat difficult to accomplish once, let alone four. times in a row.
“The Western was big,” Castillo said. “It’s so easy to think ahead at these events (US Amateur being another), but the easiest thing for me is to keep a cool head, not go too high or too low, and to take things one step at a time.”
And, of course, have fun.
Castillo, usually a quick player, made a concerted effort to walk more slowly towards his golf ball during games. In the past, he would race between punches, only to find himself hitting punches with an elevated heart rate.
His now more leisurely ride will also allow Castillo to enjoy the ride as he competes in what will be his last USGA championship as an amateur and next year will wrap up his amateur career.
“I just let my head get in the way for a few months,” Castillo said, “but I found my way back.”