Hawaii club pro battling cancer makes Sony Open debut at 60
KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — Michael Castillo comes from a rich heritage of golf in Hawaii, now the head pro at Kapalua and formerly president of the Aloha Section. He had reason to believe his hope of ever playing the Sony Open was long gone.
But his assistants at Kapalua talked him into playing this year, mainly because the Aloha Section PGA Championship was at Poipu Bay, where he spent 12 years as the head pro.
Never mind that he faced radiation in November for cancer that returned to his liver. Or that he was 60 and mostly competed in senior divisions. He can still putt great, and Castillo birdied the last hole to win by one.
Now he’s at the Sony Open, the oldest player in a field that includes 20-year-old Tom Kim and three-time major champion Jordan Spieth, who upon finishing at Kapalua thanked Castillo for last week and wished him the best this week at Waialae.
“It is really cool,” Castillo said. “And it’s the first time our family will all be together in 10 years. So that’s exciting to get together as a family.”
The patriarch is longtime club pro Ron Castillo, who played 10 times in the Sony Open. His five children all became golf professionals. His daughter, Lori, won the U.S. Junior Girls in 1979 and U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links in 1980 and is in the Hawaii Golf Hall of Fame along with her father.
Castillo’s father and two brothers have played the Sony Open, which like several PGA Tour stops, reserves a spot for the PGA professional in that section.
“I thought that opportunity had passed many years ago,” Castillo said. “I only played in the section championship because it was at Poipu. The guys said, ‘You’ve got to play.’ I played well, putted good, it was 25 mph wind and I birdied 18 to win.”
If that wasn’t enough of a challenge, Castillo was diagnosed with colon cancer nearly five years ago. It moved to his liver, his lung and back to his liver. He has gone through chemotherapy and radiation two times each.
The Aloha Section championship was in September.
“I knew in September I needed radiation for cancer on my liver,” he said. “I waited until that tournament, went to New Mexico for the Senior PNC (Professional National Championship) with my sister, Lori, on the bag, and then did treatments.”
He said it was a small bit of cancer, and his options were having radiation or doing nothing.
“I went with radiation and I’ll know next month if it was successful,” he said. “In December, it cleaned my body out and I feel pretty good. I’m ready for the Sony.”
His father and two brothers never made the cut. Castillo was hosting 39 players at the Sentry Tournament of Champions last week, and his assistants kept on him by asking, “Did you putt today?” He found time.
But it’s not entirely about his performance at Waialae. Castillo finally made it, a tribute to his family, and they’ll all be there watching. That’s enough.
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan says he has granted a couple of conflicting event releases for the Saudi International next month. It now is an Asian Tour event, and Monahan says players have a right to play.
But he is applying the same stipulation as he did a year ago, when some two dozen players competed in the Saudi International as LIV Golf was actively recruiting.
Because it falls the same week as the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, players who went to the Saudi International had to play Pebble once over the next two years if they had played Pebble recently; otherwise, they would have to play twice in three years.
A lot has happened since that December 2021 decision — LIV Golf began, players joined, other chose to stay with the PGA Tour and now there are $20 million tournaments on the PGA Tour that top players are required to play.
What hasn’t changed is the stipulation regarding Pebble.
“We laid out the rule very clearly as it relates to the number of times that they would have to play (Pebble Beach) either of the next two or three years, and those rules apply,” Monahan said. “Nothing’s changed on that front.”
It will be worth keeping an eye on Xander Schauffele, who didn’t like the stipulation and has said he has no intention of squeezing Pebble into his West Coast schedule. Schauffele had an MRI on Monday on his back and was awaiting results, so he likely wasn’t going to be at Pebble this year anyway.
Pebble Beach and the Saudi event are Feb. 2-5.
GOLF WRITERS AWARDS
Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, Lydia Ko and Steven Alker have been voted players of the year by the Golf Writers Association of America.
Scheffler, who won four times and spent the majority of the year at No. 1 in the world, received 49% of first-place votes as the male player of the year, finishing ahead of FedEx Cup champion and three-time winner Rory McIlroy and British Open champion Cameron Smith, who also won The Players Championship and a LIV Golf event among his five victories.
Scheffler also won PGA Tour player of the year, a vote of the players.
Ko won the GWAA award for the second time (also in 2015). She won three times, was LPGA player of the year and won the Vare Trophy for the lowest scoring average. She received 80% of the first-place votes against U.S. Women’s Open champion Minjee Lee and Atthaya Thitikul.
Alker was a four-time winner on the PGA Tour Champions, including a senior major, and he won the Charles Schwab Cup. He got 50% of first-place votes over Padraig Harrington and Steve Stricker.
They will be honored at the GWAA annual dinner on April 5, which is the week of the Masters.
MINOR LEAGUE MONEY
The Epson Tour is offering nearly $5 million in prize money this year, just 5% of what the LPGA Tour offers but still the most in its 43-year history.
Ten years ago, the developmental tour had 15 tournaments and $1.6 million in total prize money, with $150,000 for the highest purse. This year it will have 22 events and $4.9 million in prize money, with the biggest purse $335,000.
The Carlisle Arizona Women’s Golf Classic and French Lick Charity Classic each have a $335,000 prize fund.
The season begins in Florida the first week in March and ends the first week in October with the Epson Tour Championship. The leading 10 players receive LPGA Tour cards for 2024 and will be offered $10,000 to wear the Epson Tour logo on their shirt sleeve.
Among recent Epson Tour alumni are Nelly Korda, Brooke Henderson and Hannah Green, all major champions.
Adam Scott last week became the seventh player to top $60 million in career earnings on the PGA Tour. ... Taiga Semikawa makes his PGA Tour debut this week in the Sony Open. He won twice on the Japan Golf Tour while in college. Semikawa also will be playing the next two weeks at The American Express and Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. ... Winged Foot will host the U.S. Open in 2028 for the eighth time. It last was played there without spectators in September 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bryson DeChambeau set the U.S. Open record for Winged Foot at 274 to win by six. ... India-based Hero Motor Corp. is the new title sponsor for the Dubai Desert Classic. Hero already sponsors the Indian Open, this week’s Hero Cup in Abu Dhabi and the Hero World Challenge that Tiger Woods hosts in the Bahamas.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Since the FedEx Cup began, Daniel Chopra in 2008 is the only player to win the Sentry Tournament of Champions and not make it to the Tour Championship.
“There’s a number at the end of the week that tells you how good you are and tells the world how good you are.” — Max Homa.
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