Hawaiian club pro battling cancer makes Sony Open debut at age 60

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KAPALUA, Hawaii (TBEN) — Michael Castillo comes from a rich heritage of golf in Hawaii, now the lead pro at Kapalua and former president of the Aloha section. He had reason to believe that his hopes of ever playing the Sony Open were long gone.

But his assistants at Kapalua persuaded him to play this year, especially since the Aloha Section PGA Championship was in Poipu Bay, where he spent 12 years as lead pro.

Never mind he was irradiated in November for cancer that returned to his liver. Or that he was 60 and mainly competed in higher divisions. He’s still a great putter, and Castillo made a birdie on the last hole to win by one margin.

Now at the Sony Open, he’s the oldest player in a field that includes 20-year-old Tom Kim and three-time main champ Jordan Spieth, who, after his finish at Kapalua, thanked Castillo for last week and wished him well this week at Waialae.

“It’s really cool,” Castillo said. “And it’s the first time in 10 years that our family is all together. 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 US Junior Girls in 1979 and US Women’s Amateur Public Links in 1980 and is in the Hawaii Golf Hall of Fame 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 passed many years ago,” Castillo said. “I only played in the section championship because it was in Poipu. The boys said, “You have to play.” I played well, putt well, it was 25 mph wind and I made a birdie of 18 to win.

As if that wasn’t challenging enough, Castillo was diagnosed with colon cancer nearly five years ago. It moved to his liver, his lung, and back to his liver. He has undergone chemotherapy and radiation twice each.

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The Aloha Section Championship was in September.

“I knew in September that I needed radiation for cancer of 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 little cancer, and his options were radiation or do nothing.

“I went with radiation and I’ll know next month if it was successful,” he said. “In December it cleared my body and I feel pretty good. I’m ready for the Sony.”

His father and two brothers never made it. Castillo hosted 39 players at the Sentry Tournament of Champions last week, and his aides pinned him down by asking, “Did you putt today?” He found time.

But it’s not just about his performance at Waialae. Castillo finally made it, a tribute to his family, and they will all be there. That’s enough.

SAUDI EXEMPTIONS

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan says he has issued a number of conflicting event releases to the Saudi International next month. It’s now an Asian Tour event and Monahan says players have a right to play.

But he applies the same stipulation as a year ago, when some two dozen players participated in the Saudi International while LIV Golf was actively recruiting.

Because it falls on the same week as the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, players going to the Saudi International had to play Pebble once in 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 started, players joined, others chose to stay with the PGA Tour and now there are $20 million tournaments on the PGA Tour for top players to play.

What hasn’t changed is the provision regarding Pebble.

“We made the rule very clear because it pertains to how many times they (Pebble Beach) should play over the next two or three years, and those rules apply,” Monahan said. “Nothing has changed on that front.”

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It’ll be worth keeping an eye out for 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 his back on Monday and was waiting for the results, so he probably wouldn’t be at Pebble this year anyway.

Pebble Beach and the Saudi event are February 2-5.

GOLF WRITING AWARDS

Masters champions Scottie Scheffler, Lydia Ko and Steven Alker have been named Players of the Year by the Golf Writers Association of America.

Scheffler, who won four times and was ranked No. 1 in the world for most of the year, received 49% of the votes for the first place 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 wins.

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 lowest scoring average. She received 80% of the first place vote against US Women’s Open champion Minjee Lee and Atthaya Thitikul.

Alker was a four-time winner of the PGA Tour Champions, including a senior major, and he won the Charles Schwab Cup. He received 50% of the vote in first place over Padraig Harrington and Steve Stricker.

They will be honored at the annual GWAA dinner on April 5, Masters week.

MINOR LEAGUE MONEY

The Epson Tour offers 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 development tour had 15 tournaments and $1.6 million in total prize money, with $150,000 for the top purse. This year it has 22 events and $4.9 million in prize money, with the largest purse being $335,000.

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The Carlisle Arizona Women’s Golf Classic and French Lick Charity Classic each have a $335,000 prize pool.

The season begins in Florida in the first week of March and ends in the first week of October with the Epson Tour Championship. The 10 leading players will receive LPGA Tour cards for 2024 and will be offered $10,000 to wear the Epson Tour logo on their sleeve.

Recent Epson Tour alumni include Nelly Korda, Brooke Henderson and Hannah Green, all great champions.

DIVOTS

Adam Scott last week became the seventh player to earn more than $60 million in career earnings on the PGA Tour. … Taiga Semikawa will make his PGA Tour debut in the Sony Open this week. During his studies he won twice on the Japan Golf Tour. Semikawa will also play The American Express and Farmers Insurance Open in Torrey Pines for the next two weeks. … Winged Foot will host the US Open for the eighth time in 2028. It was last played there in September 2020 without spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Bryson DeChambeau set the US Open record for Winged Foot at 274, winning by six. … India-based Hero Motor Corp. is the new title sponsor of the Dubai Desert Classic. Hero already sponsors the Indian Open, this week’s Hero Cup in Abu Dhabi and the Hero World Challenge organized by Tiger Woods in the Bahamas.

STAT OF THE WEEK

Since the inception of the FedEx Cup in 2008, Daniel Chopra is the only player to win the Sentry Tournament of Champions and not make it to the Tour Championship.

LAST WORD

“There’s a song at the end of the week that tells you how good you are and tells the world how good you are.” — Max Home.

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