By Mike Blum
After an outstanding first full season on the Nationwide Tour, Roberto Castro will be a rookie on the PGA Tour in 2012.
But before he tees it up for the first time as a PGA Tour member, the former Georgia Tech standout from Alpharetta will make a brief return to school, although this one has no classrooms.
Castro finished 23rd on the Nationwide Tour money list. That would place him near the bottom of the priority list of players who qualify for the 2012 PGA Tour via either the Nationwide Tour or PGA Tour qualifying, known somewhat less-than-affectionately as Q-school.
In an effort to improve his status, Castro elected to compete in the finals of PGA Tour qualifying, scheduled for Nov. 30-Dec. 5 in La Quinta, Calif. Castro has not had much success in his previous visits to Q-school, and will be making his second appearance in the final stage.
Castro says he is shooting for somewhere around a 10th place finish, which would enable “to move up about 25 spots.”
A higher spot in the rankings will improve Castro’s chances of getting in an extra few events on the early season West Coast swing, which is vital for players joining the PGA Tour from either the Nationwide Tour or Q-school.
Shortly after the West Coast swing, the newest arrivals to the PGA Tour are subject to the first of several “re-shuffles,” with their status for getting into tournament fields each week determined by their position on the money list relative to the other Nationwide/Q-school graduates.
“I had a good year on the Nationwide Tour to get to the PGA Tour, and I look at it as an opportunity,” Castro said after securing his playing privileges for 2012. “That’s all you can ask for. Another door is opening.
“I’m playing well going into it. That’s a good place to be.”
Unlike all but a handful of the players competing in the finals, Castro will not have the pressure of playing for his job. He already has a spot on the PGA Tour for 2012, and can play more freely than he otherwise would have in an effort to improve his status.
Castro’s history at Q-school is not quite as exemplary as his work in the classroom at Georgia Tech, where he graduated in 2007 with the highest honors in Industrial Engineering. He made it to finals last year for the first time after his previous attempts ended in either the first or second stage with a series of stumbles in the final round.
Final round struggles were almost non-existent for Castro on the Nationwide Tour this year. Among players who completed at least five tournaments, Castro had by far the lowest final round average (68.06), almost half a stroke better than his closest competitor.
Until a 74 in difficult conditions in the final round of the Nationwide Tour Championship, Castro had shot par or better in the final round of all 15 tournaments in which he made the cut.
Castro’s best final round efforts were a pair of 65s in the BMW Charity Pro-Am in Greenville, S.C., and the Mexico Open, with both producing ties for 4th after he began the day well off the pace.
In almost every statistical category, with one notable exception, Castro was among the leaders on the Nationwide Tour.
Castro was second in ball striking, which factors in both driving and iron play. He was fourth in total driving and greens in regulation, displaying both power (296.4 yards per measured drive) and accuracy (15th in fairways hit) off the tee. He was 16th on the tour in birdies (4.13) and 12th in scoring (69.7) even though he finished the year 83rd in putts per greens in regulation.
“I played a lot of good golf this year,” said Castro. “Out of 25 weeks, I was in the hunt and played good at least 10 times. And even some of the weeks I missed the cut, I missed by just one shot.”
Most of the top 25 players on the Nationwide Tour money list earned their spots on the PGA Tour with either wins (15 of the 25) or some lucrative top-3 finishes.
Castro claimed his spot among the 25 with a slew of solid showings, finishing 21st or better in 13 of the 16 tournaments in which he made the cut. He said he was encouraged by his consistent high quality of play throughout the year, but admitted he “did not have the event when I made four putts in s row,” to finish near the top of the leader board.
Although his putting numbers were the least impressive of his stats, Castro was not particularly displeased with his work on the greens.
“When you hit a lot of greens every week, you’re putting stats are not going to look good. If you lead the tour in ball-striking and you’re in the top ten in putting, you’re going to win about eight tournaments.”
Castro did admit that there were “some weeks when I hit it really well but didn’t putt well.”
Not winning a Nationwide Tour event is not a cause for much concern to Castro, who had a similar season this year to that of 2011 PGA champion Keegan Bradley, who was winless on the Nationwide Tour in 2010 but played well enough to earn his PGA Tour card for 2011.
Castro won five times in 30 starts on the eGolf tour between 2007 and 2010, as well as a victory in the 2009 Georgia Open. A victory in that event also helped launch the tour careers of Franklin Langham, Matt Peterson and Justin Bolli.
“You can win on the mini-tours and not make a ton of putts, but you can’t do that on the Nationwide or PGA Tours,” he observed.
Castro was among the top 25 on the money list for almost the entire season, but spent most of 2011 relatively close to the 25th spot. He said he did not worry too much about where he stood on a weekly basis, focusing on what he was doing on the course.
In 2010, Castro played his way onto the Nationwide Tour thanks to a second-place finish in Wichita. Some tough luck late in the season knocked him out of the Tour Championship and provided some painful but valuable experience in learning how to separate what happens on the course that you can control from things off the course that you can’t.
“You can’t watch the money list week to week or you’ll go crazy.”
Looking ahead to his rookie season on the PGA Tour, Castro says he is going “to do exactly what I’ve been doing. I’m not going to change anything.” Castro has played in just one PGA Tour event since turning pro after graduating from
Georgia Tech in 2007. He received a sponsor’s exemption into the 2008 AT&T Classic at TPC Sugarloaf, missing the cut in what proved to be the final event in the tournament’s 40-year history.
It took the 26-year-old Castro a few years to make it to the PGA Tour, but he believes his journey from the mini-tours to the Nationwide Tour was the best path for him.
Coming out of college, Castro says he “was not ready to play the PGA Tour. I wasn’t even ready to play the Nationwide Tour the first year or two.”
Castro was at least ready for the mini-tours, winning an eGolf Tour event in just his second start as a professional. He won three more times on the tour before making his first mark at a higher level in the last two Nationwide Tour events of the 2009 season.
After missing the cut the first three times he qualified for Nationwide Tour tournaments, Castro finished 6th and 12th in consecutive weeks, but for the third straight year, his season ended on a disappointing note at Q school.
After adding a fifth eGolf Tour title early last year, Castro notched a top-20 finish in a Nationwide Tour event in Omaha, which got him into the next week’s tournament in Wichita. He led after 54 holes, but was overtaken the final day by Jhonattan Vegas, who edged Castro by one shot.
Although he turned in a number of other solid showings the rest of the season (four finishes between 16th and 21st), Castro narrowly missed qualifying for the Tour Championship. He began the 2011 season with non-exempt status, but after three top-20 finishes in his first four starts, was able to play a full schedule and earn his status as a
PGA Tour rookie for 2012.