Tech grad looks to build on mini-tour successes
By Mike Blum
Since he turned pro after graduating from Georgia Tech in 2007, Alpharetta’s Roberto Castro has spent a sizeable portion of his time planning what tour and which tournaments he would play.
Castro spent his first three years as a tour pro primarily on regional mini-tours like the Hooters and Tar Heel (now eGolf) tours, with the occasional attempt at Monday qualifying for Nationwide Tour events.
Although he was unable to secure a spot on one of the two primary U.S. tours, Castro has made a nice living for himself. He won five times in 30 starts on the Tar Heel/eGolf Tour, added a victory in the 2009 Georgia Open and closed out the ’09 season with a pair of outstanding efforts on the Nationwide Tour, placing 6th and 12th in the final two events of the schedule.
But 2010 began with Castro lacking status on the Nationwide Tour, and it was back to the mini-tour grind, at least until a stretch of golf in the Summer provided a little stability to his blossoming golf career.
Castro played his way into a Nationwide Tour event in Omaha, just the second time he had successfully Monday qualified on the season, needing four playoff holes to make it. He tied for 19th, earning a spot in the field the next week in Omaha, and proceeded to lead that tournament for most of its 72 holes, being edged out the final day when one of his pursuers closed with a 64 to relegate Castro to second place.
Thanks to that finish, Castro was able to play the rest of the season on the Nationwide Tour and turned in several more solid finishes, placing between 16th and 21st in four of his remaining starts.
Although Castro barely fell short of finishing in the top 60 on the money list to earn exempt status for 2011, he is at the top of the tour’s list of non-exempt players, and was in the field when the Nationwide Tour opened its schedule in Panama in late February.
Castro’s family has its roots in South America, and he was particularly looking forward to the second Nationwide event in Columbia, which is played on a course on which his grandmother played in a tournament almost a half century ago.
“That’s kind of cool,” Castro said a few weeks before he was to embark on his first full season as a Nationwide Tour member.
Castro’s early season itinerary will take him from South America to Louisiana to California to a pair of stops in his home state, one in the heart of Bulldog country.
While Castro will be doing a fair amount of traveling along with his fellow Nationwide Tour players, at least he knows exactly when and where he will be playing.
“It’s nice to be able to look at one schedule instead of five,” he said. “Before this year, I’d have a bunch of schedules on a table and try to figure out where I was going to play.”
Among his early stops are in Valdosta, where he played two years ago, and Athens, the home of the Bulldogs. Castro hasn’t played the UGA course since it was extensively renovated several years ago, and doesn’t have any qualms about venturing into enemy territory.
“I like Athens as a town,” he says. “I’m looking forward to going over there.”
As a non-exempt player, Castro is subject to the “re-shuffle” that alters players’ eligibility status on tour at designated periods throughout the season. As a result, it’s vital for players in Castro’s situation to get off to strong starts, but he views it as “not an overly big deal.
“There’s maybe 150 of us in the same boat, and I’ll probably get into all of the first eight tournaments, which gives me a leg up. I think about half of the 25 guys who are on the PGA Tour now were not fully exempt at the start of last season.”
Castro enters the 2011 season with a positive attitude, and is looking to “put the things I learned the second half of last year to use. I learned a lot every week the last 11 weeks and I hope not to make the same mistakes.”
Overall, Castro believes he “played pretty well” in his half season on tour. “I gave myself a lot of chances. There were three or four weeks where I was right there around 10th or 15th heading to Sunday and I played OK and shot around even and finished 18th or 19th.”
Castro’s stats were excellent across the board, as he finished 2nd on tour in birdies per round (4.4), 3rd in scoring average (69.25), and was between 14th and 26th in fairways hit, greens in regulation and putting. The one area he would like to improve is his final round scoring average, which was respectable, but not nearly as good as his averages the first three rounds.
“I played some decent Sunday rounds. I don’t think I played too conservatively, but the pins were really tough. You can’t let yourself shoot at every pin.”
The one time he had a chance to win, Castro held the lead in Wichita after 36 and 54 holes, shooting 64-63-67 the first three days with 20 birdies in his first 50 holes. But Castro managed just a pair of birdies the final round despite hitting 15 greens in regulation.
Castro began the day with a one-shot lead and held off the challenge of every other competitor except one – PGA Tour rookie sensation Jhonattan Vegas, who shot 64 to Castro’s even par 71 to erase a 6-stroke deficit.
Although he was a little disappointed not to capitalize on his opportunity to win, the runner-up check for $62,100 gave him status on the tour for the rest of the year and he played in all but one of the final 12 tournaments on the schedule.
In his 40 rounds on the Nationwide Tour, Castro shot higher than 73 only twice, with more than half his scores in the 60s.
“I’ve always been pretty consistent,” he says. “And it was so much fun to be out there and playing every week after beginning the year with no status.”
After just missing out on qualifying for the Nationwide Tour Championship, Castro headed to Q-school, but did not score quite as well as he did during his four years as an Industrial Engineering major at Georgia Tech, where he earned several academic honors as well as being a first team, second team and two-time honorable mention All-American selection.
Admitting he was “super nervous” the first two days at Q-school, Castro says he “played well. I had never been there, but I was right in the mix. Then I had a bad stretch of holes each of the next two days.”
Castro fell out of connection, but with his Nationwide Tour status already in hand, he returned home to Alpharetta knowing he was still just one successful season away from a shot at the PGA Tour.
Castro is pleased with the progress he’s made since leaving college, and begins his first full season on the Nationwide Tour with confidence from his six wins as a pro and his excellent play the second half of the 2010 season.
“My game has gotten a lot better and my results have been good. Guys who win tournaments tend to keep progressing, and I think that’s a big indication of future success.”