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Running the Gauntlet

Dec. 9, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

The topic was going to be football, but there was a change of plans Friday afternoon soon after the writing process began both because I reached Roberto Castro before my hacking had picked up a full head of steam and the day had a wonky rhythm to it anyway.

My teenage son had oral surgery. Afterward, I didn’t feel well myself (empathetic misery?) and took some ibuprofen. When I continued to feel poorly and back-checked the medicine cabinet I couldn’t stop staring at the green bottle that said, “Canine,” on it. Did I take pills meant for the bleeping dog?

That situation straightened itself out after some process of elimination.

Castro, too, has passed through a gauntlet of sorts and with flying colors.

The former Georgia Tech golfer not only survived Q-School, but nearly aced it, and that’s a big deal. His plans are changing, too. After grinding through 108 holes last week in the PGA Tour’s qualifying school, the former Georgia Tech golfer guaranteed himself entry into more PGA events next year.

By tying for 13th place in a field of 160 golfers who’d already had to pass through several prior stages of Q-school, he is considered a “graduate” of Q-School and earned a coveted PGA Tour card.

That doesn’t mean he can enter any PGA event that he wants, not quite, not yet, but it’s a very big step in that direction.

If he finishes in the top 125 of the PGA’s money list in 2012, he’ll be able to play whatever PGA Tour event he wants in ’13.

As it is, Castro will likely find his way into more than a dozen PGA events above and beyond his work on the Nationwide Tour (the PGA’s AAA ball, if you will).

The game is about numbers, and Castro’s improved by virtue of his work through three rounds each over the Jack Nicklaus and PGA West Stadium courses in La Quinta, Calif.

“The top 125 (from `11) can play every event (in ’12),” he said. “I’ll be in a special category of Q-school and Nationwide players, but I’ll be ranked 26th now instead of 46th (his Nationwide ranking prior to Q-School).

“You can look historically at the Sony, which is first PGA event (next month in Hawai’i) and see that to get in you traditionally have to be 43, 44, 45. I was going to be close. Now, at 26, I’ll definitely get in.”

Generally, the bigger and more prestigious a PGA event, the tighter entry becomes. By opening more PGA doors, Castro improves his chances of not only playing well and earning more money (than the $186,563 he made on the Nationwide Tour in `11) but of impressing PGA tournament sponsors and officials.

That might help create a better shot at exemptions to bigger tournaments.

Other Tech golfers in Q-School met with mixed results last week.

Paul Haley, who graduated last May after winning medalist honors in the ACC, tied for 54th place with a four-under-par 428. He started out 71-70-67 and was tied for ninth after three rounds before closing 74-74-72.

David Duval tied for 72nd just two shots back of Haley at 430. Duval’s was one strange final round. He went out in 32 on the front nine (technically the back) on the PGA West Stadium Course, but then bogeyed the next three holes and tripled a couple holes later to finish at even par for the day.

But for a 78 in the fourth round, Nicholas Thompson might’ve fared much better than his tie for 63rd one shot back of Haley and one ahead of Duval (at 429). He was -9 over in his other five rounds.

Castro went 71-71-68-72-70-69 to finish at 11-under 421 and tied with four others, including Jeff Maggert. Former Bulldog Brendon Todd won the Q-School at 17-under par.

Duval, Boo Weekley, Lee Janzen, Bob May and Rich Beem were among former PGA Tour regular to miss out on cards.

“The golf courses were such that they were very, very visually intimidating, especially the stadium course,” said Castro, who played at Tech from 2003-’07 after graduating from Milton High in Alpharetta.

“It was about getting more comfortable and knowing there was more room out there than it looked like. The 68 was probably the worst day I had in terms of ball striking, but I knew where to hit it.”

Castro, who lives in Buckhead now, spent 11 days in California, where he and his friend Luke List (a former Vanderbilt player) stayed in the house of a friend.

A big part of success in Q-School has to do with NOT spending much time doing homework. When you leave the links, you need to leave the game and un-clutter the mind, leaving no golf balls skittering across the ol’ brainpan.

“I did a little less practice than most weeks because you have to save energy for six rounds,” he said. “You just go home, hang out, have a cold beer, and do it all again the next day. You can’t be on for 24 hours six days straight.

“I went to the outlet mall one night, and pretty much laid low. I saw a couple movies, rented, `The Tree of Life,’ and, `Get Low.’ “

He got low, alright. He’ll go on vacation next week, return for the holidays, and get busy.

“It’s a hell of accomplishment to get through Q schools [and win a card with a top-25 finish]; there were a lot of really good golfers out there,” Castro said. “I was under less pressure than a lot of guys, but it’s still more confidence.”

Not that anyone is probably worrying, but I’m fine. I did not take dog medicine, although I feared it for a few moments. I realized I was in the clear when I went in the back yard to get my lunch out of the microwave. I’d left the ibuprofen out there as I’d carried it while taking spring rolls out for heat.

Why is the microwave in the back yard, you ask? Because I have kids, that’s why. And one of them last week decided to nuke a Revere Ware pan with food in it, and the melting handle stunk up the microwave (and the house). That damage, unlike my headache, may be permanent. It still stinks.

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