U.S. Amateur notes: Dads lend support for Theegala, Castillo as run ends in Round of 64
PACIFIC PALISADES — If a dad can’t make a difference at the 117th U.S. Amateur Championship by helping on the bag as a fill-in caddy, then there are other subtle ways without the usual baggage involved.
Murli Theegala walked around the back side of Riviera Country Club on Thursday morning with a couple of branches from a bottle brush tree sticking out his backpack. On the 10th hole, his son, 19-year-old Sahith, knocked them loose with his tee shot.
Debris aside, he recovered with a birdie 3 and took his match from all-square to 1-up against Chicago’s Doug Ghim.
“Someone told me to pick them up because they were now lucky,” Murli said.
The luck got the Pepperdine junior from Chino Hills through the regulation 18 holes, but not on the extra one needed to decide the outcome as Ghim, No. 7 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, eliminated Theegala.
“I’m obviously disappointed but I lost to a great player, so nothing to really be bummed about,” said Theegala, who survived a 19-hole match the day before to get out of the Round of 64.
Although Ghim went 1-up after a birdie putt at No. 13, Theegala tied it at 17 – as he also did on Wednesday – and matched bogey 5s on No. 18 to force overtime.
Theegala landed in a green-side bunker with his second shot but came out with a decent putt try to keep even with Ghim, the 21-year-old playing in his fourth straight U.S. Amateur. Ghim, an All-American at the University of Texas, recently won the Pacific Coast Amateur title.
Aside from his ever-happy father, Theegala had his usual array of family members and Pepperdine teammates and coaches following him, some with his name on their backs. Playing in his seventh USGA championship, Theegala had reached the quarterfinals of the 2016 U.S. Amateur and qualified for this event by making the U.S. Open field at Erin Hills.
But this ended all too early for him.
When his father hugged him after the match ended, Salith said he noticed the branches in the backpack “and I said, ‘What the …?’”
After it was explained to him why the branches were secured in his bag, Salith flashed a smile and replied: “Really? Sweet.”
It was only about an hour earlier Thursday when Mark Castillo walked up the slope to the 17th green to give his 16-year-old son, Ricky, an embrace. Ricky hung in long enough before losing, 4 and 3, to Scotland’s Conner Syme, ranked 13th in the world.
Ricky Castillo, the youngest player at the 2015 U.S. Amateur at age 14 and the youngest to get this far in ’17, was even par through 15 holes, but Syme was 4-under, if scored by stroke play rules.
“The way he played was terrific – he did not lose this match, Conner won the match,” said Mark Castillo, the golf coach at Valencia High of Placentia, where Ricky still has two years to play and compete in national amateur events before setting his sights on playing at the University of Florida.
“When you play percentage golf, sometimes it doesn’t work out when a guy goes 4-under on you.”
Mark, who went hole by hole often holding hands with his wife, Kim, said the progress their son made this week was evident in how he reacted to troublesome situations. While Ricky works with a different swing coach, Mark has been there as the mental and emotional advisor and saw a definite improvement.
“When he was at the Western Amateur and really in contention, on the third day, he wasn’t comfortable in that situation and it showed,” Mark said. “Today he was much more comfortable. At the Western Am, he played poorly. Here, he played solid.”
Ricky Castillo acknowledged that considering how well he felt he played Thursday, “Connor played an unbelievable round. And this is only my second (U.S. Amateur), so … obviously I’m disappointed I lost but I know I did all I can.”
Castillo was even with Syme for the first three holes, but eventually Syme won holes four, six, seven and eight to go 4-up. Castillo never caved. He reclaimed No. 10, but as he took two shots to get out of a 12th-hole bunker, it allowed Syme to go back to 4-up. Then it was a matter of running out of holes and teachable moments.
Castillo’s birdie at the 10th impressed his dad the most. Castillo stuck with a game plan to leave his driver in the bag and lay up and attack the angles, Mark said. Even as Syme claimed a par-4, Castillo’s bold 3 gave him some new hope.
“I’ve learned from what Jack Nicklaus did in majors – whenever he was in second, he never tried to be more aggressive but let the opponent come back to him,” Castillo said. “I was going to stick to my game plan because I couldn’t control when he did.
“This is just 18 one-hole matches. Mentally, you have to stay in your own bubble.”
Considering that 19-year-old son Derek Castillo also made the field for stroke play on Monday and Tuesday, Mark Castillo knew it was quite a week to remember.
“I’m proud they were both doing the right things,” he said.
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