Hawai‘i club pro battling cancer makes Sony Open debut at 60

Michael Castillo waits on the putting green at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. Castillo, the head golf pro at Kapalua, qualified for the Sony Open for the first time at age 60 by winning the PGA Aloha Section. The Sony Open is two months after he had radiation treatment for liver cancer. (AP Photo/Doug Ferguson)

KAPALUA — Michael Castillo comes from a rich heritage of golf in Hawai‘i, now the head pro at Kapalua and formerly president of the Aloha Section. He had reason to believe his hope of ever playing the Sony Open was long gone.

But his assistants at Kapalua talked him into playing this year, mainly because the Aloha Section PGA Championship was at Poipu Bay, where he spent 12 years as the head pro.

Never mind that he faced radiation in November for cancer that returned to his liver. Or that he was 60 and mostly competed in senior divisions. He can still putt great, and Castillo birdied the last hole to win by one.

Now he’s at the Sony Open, the oldest player in a field that includes 20-year-old Tom Kim and three-time major champion Jordan Spieth, who upon finishing at Kapalua thanked Castillo for last week and wished him the best this week at Waialae.

“It is really cool,” Castillo said. “And it’s the first time our family will all be together in 10 years. 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 U.S. Junior Girls in 1979 and U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links in 1980 and is in the Hawaii Golf Hall of Fame along 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 had passed many years ago,” Castillo said. “I only played in the section championship because it was at Poipu. The guys said, ‘You’ve got to play.’ I played well, putted good, it was 25 mph wind and I birdied 18 to win.”

If that wasn’t enough of a challenge, Castillo was diagnosed with colon cancer nearly five years ago. It moved to his liver, his lung and back to his liver. He has gone through chemotherapy and radiation two times each.

The Aloha Section championship was in September.

“I knew in September I needed radiation for cancer on 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 small bit of cancer, and his options were having radiation or doing nothing.

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

His father and two brothers never made the cut. Castillo was hosting 39 players at the Sentry Tournament of Champions last week, and his assistants kept on him by asking, “Did you putt today?” He found time.

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

  1. Heidi January 17, 2023 12:26 am Reply

    Would sunscreen help out the situation? Too late now. But if he has been using it over the years. Or he just drank too much beer and didn’t care about eating.

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