Between 1977 and 1980, nobody had a better USGA match-play record than Lori Castillo. In fact, Castillo’s 87.5 winning percentage (21-3) over the six competitions – three of which she won – is better than the all-time match percentages of Bob Jones, Lawson Little and Jack Nicklaus.
Jones won 84.3 percent of his matches in the U.S. Amateur. Little won 84 percent of his U.S. Amateur matches, while Nicklaus achieved a 76.5 percent success rate in the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Junior Amateur.
A full decade before Michelle Wie was born, Castillo was the biggest talent to hail from Hawaii. Castillo followed fellow Hawaiian Althea Tome as U.S. Girls’ Junior champion in 1978, then produced back-to-back titles at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links in 1979 and ’80. Those victories helped Castillo earn a spot on the 1980 USA Curtis Cup Team.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Castillo’s second WAPL triumph.
Interestingly enough, the three matches that Castillo lost between 1977 and ’80 were to golfers who eventually won that championship. Tome beat her in the third round of the ’77 U.S. Girls’; Kelly Fuiks defeated her in the second round of the inaugural WAPL in 1977; and Carolyn Hill bounced her in the quarterfinals of the 1979 U.S. Women’s Amateur.
Taught by her father, Ron, a former University of Hawaii women’s golf coach and a Lifetime Member of the PGA of America, Castillo quickly rose through the junior ranks. While golf didn’t enjoy the same popularity among juniors as it does today, Castillo faced strong competition on the islands from Tome and Debbie Spencer, the 1974 Junior World champion. All three pushed each other to greater heights.
Then again, the Hawaiians faced some disadvantages, especially when it related to travel. Castillo only went to the mainland for the Junior World (in San Diego) and USGA championships.
“It really made you focus,” Castillo said at the 2006 WAPL, where she qualified for the first time since the 1981 competition. Castillo regained her amateur status in January of 2005 after being a member of the LPGA Teaching Division and working as a representative for an equipment manufacturer. “We knew that USGA [competitions] meant more than any other event that could travel to.”
Hawaii owned the 1978 Juniors, which marked the first time that both competitions were played at the same site (Wilmington Country Club in Delaware). Donald Hurter of Honolulu took the U.S. Junior Amateur and Castillo, also from Honolulu, took the Girls’ Junior.
The next year, Castillo became the first female to concurrently hold two USGA titles when she won the third WAPL, unseating the two-time defending champion Fuiks, who lost in the first round. Only Chick Evans (1916 U.S. Open and Amateur), Jones (1930 U.S. Open and Amateur) and Nicklaus (1961 Amateur and ’62 U.S. Open) had ever owned two USGA championships simultaneously, a feat that has since been accomplished by several golfers, most recently by Jennifer Song in 2009.
In the final, Castillo held on to defeat Becky Pearson of Miami, Fla., 2 up. She took the lead for good by holing a 15-foot birdie putt at the 17th hole, then took No. 18 with a par.
In the summer of 1980, Castillo traveled almost 20,000 miles to compete in USGA and collegiate events. She was selected to participate in the Curtis Cup Match at St. Pierre Golf and Country Club in Chepstow, Gwent, Wales (a 13-5 USA win). Her itinerary also included the WAPL at Center Square (Pa.) Golf Club, the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) Championship in Albuquerque, N.M., and the U.S. Women’s Open at Richland Country Club in Nashville, Tenn.
But a chronic foot problem, which forced her out of one Curtis Cup session, threatened to prevent Castillo from duplicating Fuiks’ feat of a repeat WAPL title. Castillo found a pair of soft leather shoes that seemed to erase the problem. Castillo not only set the 18- and 36-hole qualifying records (71 and 148, respectively), but she needed only 72 holes to win her five matches (the WAPL match-play draw at the time was only 32 competitors).
Castillo didn’t lose a hole in either of her first two matches – a 7-and-6 decision over Ann Soderman and a 9-and-7 rout of Ginger Fulton, but received a test from future LPGA Tour player Cindy Flom (now Rarick) of Tucson, Ariz., in the quarterfinals before prevailing, 3 and 1. She then beat future U.S. Girls’ Junior (1982) and WAPL (1984) champion Heather Farr, then just 15, in the semifinals, 5 and 3, before edging Pam Miller of Libertyville, Ill., 2 and 1, in the championship match.
That same year, Castillo led the University of Tulsa to the AIAW team title. She later transferred to Stanford, where she earned All-America honors and graduated in 1983.
Castillo’s professional career didn’t quite match her amateur success, although she claimed the Hawaii Women’s Open five times. She had one victory on the Ladies European Tour, the 1984 Wirral Caldy Classic.
But back home in Hawaii, she helped pave the way for future Hawaii champions by becoming active in the Hawaii State Junior Golf Association. That program has produced the likes of Wie, Stephanie Kono and Kimberly Kim, all of whom have represented the USA in the Curtis Cup. Wie won the 2003 WAPL and Kim, in 2006, became the youngest champion in U.S. Women’s Amateur history. On the boys side, Tadd Fujikawa became the youngest U.S. Open qualifier in 2006 at the age of 15.
In 2008, Hawaiian Allisen Corpuz surpassed Wie as the youngest WAPL qualifier.
“We have a good program to really push the kids,” said Castillo, who just completed her second season as the head coach of the University of Hawaii women’s golf team. “And Michelle [Wie] raised the bar for them. It gives them something to shoot for.
“We also have some players that have really good mechanics … and have really good teachers working with them. Parents are spending a lot more money and time to give them the opportunity for really good lessons.”
David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.