An Unrelenting Passion
From a young age, Ricky Castillo has had a strong passion for golf. A passion that fills him with such excitement that when he was younger he would sprint to the next hole, rather than take a golf cart. Entering his second year of college at the University of Florida, Ricky is majoring in educational studies while playing golf for the Gators. For 15 long years, Ricky has been chasing a single goal: Being the best. Day after day, week after week, Ricky has been depositing “money” into the bank. In a metaphorical sense he has been pouring blood, sweat, and tears into a bank account, and he’s finally earned enough savings to go on a shopping spree.
In his freshman year alone, he was the NCAA Division I Phil Mickelson Outstanding Freshman Award Winner, as well as the SEC Freshman of the Year, and a finalist for both the Ben Hogan Award and the Haskins Award— both of which designate the top collegiate golfer in the United States. Ricky is currently ranked the #1 Amateur Golfer in the U.S. and holds the #2 position in the World Amateur Golf Rankings. It’s safe to say, Ricky has accumulated an immense pile of savings, and he most definitely won’t be running out of “money” anytime soon.
Ricky’s recent achievements:
2020 NCAA Division I Phil Mickelson Outstanding Freshman Award
2020 SEC Freshman of the Year
World Amateur Golf Ranking: 2
Qualified for the 2020 U.S. Open
2020 All-SEC First Team
2020 SEC All-Freshman Team
2020 NCAA Division I PING All-America First Team
2020 SEC Player of the Week (1x)
2020 Ben Hogan Award Finalist
2020 Haskins Award Final Watch List
2020 PING All-Region Team
2020 Ben Hogan Award Golfer of the Month (1x)
2020 Arnold Palmer Cup U.S. Team
Second Ben Hogan Award finalist in University of Florida history
2018 Junior Ryder Cup – Team USA Member
Two Time Heather Farr AJGA Champion (2016, 2018)
Two time AJGA Rolex First team All American
Richmond: Tell me a little bit about your career. How'd you get into golf?
Ricky: My dad actually had my brother start playing golf just for fun, and my brother really enjoyed it and started to excel at a young age. Then my dad decided to have me start playing golf. I was actually so excited when I first started playing the sport that I wouldn't take a cart when out on the course; every time I hit shots, I would just run from hole to hole, just because I was so excited to play. I've always just loved it and it's just something that you can be competitive in but also just enjoy and have fun with like any other sport. It's a lot of fun just being able to go out there and be outside too. That's how I got into golf, but it's something that I enjoy so much and I’m grateful that my dad was able to get me to start.
Richmond: I have a brother too, a younger one. He plays football and we never got to play together at the same school or anything. How do you think playing the same sport affects you? Do you think he challenges you, motivates you to get better? Do you want to maybe surpass him? Things like that?
Ricky: Yeah, when we were younger we would always play against each other. My dad actually would have a box of chocolate bars in his room and say whoever wins gets a chocolate bar or something like that. So yeah, we are always super competitive, and we always want to beat each other because, you know, I'm the little brother always wanting to beat the older brother. And well, the older brother never wants to lose to the younger brother. *laughs* That dynamic is what made my brother and me so much better in golf, just having someone to compete against all the time. You're always striving to be better, so I thought that was really important having an older sibling that was in the same sport. It is really helpful and honestly a lot of fun being able to compete with your older brother.
Richmond: Yeah definitely, I think sibling rivalries are so much fun. So now tell me about your transition to college. You traveled a pretty long distance from California all the way to Florida this past year.
Ricky: Yeah, it was a big transition, just being so far away from my family and everything like that. But to me, it was the right decision. I really enjoy it. It's a place where there are so many people that care about our team, not just football or basketball, but for every sport we have. People are supporting every team, and it's super awesome. It was difficult being away from my family for that long, but again it was the right decision for me to go there to become a better player. I don’t regret it and I really am thankful that I chose the University of Florida.
Richmond: So what's pushing you to improve now that you’ve made it to the collegiate level? What's driving you on a daily basis?
Ricky: Just me wanting to be better, as well as me wanting to be the number one player in the world when I turn pro. That's just what I want to do. That's what every great athlete wants to do— to be a competitor and to be the best at whatever they do. No matter whether it's basketball, football, soccer, or anything else, that's just what they want to do, and that’s how I feel. Every time I get into a competition I want to win no matter what it is. I think that drive helps me when I'm playing tournaments because I just want to win so badly, but not to the point where I’m getting all stressed out. It’s about just staying relaxed, confident, and still pushing yourself to win. That is what keeps me going.
Richmond: How did you take that mentality into quarantine? A lot of schools had their seasons postponed or canceled this past spring, so how did you take that mentality into this extended summer?
Ricky: It's difficult, but that’s just the time that we're in. There was nothing we could do about it; it just wasn’t in our control. Right now, we still have a chance of playing in the fall— maybe it's a small chance, but there's still a chance either way. Even if we don’t play this fall but still do in the spring, then we still have our tournaments to work up to. We’re always trying to get better and play better every day regardless of when we’ll have the opportunity to showcase our skills. I've always thought, “If you're not getting better, you're getting worse,” so I always strive to get a little bit better every day. When I'm walking off the golf course on any given day, I want to really feel like I got better that day. So, yeah, it's difficult just because this has been a long, long time in quarantine and with all of the restrictions, but it happens and everybody has to deal with it. We just have to work together, and hopefully, we’ll get back out on the golf course soon and play some college tournaments.
Richmond: So were you able to hit any during quarantine?
Ricky: Yeah, I was able to hit during quarantine. It was a little tough just because courses out here in California were closed for a little bit. I was still able to try and get out there and play golf, but it was difficult at times just because every golf course was closed. But as soon as the courses started opening up again, I was out there all the time— five, six hours a day just playing as much as I could because I enjoyed it so much. More than wanting to play well, I just wanted to go out on the course. *laughs* For me, playing golf isn’t something that necessarily feels like hard work— golf is just fun for me.
Richmond: For sure, so before quarantine, was there a favorite event you had?
Ricky: My favorite event that we played is probably our home tournament, the Gator Invitational. I played super well. It was our first tournament win of the year and it was also in front of the home crowd. It was cool seeing all those people rooting for our team. The atmosphere was just awesome. And winning that for them was amazing because, right there at home, we were able to show that we can compete with anyone.
Richmond: Yeah, I'm a division one athlete myself, and I know I am just itching to compete again. It's been what, four months since our last competition? I had been looking forward to our season, but it just got postponed. So now I'm really looking forward to this spring and being able to race again. What are you looking forward to, in your second year?
Ricky: Yeah, at this point, I'm just looking forward to competing too. I just want to go out there and compete with my teammates, play tournaments, and show that we're a top-notch team. I might have to wait a little bit for that, but I know my whole team's working hard. We're all working hard and trying to get better until we can start playing in tournaments again.
Richmond: Yeah, so looking a little further in the future, what are some of your aspirations in terms of golf or maybe even professionally?
Ricky: Golf-wise, I just want to be a professional golfer. As I said before, I want to be number one in the world; I want to be at the top. That's my goal.
That's really what I want to do after college golf, and I'm not sure what I want to do other than golf. Hopefully, I'll be able to do it for a long time to where I won’t have to think about that for a while. That's really my goal. It's what I work and strive for every day, and I'm just excited for the future.
Richmond: Yeah, for sure. So did you ever imagine that you'd be in this position? Did you ever think you'd be SEC Player of the Year or a winner of all these awards?
Ricky: No. I wasn't even thinking about anything like that, but it's pretty cool to get some of those awards just because I was playing well. It was incredible to be able to represent my school and affirm that we have great players here and that we can be just as good as any other team. I think winning games and awards are fine goals, but I’ve always thought that you want to set your goals as high as conceivably possible. When you set goals for yourself, they should be ones that you know you’ll have to work for. If you set them low and reach them then you just kind of go, “Ok, what do I do now?” That’s why I always try to set incredibly lofty goals— if I don't reach them, then I have something to strive for the next time.
Richmond: So when did all these awards start coming in for you? Was it just this past year or high school?
Ricky: I got a couple of awards in high school— AJGA Rolex First Team All-American and I was a part of the junior America team in France. But besides that, not too much. This year I got the Phil Mickelson Outstanding Freshman Award and then SEC Freshman of the Year too. It was pretty cool, just the thought that out of all the people that are in the SEC, they chose me. It's a great honor to be chosen, but I'm just really excited that I was able to compete with my team. Obviously, our season got cut short, but hopefully, we'll be able to get back out there and compete soon.
Richmond: So what do you think your accomplishments are a result of? Do you think it's more work ethic or natural ability maybe? Both you and your brother are able to play at a high level, so odds are maybe it’s partially genetic too. [Ricky’s older brother Derek played golf collegiately at Cal State, Fullerton, and now plays professionally]
Ricky: I think it's partially genetics, but realistically, so many people have asked me that question and I like to call on the saying “hard work beats talent.” I think that is the key more than anything else. I've just been working hard. I was probably not going to classes as often as I needed to this year just because I was out on the golf course so much, but it was a lot of fun being able to work so hard in the gym and on the golf course, just trying to be my best. That was probably the biggest part for me, just trying to be the best and working extremely hard in all aspects of my life towards that end.
Richmond: So looking back on your career, what advice would you give to younger athletes who are looking to be in your shoes one day?
Ricky: I would say not to let a bad round or a bad shot get to you. I would say that mental game is the biggest part of golf. You can't get too angry because it's a very calm, focused sport. If you have a bad tournament, shot, or round, don't let it get to you. Just learn from your mistakes. Every time I do something bad or I hit a bad shot or something, I think, “Ok. It's a chance to learn, not a chance to get upset.” The next step is to think to yourself, “Okay, what did I do wrong here?” and then take it into account when you're doing your next shot or playing your next round. That's how I always think of it. You should always have a positive mindset and think of how you can get better, rather than thinking that you had a bad shot and dwelling on that. If you're so upset about one little thing, that will eventually mess up your mindset, but if you don't let it get to you, it could save you plenty of strokes. That can be the difference between losing and winning a tournament.
Richmond: What would you say is your favorite part about golf then? What do you think differentiates it for you?
Ricky: Honestly, just the mental game again. In the fall, I didn’t play quite as well as I did in the spring, and all three of the coaches at Florida and I were on the same page saying that I just needed to work on improving my mental game. I didn’t want to get upset on every hole or frustrated whenever I hit a bad shot. We spent a lot of time working on that, and in the spring I won the first two tournaments and then came sixth in the third tournament. That was honestly the difference, just the mindset. Even if I hit a bad shot or I didn't hit a great shot now I would think, “Okay, well, what can I learn from that?” Whereas, in the fall, I would have just gotten really frustrated and basically thrown a tantrum just for hitting a single bad shot. But just taking that bad shot in a different mindset and reacting differently really can change a round. Even if it’s not always obvious, it really does change. That’s what I've worked on the most and the hardest, and that's probably the reason for my success this past year.
Richmond: In the grand scheme of things, how would you describe your year as a whole?
Ricky: It was just awesome being a part of a college golf team. Golf's an individual sport so we don't get to be a part of a team very often, but being on a college golf team is super fun. You have a group that you just have a ton of fun with. It’s full of your closest friends and all of the guys are striving alongside each other to the best. That's the beauty of it. Playing golf at the University of Florida, it really doesn't get much better than that— with just the facilities we have and all the people that genuinely care about us and want us to succeed. Just being a part of the team was really the best part about it. It was truly a great experience, and I'm looking forward to this year.
Richmond: Definitely. I’d probably say the same for me— having all those guys on the same team and having all these special moments. It’s a lot of fun even if we aren't together all the time. It's been a little difficult adjusting to having Zoom calls and stuff like that, but I'm looking forward to getting back to it. Clearly, things are different now, but thinking back: How would you compare competing as a golfer on the different levels?
Ricky: So what I've learned is this. When you go from high school to college, there are some players who weren't necessarily that good in high school but work really hard in college and transform their game. I would say that the competition in college golf is just amazing. There are so many good players out there and they're all just trying to be the best and that's what I love about it.
You’ve got so many people that want to win so badly. It takes that much more effort and that much more work to win, and it's just a lot of fun competing. That's my favorite thing: competing in tournaments and trying to go out there and do the best I can. College golf, there's nothing like it— it's really, really awesome.
Richmond: Yeah, college athletics are definitely unique in that sense. So what was your typical day like? For us, we'd wake up early; run to the river; practice for a few hours; have class; and practice again.
Ricky: On a workout day, I would usually wake up at 6:15am. We would work out from 6:30 to 7:15; then get breakfast and typically go back to the dorm; take a shower; and change for class. I had class from 8:30 to 10:30. Then I’d go back and do a little bit of homework and have lunch. After that, I would just go to the golf course from pretty much noon until dark. That was pretty much a typical day for me— just trying to get my work and stuff I needed done finished; then going out on the golf course and working as hard as I could. I just love doing it. Putting in the work is something that, when you're an athlete, you’ve just got to enjoy. At the end of the day, you look back and think, “Man, I really put a lot of work in today, and you just know that you just got better.”
Richmond: I think that gives you the best feeling as an athlete. You feel really proud and really satisfied. It’s like, “Hey, I just did that.”
Ricky: Yeah, exactly.
Richmond: Onto the next question, it's more of a fun fact. What's something that most people don't know about you?
Ricky: I really, really love ping pong. *laughs* I've gotten pretty good at it recently. Back at UF, we needed a new ping pong table for this area at the back of the range. Our old one was really bad, and our coach came to me and said, “Hey, pick out a ping pong table.” *laughs* I forget how much the budget was, but it was quite a bit and now we have this super expensive $1,500 ping pong table in the back. That's probably one of our head coaches’ biggest passions besides golf; he just loves ping pong, and our whole team loves it too!
Richmond: I bet you probably have some great tournaments, too. *laughs*
Ricky: Yeah. *laughs*
Ricky: Being a college athlete couldn't be better.
Richmond: Yeah, definitely. *laughs*