Castrale Wins Second Consecutive Futures Tour Title


Futures TourSAINT ANNE, Ill. -- A storm named Nicole Castrale ripped through the Kankakee Valley today, blowing away her competition by four shots to win her second tournament in as many weeks at the $70,000 Quality Concepts Kankakee Futures Golf Classic.
And for 54 holes, the Californian was even more electrifying than the lightning bolts that cracked over her head this afternoon as she stood in the 18th fairway, preparing to hit into the final green. But by day's end, she was safe and dry with a crystal trophy in her arms and a new No. 1 position on the Futures Tour Money List for her wire-to-wire finish.
'I heard a huge crack while I was over my shot and it felt like the lightning was right on top of me,' said Castrale of Palm Desert, Calif., who fired rounds of 66-72-71 for a 7-under-par total of 209 at the Kankakee Elks Country Club.
Funny, but that's kind of how the field felt all week when Castrale tore into a difficult layout with a 6-under-par score of 66 in the first round. On the 6,257-yard course that featured severely undulating greens that required exact approach shots and a steady hand on the putter, Castrale's patience and course management kept the rest of the 144-player field in chase mode all week. In today's final round, she hit 14 greens in regulation and stayed out of reach all day.
'You've got to hit it inside 10 feet to make the putts here,' said runner-up Alena Sharp of Hamilton , Ontario , who posted an even-par 72 today to finish at 3-under 213 in her best finish on the Futures Golf Tour. 'I needed to shoot a 66 today to beat her.'
Seon-Hwa Lee of Chonan, Korea and Christine Boucher of Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec each posted a final-round score of 69 and tied for third at 214 (-2), but there was no catching the former University of Southern California player. Not before the lightning and hailstones roared in and suspended play at 2:10 pm CST, and not after play resumed at 3:36 p.m., with bright sunshine bathing the well-wishing gallery in the first-year event.
'It was kind of hard because when we came in during the storm delay, everybody was congratulating me,' said Castrale, 26. 'But I knew it wasn't done. It seemed like the longest hour or whatever it was. I knew when I went back out, I still had to execute my shots.'
And that was her mindset even after the sizzling 66 in the first round that included a 29 on the front nine -- a number that tied the Tour's record low score for nine holes shared by such Futures Tour alums as Lorena Ochoa and Sue Ginter-Brooker.
Castrale was uncharacteristically slow-starting today with a bogey on the first hole when she missed a 6-foot putt for par. Sharp, still looking for her first win, saw the opportunity, but wasn't able to convert her 10-footer for birdie after Castrale suffered the early hiccup.
'If I could have made my putt, that could have changed things,' said Sharp, who won the 2004 Canadian PGA Championship. 'She started out a little shaky, but once she made a birdie, she settled down.'
That didn't take long. Castrale rolled in her first birdie on the fourth hole from 5 feet and after making the turn, she added another birdie from 25 feet on the 10th and another from 3 feet on the 12th to build a four-shot lead over Sharp. Her final stumble came on the 17th hole when she pulled her tee shot, punched out of trouble, and failed to get up and down for par from 20 feet.
But even after she returned to the par-5 18th fairway, stroked a 9-iron to 106 yards, then coaxed her gap wedge to 12 feet, Castrale remained focused on closing out her second career win. Her first putt burned the right edge, leaving only a tap-in par.
'To tell you the truth, I'm surprised she didn't win like this earlier,' said Futures Tour rookie Becky Lucidi of Poway , Calif. , who roomed with Castrale at Southern Cal. 'If you look at her swing, you won't find a flaw. She's so solid and she has such good fundamentals. I really think Nicole is starting to blossom now and I don't think she's going away anytime soon.'
And for a player who has undergone three rotator-cuff surgeries and a start-stop pro career riddled with rehabs and self-doubt, today's win was perhaps even sweeter than last week's inaugural victory in Indiana .
'She's been fighting through a lot of injuries and I think she's been told she's a good player for a long time,' said caddie/husband Craig Castrale. 'This just solidifies all the hard work.'
But even after storming through Kankakee and leaving the field behind to play for second, Castrale is the first to admit there's no resting.
'It's awesome to win back-to-back, but we still have 11 weeks to go and there's a lot of golf to play,' she said. 'I have to keep playing good golf because nothing is going to be handed to me. I can't relax now. It's almost like I have to work even harder.'
Which is a scary thought to anybody who was chased by the storm today in Kankakee.