Men's golf: Player opens door for other Mexican students to compete for OU
Heather Brown, The Oklahoma Daily
In June 2009, OU men’s golf coach Ryan Hybl arrived at the Dalhousie Golf Club in Cape Girardeau, Missouri for the Rolex Tournament of Champions. It was his first recruiting trip as the head coach at OU, and he was looking for golfers who would graduate in 2010. But the golfer who ended up catching his eye turned out to be in the class of 2009.
That golfer was a young man from Guadalajara, Mexico named Eduardo Castiello, and Hybl liked what he saw enough to talk to Castiello’s parents, Jamie Castiello Chavez and Sofia Gomez Verea. Over the next few months, things didn’t quite shake out, and Hybl moved on as Castiello got lost in the shuffle.
A year later, OU hosted a Texas Junior Golf Tour tournament at Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club, and when Hybl looked at the list of players, a familiar name jumped out at him again: Eduardo Castiello. Castiello was there, in Norman, playing golf at a junior tournament.
Hybl was confused. Castiello had graduated; he was supposed to be in college. But he wasn’t, and Hybl wasn’t going to miss this second chance.
After he learned Castiello had decided not to go to college that year and instead become a 2010 recruit, he invited Castiello’s parents to talk to him again, this time in his office. At first, Castiello was reluctant to leave his family and friends in Mexico behind to play golf in America, but his father urged him to embrace the new opportunity.
“I’m pretty much here because of my dad,” Castiello said. “Because he pushed me to just keep going and try and see if I could get a scholarship.”
Shortly after Castiello resurfaced at Jimmie Austin, the young man from Mexico signed up to play golf for OU.
Castiello grew up like a lot of kids in Mexico do — playing soccer. One summer when he was about 10 years old, his mom told him and his brothers they should try a new sport. They chose golf.
“We tried golf at the club, and we all were pretty good at it,” Castiello said. “So we just kept playing, and I started to like it. Since then, I haven’t stopped playing.”
Castiello excelled at the sport in an area where its popularity is low but still growing thanks to the success of retired LPGA golfer Lorena Ochoa. In Mexico, it was easy for him to feel like one of the best. It was the same group of golfers competing at every tournament together, so if someone was good, he or she knew he or she could win every time they played. Leaving that group of competitors to come play in the United States was an important experience for Castiello, and something he urges all young golfers in Mexico to do.
Instead of competing against the same 40-or-so golfers in every tournament, there are 1,000 more to consider, and it’s much harder to know what to expect at every tournament, Castiello said.
“In Mexico, you feel like you’re the best,” he said. “And you get out of Mexico, and you’re like, 'well, I don’t know what to expect now in this tournament because I don’t know what’s out of Mexico.'”
Castiello experienced playing golf and living in America while he attended the International Junior Golf Academy in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina in 2006. He spent his whole ninth grade year at the academy, and the time he spent there helped make the transition to Norman easier, especially adjusting to the language barrier.
“I went there mainly just to learn English,” Castiello said. “But I just didn’t want to not play golf for a year.”
The decision to leave his hometown of Guadalajara to live in the United States was not an easy one. It finally came down to choosing between starting a career in Mexico or going to school and playing golf in America. He chose to move and at least try it. Schools in Washington, New Orleans and San Antonio all attempted to court Castiello, but he landed on OU because of the connection he felt with Hybl and because OU “just felt like it was the right place,” he said.
He moved here with the idea of trying it out for the first semester, and if he didn’t like, it he would go home and start again in Mexico. It was a tough adjustment at first, but his teammates helped ease his transition and turned it into a good experience. Senior Abraham Ancer, in particular, helped Castiello at the beginning.
Ancer was born in Texas, but grew up in Mexico — where his family was from — before moving back to Texas prior to high school. He met Castiello a few times while growing up playing golf in Mexico.
“We weren’t really close friends, but I played, I don’t know, probably five big tournaments against him,” Ancer said. “I knew who he was since we were 10, 12, or so.”
The previous connection between the two golfers made for a quick friendship when they ended up in Oklahoma together.
“It was like if we had known each other all our lives,” Ancer said, “We became really good friends. He’s a really nice guy.”
Senior Will Kropp also was there when Castiello first arrived. Kropp said if Castiello had a hard time adjusting, he did a good job hiding it.
“I think always coming from a different country, it’s tough to adjust, but I mean Ed makes friends with people pretty easily,” Kropp said.
Kropp is proof of that too: He lives with Castiello in a house off campus and said he is a great roommate.
“(Castiello) always does like to have a good time, no matter what it is,” he said. “Whether it’s golf or just sitting on the couch, it doesn’t really matter. He always seems to make things fun.”
After two and a half years, Castiello said he loves it here in Norman. The emphasis OU places on athletics and the southern hospitality of the people here played big roles in easing his transition from Mexico.
“Everything here is just really nice,” he said. “They’re really nice here in Oklahoma.”
Castiello is a junior now, and his impact on the team has gone far beyond his results on the course. Hybl said Castiello choosing to come to OU seemed to open up the doors for other players from Mexico to join him here.
“If Eduardo wasn’t here, I wouldn’t have gotten Abe (Ancer),” he said. “If I didn’t have Eduardo and Abe, I wouldn’t have Eloy Gonzalez, who’s on my team right now."
“And I think we’re going to have some more. So it’s weird how Eduardo has created this opportunity for me to be able to go get Mexican kids.”
It wasn’t easy for Castiello to leave home to live in a different country and go to school there, but he made the adjustment successfully, and the people who know him are glad he did. Kropp said living with Castiello gives him a different perspective on things, and he’s a great teammate in all situations.
There were so many opportunities for Castiello not to be here: He could have stuck with soccer; he could have decided to stay in Mexico; he could have gone to college right away instead of waiting a year; he could have not gone to that junior golf tournament at Jimmie Austin.
But he didn’t. And he’s here now. So it doesn’t seem surprising that OU “felt right” to him.
The young man from Mexico is happy in Oklahoma.
“He’s just a beautiful guy,” Hybl said. “I mean he’s a great kid.”