Nicole Castrale leans on husband, caddy through tough years on the LPGA
Nicole Castrale may have been an unfamiliar name to the leaderboard for the past few years, but take a look at her 10 year LPGA career and see a woman who fought through some of the most challenging times.
Sidelined her rookie season in 2002 to a torn rotator cuff, Nicole went through two surgeries that August and November in order to get healthy enough to compete full-time the following year. But to her dismay, the five events she competed in were not enough to retain her status, landing her on the Symetra Tour for the 2004 season.
Determined to make her way back, Nicole faced another shoulder injury midseason and couldn’t make it to the Final Qualifying Tournament. Jump to the 2005 season and a whole new golfer had evolved, shocking many with back-to-back victories en route to a fourth-place finish on the season-ending money list.
“It was probably the best thing that’s ever happened for my career,” Castrale says about her time on the developmental tour. “That just kind of jump started my career. Going out on the Symetra Tour and winning was great. It taught me a lot and it’s just great to win and be in contention. So after 2005, we had full status on the LPGA starting in ’06.”
Nicole admits that she could not have made it through these years without the support from her adoring husband, and caddy, Craig.
The two met during Nicole’s rookie season when Craig was caddying for Laurie Rinker-Graham, and their friendship began instantly. Through the 2002 and 2003 campaigns, Craig was on her bag for Monday Qualifiers and continued to do so during her time on the Symetra Tour. Then in 2005, just months before her wins, the two got married and have been inseparable ever since.
“We’re pretty fortunate that we get to spend so much time together,” Nicole said. “If we had separate jobs we probably wouldn’t see each other nearly as much.”
“I think it’s pretty cool what we’re doing,” Craig adds. “There are other husbands and wives out there on Tour like Matt and Leta Lindley. It’s a tough life style so the more normal we can make it the better.”
The twosome had success in the following four years on the LPGA Tour, notching 19 top-10’s including her first victory at the Ginn Tribute Hosted by ANNIKA, where she defeated Lorena Ochoa on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff and crossed the $1 million mark in career earnings. She earned a spot on the 2007 Solheim Cup team where she sunk the winning putt in the singles competition, finishing with a 2-2-0 record. Two years later, the pair struck again and became a part of another victorious Solheim Cup team.
“The whole thing is neat,” Nicole says on competing on two Solheim Cup teams.” Every two years your goal is to try to make Solheim Cup. So it will definitely be a goal of mine playing this year and going into next year. I want to be on that team.”
In the midst of her eighth season Nicole suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, again. She endured one of the toughest roads to recovery for the fourth time.
“It was the longest rehab and most that the doctor had done to my shoulder,” Nicole said. “I was very fortunate that I had such a great physical therapist, Brett Fischer at Fischer Sports, so if it wasn’t for him and his staff I wouldn’t have recovered like I did. Craig and I basically lived there. I was there from 6 am to noon every day and it was a grind but if it wasn’t for them pushing me to keep getting stronger and better, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. So that was huge to me to be able to get through all that. It really showed me how strong I was.
“I’m also very thankful for my sponsors; Titleist, Adidas Golf, Taylor Made and Cytosport. They stuck with me while I was off the Tour and believed in my recovery.”
Come February 2011, just as Nicole had regained her strength to compete, the Castrale’s were blessed with the news that they would have their first child at the end of the year.
“It’s the greatest thing ever,” Nicole says of being a mother. “Craig and I can’t wait every day to be done at the golf course and get home to her. We’re fortunate that my mom is able to travel with us and she takes care of our daughter, Eleni. It’s been the best experience. She’s so much fun, she’s just a blessing. We talk about how much we can’t imagine if our lives were without her. It’s great to be a parent and it’s better than everyone says it is.”
Four surgeries and a baby later, Nicole found her game again as she finished with a tie for ninth at the U.S. Women’s Open in Kohler, WI. It was the first time in two years she had been in contention, so it was no surprise she was anxious.
“I hadn’t been in contention or on the leaderboard for quite a few years,” Nicole says. “I think the last time was in 2009 at the LPGA Championship. So, it was neat. It was just nice to be back out there, playing well and having results. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. The last few holes on the weekend I didn’t play as well as I would have liked. But I hadn’t been in that position and I had nerves in my system that I hadn’t felt in a long time. So it was good. If I wasn’t nervous and I wasn’t putting myself in a position to have a good week, it wouldn’t have meant that much to me. But it does mean a lot to me. I’m proud of myself for the way I handled it.”
The couple continues to work through the struggles of getting Nicole’s game back, but it’s only a matter of time until her name is on the leaderboard again. Their goal is to make a comeback in a slow and steady fashion.
“We went into this year just with the mindset that this is a rebuilding year and that I just need to get comfortable playing out there again,” Nicole said. “I need to just keep executing shots. My motto has always been to always hit fairways and greens so that’s really what we wanted to get back to. I feel like I’m very patient out there.”
Ten years strong together, the Castrale’s look to the future with optimistic stances. With baby Eleni in attendance at every domestic event, Nicole and Craig are more determined as they keep their daughter in mind through each round.
“When we’re out on the golf course we’ll look at our watches and see what time it is and we’ll try to figure out what Eleni is doing at that time,” Nicole laughs. “Whether she’s playing or napping or eating so it’s fun. When we are at tournaments we have to put in a little more time just because it takes more time to play 18 holes and all the preparation. We try to get in and get out. Get my work done and then know that we have the best prize when we get home.”
Craig reflects on their road on the LPGA Tour and says their professional and personal lives have seen some bumps in the road but with the support of their loving family they couldn’t be more complete.
“We have had quite the journey together with the two Symetra Tour wins in 2005, one LPGA win, two Solheim Cups, and two Lexus Cups and four shoulder surgeries and now with starting the family we couldn't be any happier,” Craig says. “We are very blessed to work together on the course to earn a living and have our daughter travel with us to remind us how fortunate we truly are.”