For golfers, not many injuries are more physically devastating than a torn rotator cuff. And not many losses are more emotionally devastating than the loss of a swing coach.
At 28, Nicole Castrale has already endured those circumstances. As those difficulties continue to shrink in her rearview mirror, she has become a talented force on the LPGA Tour.
The former USC All-American entered 2007 with a trio of goals: win for the first time, represent the United States at the Solheim Cup, and earn a spot in last month's Samsung World Championship at Bighorn Golf Club.
Check, check and check.
"It's been a great year and I'm just looking forward to keep getting better," Castrale said at the Samsung, which was held a short distance from her Palm Desert home.
With the help of instructor Bill Harmon, she has become one of the LPGA's best at finding greens in regulation - especially under pressure.
During the final round at June's Ginn Tribute in South Carolina, Castrale was paired with Lorena Ochoa, who held a three-shot lead with 18 holes remaining. Castrale handled the soggy and windy conditions to force a playoff with the world's No. 1 player, and a par on the first extra hole produced a victory.
"I had been playing well leading up to that and I just felt if I could keep getting myself in contention, you know, sooner or later I may win," she said.
Betsy King, the captain of the American Solheim Cup team, used that performance as grounds for making Castrale one of two executive selections for the September competition. The newcomer to the international event made King's pick hold up - she went 2-2 in Sweden and won a singles match against Bettina Hauert to clinch a United States victory.
Castrale recorded top-10 finishes in her next two LPGA events to ensure her place in the 20-player field at the Samsung, where she had the pleasure of staying at home and competing in front of family and friends.
"It's great any time you can sleep in your own bed," Castrale said. "I don't know if it's necessarily an advantage, but it's just nice."
Her supporters, including husband and caddie Craig, do not need to be reminded how much their heroine has overcome. During Castrale's junior season with the Trojans, her swing coach, Vern Frasier, passed away. Then, as a senior, she sustained a torn rotator cuff in an accident on Interstate 10.
Despite garnering non-exempt status on the LPGA Tour for 2002, Castrale couldn't keep her card because she needed three shoulder surgeries to get back to full strength. Healthy again in 2005, she won back-to-back events on the Futures Tour to guarantee a return to the big stage.
"I really don't dwell on the injuries much," Castrale said. "They happened in the past and I just look at them as they made me stronger as a person."
Remarkable rookie In 2006, Angela Park balanced her golf schedule with her studies at Torrance High School.
This year, her focus has shifted to balancing her expanding bank account.
Park has had a breakout year on the LPGA Tour. The 2007 rookie of the year is near the top of many statistical categories, and her high standing on the money list earned her a spot in the Samsung World Championship field.
The 19-year-old's momentum kept going there, as she broke par all four rounds and tied for third - her fourth top-three finish of the season.
"To be the only rookie out here gives me a lot of pride and gives me a lot of confidence," Park said of playing at the Samsung.
Though confident, she is looking forward to some time off.
"I'm exhausted both mentally and physically," she said. "I've played every event but one. Hopefully, next year, I'll manage my schedule a little better." SG