By Bill Sheehan
Dyer grew up in Leigh-on-Sea, a town on the northern side of the Thames Estuary about 40 miles east of London, and he first visited a driving range at age 9. "He took to it quite easily. He hit a few balls and he was off and running," said his father, Chris.
As a 6-year-old, Castillo played nine holes at Birch Hills in Brea with his dad, Mark, who quickly realized his son had a passion for the game.
"It was Super Bowl Sunday," recalled Mark. "Derek pointed to the back nine and asked, 'What's that?' I explained the course had 18 holes, and he asked, 'Aren't we going to play those?' When I said we were going home to watch the Super Bowl, he was so upset that he wouldn't talk to me the rest of the day."
Over time, Castillo and Dyer became top-flight junior golfers. They began their college careers in Nevada and Florida, respectively, before transferring to Cal State Fullerton. This year, the two have helped propel the Titan men's golf team to two wins in its first four tournaments.
The 21-year-old Castillo, the team's No. 1 player, has posted top-10 finishes in all four tournaments, including a tie for second at the Olympic Club Intercollegiate in San Francisco. He is averaging 70.83 per round.
Dyer, also 21, plays in the No. 2, 3 or 4 positions. He won the Sacramento State Invitational at Valley Hi in Elk Grove last month by shooting 10-under in the 54-hole event and has a 72.25 scoring average.
"Our team is having a solid year. The guys have really worked hard, followed the game plan and bought into course management," said ninth-year Titan head coach Jason Drotter. "They all have talent, and they never quit. They battle until the last shot."
Working with sports psychologist pays dividends
"Derek has had a great year. He has made tons of progress, especially in his mental game. That's why you see more consistency with him," said Drotter, whose team will compete Monday and Tuesday in the Wyoming Cowboy Classic in Chandler, Arizona.
Castillo, a junior from Yorba Linda, credits Mark Kane, a performance coach and sports psychologist, for his steady play. Kane, a student of the late Cal State Fullerton professor and prominent sports psychologist Ken Ravizza, began working with some golf team members last fall.
"It's been a big help. Basically, it's a matter of getting comfortable and being mindful of what you are doing. That way you are always progressing. It's about having a plan, setting forth on the plan and taking every day one day at a time," Castillo said.
"He's helped me improve my game a lot and, I've learned to make adjustments during the rounds. And he's helped me work with my temper. I used to get quite upset on the golf course. I'm calmer now, which helps me make better decisions."
Matt Wilson, a senior from Cypress, said he's noticed the positive changes.
"Derek is a little more even-keeled," said Wilson. "Things don't get to him as much. In a round of golf, everyone gets kicked in the teeth. It's how you react that's important. He's done a good job of owning that, and it has paid off for him this year."
Dyer also has stepped up his play of late, said Drotter. "Jack's game is interesting. Everything he does, top to bottom, is above average. He has no glaring weaknesses."
"It's taken him a little bit of time to embrace the team aspect of golf and our golf courses. In Europe, he was playing as an individual. It's great seeing his success this spring.
"Jack played flawlessly at Sacramento," said Drotter. "We had awful weather — it was raining and really windy the last day. He can play in that while most guys can't."
Individual, team victories a double treat
Dyer, who was named the Big West Golfer of the Month for March, said the combination of his individual win and a team victory at the Sacramento tournament made it extra special.
"I didn't play well in our first two tournaments this year. My mom came out to visit me the week before Sacramento, and that put me in a good place of mind. I was a bit nervous going into the final round, but I got it done. Back home, I play in 40-mph winds right on the ocean. So, I had an advantage playing in the winds."
The 6-foot-3 junior exercises regularly and lifts weight twice a week with fellow Titan golfer Dalton Daniel. "I didn't do much physical work in the past. Having someone to work out with is great."
"Jack has a strong work ethic," said Daniel, a freshman from Newcastle, Oklahoma. "He wants to practice longer and go the gym – there's no slacking off. He's put on 10 pounds of muscle, and he's hitting his driver 10-15 yards farther."
Hitting long shots isn't a problem for Castillo, but it wasn't always that way. "My game has changed a lot since my younger days. When I turned 15, I was 5-foot-3, and I hit the ball short. Now, I'm 6-foot-3, and my long game is my strength," he said.
He works with swing coach Chris Mason of San Diego. "My ball-striking tends to be very accurate. Typically, that's what I lean on. However, I really have worked on my short game," said Castillo, who uses a blade putter.
A happy return to Orange County
Winner of the American Junior Golf Association's ClubCorps Mission Hills Desert Junior as a 14- year-old, Castillo spent his freshman year at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "I wanted to get away from home. Then when I got away from home, I realized that I liked it at home. I've been a lot happier at Fullerton," he said. In his spare time, Castillo likes fishing for fresh-water bass, going to the beach and reading.
"UNLV wasn't the right fit," said his father, Mark, who is the golf coach at Valencia High School in Placentia. "He loves playing for Coach Drotter. As he matures as a person, he'll mature as a golfer. When life is good, your golf is good."
Mark coached Derek at Valencia High and now he's coaching his 18-year-old son Ricky, who is the No. 1 ranked high school senior in the nation and has accepted a scholarship to the University of Florida. Mark and his wife Kim also have a daughter, April, 15, who is a volleyball player.
Castillo and his father share a middle name, Keoni. His father's side of the family lives on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. "My great-grandfather migrated from the Philippines to Hawaii," Castillo said. "Both of my grandparents worked on sugarcane plantations. They worked really hard to give me the opportunity I have today."
His favorite courses are TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, Shadow Creek in Las Vegas and Marist Camp in North Lake Tahoe. Castillo admires the golf swings of the younger Tiger Woods and Adam Scott. "No one was more dominant than Tiger in his prime, and that includes Jack Nicklaus. Just the way he attacked a golf course and the mental state he could get himself in was amazing."
A communications major with a concentration in public relations, he plans to graduate next year and then seek a spot on the PGA tour. Castillo, who uses a Vardon overlap grip, takes a basic approach to golf.
"Every golf course is the same. You hit the ball straight, put it in the fairway, put it on the green and make the putt. You shouldn't be in the trees, in the bunkers or in the rough. Those are distractions that are trying to mess with your brain."
At 12, a captain of the Essex County golf team
Dyer initially played soccer before switching to golf. He joined the Boyce Hill Golf Club in Benfleet, England, as a 10-year-old and captained the Essex County golf team from ages 12 to 18.
He accepted a scholarship to Keiser, a private university in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. "I wanted a school with a lot to do outside of golf and not to be confined by winter weather," said Dyer. "That took my mind off not being at home."
Dyer excelled at Keiser, finishing as runner-up last year at the NAIA national championships at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Illinois. But after two years at Keiser, Dyer said, he was eager for a new challenge. "I was ready for the next step in golf, so I sent emails out to different universities. Now I have gone from coast to coast. Being at Fullerton has been a fantastic experience."
"Jack did quite well at Keiser, but he wanted to find another university that would take away his comfort zone and where he could learn a lot more," said his father, Chris. "It was a daunting prospect to go from a small university in Florida to a massive one in California.
"He has always been able to mix his schooling with his golf, and he's always been willing to work hard. I told him, 'I will always support you as long as you get your degree" said Chris, who is a retired businessman.
Dyer, a business major with a concentration in entrepreneurship, said his time management skills have been put to the test at Fullerton. "My social life has gone a bit downhill, but that's what it takes to get good grades and play half-decent golf," he said. During his free time, he enjoys listening to music and visiting the beach.
Assistant coach helps improve Dyer's swing
The 6-foot-3 junior works with Fullerton assistant golf coach Josh Parks on his swing. "It has gotten a lot better. I'm not one of these technical guys. But it seems more guys lately have been coming up without textbook swings," said Dyer, who uses an interlocking grip and a mallet putter.
His favorite courses are PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, the Farm in Dalton, Georgia and Muirfield in Scotland. Naturally, he cheers for Europe in the Ryder Cup, and Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood are among his favorite pro golfers.
Dyer enjoys returning home to Leigh-on-Sea each summer to see his parents, Chris and Lucy, and his 17-year-old sister, Jess. "It's right by the seaside. We have the old town with cockle sheds, and fishing boats are coming and going each day. It's a bit different here – things are spread out."
He would like to give professional golf a try, but he isn't pinning his hopes on it. "That's the dream, but I'm not obsessed. If I'm good enough and it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, I'm still having a great time out here."
Dyer said his degree will give him several different avenues in the business world. "Leigh-on-Sea is a 30-minute train ride from London. A couple guys I play golf with work with companies in London, so that's something I might explore," said Dyer, who added his sister will be seeking a job as a legal secretary in the British capital this winter.
The Titan golf team will compete in the Big West Championships in late April at the Wailua Golf Course on Kauai. Surprisingly, Castillo has never played the course during visits to see his relatives on Kauai. Dyer played a practice round at Wailua last October before a college tournament in Princeville.
"It's a fantastic course, one of the most beautiful I've ever played," said Dyer. "Our team is really working hard, and we're looking forward to the championships."
Castillo, whose gallery will include a large contingent of relatives cheering him on, said the Titans have a great opportunity for a top-three finish, if not a victory. "We have a lot more potential that we have shown. If everyone is grinding and progressing, I feel we have a good shot."