Ethan Casto // Photo courtesy of Western Athletics
By Conor Wilson
After three rounds, 54 holes and 206 strokes on the Bellingham Golf and Country Club course, Western senior Ethan Casto was tied for the lead at 10 under par, at the WWU Invitational, set to take on Simon Fraser University’s Isaac Lee in a playoff hole to determine the tournament’s champion.
For Casto, facing a playoff hole on the verge of a tournament victory is not an anomaly, as longtime friend and teammate Luke Kuna recalls. The playoff reminded Kuna of their junior high school season together where Casto ended the Washington State 4A Championship Tournament in a three-way tie for first place, before ultimately falling on a third hole playoff.
Despite this, Kuna said Casto kept a signature calm and light demeanor at WWU invite, even joking to him about the similarities between the two instances prior to teeing off for his playoff hole.
“[Ethan] told me, ‘You’re not allowed to watch me during playoffs because every time you do, I don’t win,’” Kuna said. “He knows when to be serious and when to be funny– he keeps it light hearted.”
Casto’s light hearted, yet serious demeanor prevailed for him as he sunk a par on 16 to close out the two-hole playoff and become the first Viking to win the WWU Invitational since 2012.
Since his victory at Western’s invite, Casto was named the Great Northwest Athletic Conference golfer of the week for a second week in a row, after a second-place finish at the Saint Martin’s University invite in the first week of the season.
Even with his accolades from the first two weeks beginning to pile up, Casto has continued to promote his easy-going yet serious persona — doing what he loves and having fun doing it.
The Snohomish native first discovered his passion for golf about a decade ago when one of his friends brought him to the golf course as an elementary school student, he said.
“One of my baseball player buddies, when I was in the fifth or sixth grade, brought me to the golf course and I really liked it,” Casto said. “I started going with my dad like every day after that.”
Casto went on to be a star player for Snohomish High School, where he met current Western teammate Kuna.
The two were introduced on a Snohomish golf course after Kuna moved to the city for his freshman year of high school. Kuna recalls other golfers telling him about Casto.
“They were like you got to play with this guy Ethan, he’s really into golf,” Kuna said. “He was a really hard worker and it was pretty apparent he loved the game.”
Despite an impressive high school résumé, Casto said Western coach Luke Bennett was the only one to offer him the opportunity to play in college.
“His free flowing, rhythmic swing is what caught my eye,” Bennett said in an email. “You could tell he had tons of talent and just needed an opportunity to grow and develop.”
Since Casto stepped onto campus, Western’s golf team has won two GNAC championships, as well as a second-place finish in Casto’s sophomore year, when he took home the individual GNAC title.
However, Casto said he does not believe his GNAC championship was the point in his college career when everything clicked.
“[GNAC] was a good confidence boost, but I think it really came [together] in Arizona last year,” Casto said. “I won there also and that was the lowest three rounds of golf I’ve ever shot. I think I was 15 under par, and there was a huge field.”
Casto took the victory at the Mustang Intercollegiate in Goodyear, Arizona last year by two strokes. He credits this win with teaching him a lot in its aftermath. Casto said after playing poorly following this tournament, he began changing his golf clubs, something that he’s not planning on repeating this year.
“I just really like golf clubs, and I change a lot, which probably isn’t the best idea looking back on it,” Casto said. “This year I am not going to change anything. I’m going to try and keep everything the same.”
Assistant coach Willy Scholten– who was a junior on the team when Casto first arrived– also mentioned how consistency has been the key to Casto’s early success.
“Ethan likes golf, probably more than anybody I know. I mean the guy has so many golf clubs, he loves buying golf clubs, and tinkering with golf clubs, and tinkering with his golf swing,” Scholten said. “I think maybe early on he spent a little extra time tinkering, and now he’s a little more just focused on playing and winning, and he knows that he can win these tournaments.”
In addition to his success, Casto is the only senior, and he is captain of the team. Scholten said Casto’s leadership skills influence the team.
“We’ve got 12 guys on the roster which is the most amount of guys since I can remember, so it’s important to have a guy who can really lead,” Scholten said. “[Ethan’s] going to be a lot of the reason we have success this year.”
Casto has also learned to adopt a patient and controlled mentality on the course– something he said has come with his maturity.
“The last three years, it’s been: if I didn’t have my best stuff, I’d shoot a big number,” Casto said. “[I] have faith in myself that I’m going to make birdies, and I can make a couple bogies, and just have fun.”
Scholten– who had the opportunity to walk with Ethan during several rounds of golf, including the final round at the WWU Invite, pointed out that Ethan doesn’t abandon his personality on the course.
“Ethan wants to win out there, but if you know him personally, you know he’s a funny guy – he likes to goof around,” Scholten said.
With the pressure he’s facing as a potential GNAC front runner, Casto feels its presence, but is hoping to continue enjoying his time playing, and staying positive.
“There’s always added pressure if you start playing well,” Casto said. “I think you just have to look past it and start having fun — just keep doing what you’re doing.”
As Kuna notes Casto’s mental attitude and work ethic really speaks to his success.
“After he won the [WWU] Invite, me and him practiced three or four hours after the final round,” Kuna said. “He was right back out there, he just wants to get better.”
Scholten, who was not there to witness the practice, was not at all surprised by this behavior.
“If it was light for 24 hours Ethan would play all day,” Scholten said. “The thing with Ethan is, I wouldn’t say he mentally thought ‘I need to go practice,’ he just wants to go to practice. He wants to get better. He wants to go play golf. For him it’s not work, he loves the game.”
His love for golf will continue well after his time at Western, as he plans to continue pursuing the game he’s spent most of his life playing.
“My goal is to turn pro and maybe try and qualify for the Canadian tour, I haven’t really decided,” Casto said. “It’s a big process– another beginning once this ends.”