May 6, 2014
By Bob Thomas Florida State Sports Information
There isn't a single golfer in the field of this weekend's NCAA Women's East Regional who is more excited about sticking a tee in the ground at the Southwood Golf Club Thursday morning than Florida State freshman Matilda Castren.
"I've been waiting for it the whole year," said Castren, who will lead a young Seminole team vying for a top-eight finish and a trip to the NCAA Championships. "After I won the home tournament it was like, `Why can't I do it again? Of course, I can.' I'm really excited going to the first tee and playing in the regional."
Among Castren's many highlights this season, her individual victory on the Seminoles' home course at the FSU Match-Up ranks right at the top; and for good reason. The Espoo, Finland native opened the tournament with consecutive, four-under par 68s to build a six-shot lead over a stout field, then closed with a two-under 70 en route to her first collegiate victory.
"The highlight of this year has been the home tournament," Castren said. "I was playing with (Clemson's) Ashlan Ramsey, who is a great player. We were in the same group on the last round and I was really nervous at the beginning. As we went to the back nine I knew I could beat her and I did. That felt really good."
It was the first of two victories during the six-tournament spring season for Castren, who never finished outside the top 10 and became just the second FSU freshman to earn All-ACC honors.
"She should have some good thoughts and good Mojo around that golf course," said Florida State women's golf coach Amy Bond said.
Bond began developing her own good thoughts about Castren's game when she made her first recruiting trip abroad as the Seminoles coach for the European Girls Championships in Denmark, and then a year later when the championship was held in Italy.
"She was so competitive," Bond said. "As with many athletes, the competitive side comes out. She didn't want to lose. The way she battled really caught my eye."
Castren did not realize that she had caught Bond's eye until she came to the United States in 2011 to practice and play in a few tournaments.
"I won the Doral Publinks, an under-18 tournament," Castren said. "After that I got a lot of emails from college coaches. The next year, Amy came to the European Junior Championships in Germany."
College golf in the U.S. was not a foreign concept to Castren, who was actually born in New York and also lived in Dallas - her father was employed by a Finnish bank in the U.S. - before returning home to Finland at the age of 4.
"My parents got familiar with college," she said. "When I started playing golf my parents started telling me about college golf and I said, `That sounds pretty cool.' I've wanted to do it since I was seven or eight years old."
Castren was actually introduced to the game by her parents, who allowed her to tag along during their outings and drive the ball off the tee and putt on the greens. It did not take long before she was hooked on the game.
"I was around 10 when I started playing my first tournaments and realized I was a lot better than the other kids," she said. "I won all those tournaments and thought it was really cool. I really like winning. I wanted to practice more so I could win. That's what I've been doing."
Before long, Bond wasn't the only coach who recognized Castren's talents.
"I got a bunch of emails from different schools and looked at them on the internet," Castren said. "I actually knew one of the boys that played on the (FSU) men's golf team, Rowan Caron. He told me that he was coming here and visited, and that it was really cool. I wanted to visit it, too. I absolutely loved it and still love it.
"Everything is perfect here. You have everything you need to succeed."
Castren hasn't wasted time capitalizing on the opportunities. She was FSU's top finisher in three fall tournaments with a pair of top 10 finishes and a solid 72.56 stroke average through nine competitive rounds.
Off the course, she has settled nicely into a new culture and excelled academically, earning the 2014 Golden Nole Award for women's golf by excelling in her sport, in the classroom and the community.
"It's a lot different here, but actually in a good way," Castren said. "People are much more polite and friendly. Everyone says, `Hi, and How are you?'"
And it certainly has not hurt to have a pair of international teammates, including roommate Anna Sophia Böhmer, from Colombia.
"I know I'm not the only one not from the United States," she said. "It helps that there are three internationals on our team. We found a lot of the same stuff that we used to do that Americans didn't do or don't understand."
Castren is outspoken by nature. "Sometimes it's a good thing, but sometimes I should just zip it up," she said, which has also made her transition easier.
"At first I don't think I spoke that much, before I got used to the language. ... I guess it helped me a lot to get used to all the American stuff. If I didn't understand something I'd always ask, and not just be quiet and nod my head."
"There has been a remarkable maturity over the last six or seven months here," said Bond, adding that Castren's willingness to speak up has helped motivate and push her teammates. "She has come into her own and become a leader."
And there is no doubt Castren has led by example. She followed up her February win at the FSU Match-Up with an April victory at the Web.com Marsh Landing Intercollegiate, posting a career-best three-round total of 12-under, sandwiching a pair of 69s around a second-round, season-low 66.
"She's a shot maker," Bond said. "She probably has more shots than any player I've had as a freshman."
Castren has the numbers to prove it. Of the 13 under-par rounds recorded by Seminoles this year, Castren has carded eight, and over the course of 26 rounds on the year, she has shot finished even-par or better 12 times. Buoyed by a big spring, Castren lowered her season-long scoring average of 71.8, which is good for a share of Atlantic Coast Conference lead and the reason she enters the NCAA East Regional ranked No. 16 in the Golfstat national rankings.
In addition to her ability to work the ball both ways and be both creative and competitive, Castren has better learned to control the emotions that fuel her success.
"Now she's learned, `I'm going to make a bogey or two, but I'm going to overcome that,'" Bond said.
That improvement is something Castren is most proud of.
"I think I started to improve before I got here, but it has improved significantly when I got here," she said. "I grew a lot as a person. ... Playing for a team is a lot different than playing as an individual. When I'm on the course and not playing well, I just think about the team and how they would always support me and want me to do good. They wouldn't want me to be down and feel sorry for myself for making bogeys. ...
"My mental game has improved a lot. I've become more confident on the golf course. I think the biggest reason for that is my putting. I didn't used to be a very good putter, but I changed a few things in my technique and it made my stroke a lot more solid. That has made me a lot more confident."
And when Castren is rolling in putts, she is a threat to win and help lead her team to great heights. That's the ultimate goal when the Seminoles tee it up for the first of three rounds Thursday against a field of 24 teams and six individuals, with the top eight teams and top two individuals advancing to the NCAA Championships.
"We're moving in a very positive direction," Bond said of the Seminoles. "Every week the girls continue to get better. We are a very young team that is growing in confidence. They are going to be comfortable playing here at home, but they need to be comfortable in playing a big event at home."
"I think we're all really confident and think we can make it in the top eight and make it to nationals," Castren said. "It's definitely an advantage to play at Southwood. We know the course so well."