CARNOUSTIE, SCOTLAND | Back in 2011, Ryann O’Toole – the now-34-year-old Californian who won her first LPGA title at the Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open a week ago – was given what was seen as a questionable wild card for that year’s American Solheim Cup side.
“It was a wild, wild card,” conceded Rosie Jones, the US captain, when called upon to explain herself at the time.
For the record, Jones had handed out the first of her two cards to Stacy Lewis, who had captured the AIG Inspiration (then the Kraft Nabisco Championship) at the start of that season. That was straightforward enough. But the “wild, wild” choice, though O’Toole had picked up two good top-10 finishes in her first eight weeks on the LPGA Tour, found herself at the centre of some pretty wild theories.
O’Toole, who is under consideration for one of this year’s captain’s picks after her triumph at Dumbarnie, knew only too well that she had been a controversial choice 10 years ago. Not just from what she read in the papers, but from what two sister members of the team said to her face ahead of the match. Basically, they told her that it was all wrong that she should have been given a place when she had only been around for the proverbial 15 minutes and they had been working their tails off for a couple of years.
O’Toole had hit back with a question. “But haven’t we all been working for this all our lives?”
When GGP asked if the culprits had ever apologised, she shook her head whilst delivering a mischievous smile. “They had their comeuppance,” she said.
Fueled by the feeling that she had no option but to prove herself, O’Toole bagged three points out of five to finish third behind Morgan Pressel and Paula Creamer in her team’s individual standings. As for her detractors, let’s just say that they fared rather less well.
Unfortunately for O’Toole, the only side of the story which people seem to remember from that fiasco of a week stops at O’Toole’s route into what would be the losing US side in Ireland.
“I’ve let go of all my old problems and given myself the inner trust I needed to get where I am now.”
There were plenty who, fairly or unfairly, suspected that her appearance on that year’s Big Break, an American golfing reality programme, had helped her cause rather more her two top-10s. “Chicks with Sticks” was just one of the headlines promoting this popular show and O’Toole, though she finished no higher than sixth, came across as something of a TV personality.
When you think about it today, Jones, if she had not gone in for a bit of guesswork, could well have been swayed by the player’s sudden fame – and in some ways seen it as a possible plus. After all, Creamer’s father used to swear that his daughter was all the better as a golfer for having done ballet in her earlier years. “She had no worries when it came to standing on a first tee,” he once told me.
O’Toole mentioned at last week’s AIG Women’s Open that the two weeks of filming had definitely added to the confidence she had gleaned from playing college softball and basketball in front of a crowd. Again, it had helped with her interview techniques, teaching her as it did “not to be led into saying things I didn’t want to say.”
Yet the publicity detonated by her critics left its scars, not least in terms of introducing another critic to her golfing life of ups and downs. Namely, herself.
In what is her 11th year on tour, O’Toole has only now started working with a hypnotherapist who, in tapping into her self-conscious, has helped to still that small voice inside which was contributing to a permanent state of anxiety.
“Finally, I’m believing in myself,” she said. “I’ve let go of all my old problems and given myself the inner trust I needed to get where I am now.”
And, from the way she was speaking, to where she will go next.