ORLANDO, FLORIDA | A steady, cold rain was falling on the weekend at the season-opening Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions. Players donned wool beanies, tried their best to swing beneath all the extra layers, and blew hot air into their icy hands, trying to maintain any semblance of feel. The GPS said Orlando. Outdoors it felt as if a Green Bay Packers game was about to commence. At Lambeau, no less.
Funny, but Ryann O’Toole, a California surfer who now makes a home in Arizona, didn’t seem the least bit deterred or disappointed. A third-round 75 on the way to a 13th-place finish bounced off her like a raindrop off Gore-Tex. She had worked a lifetime to get here, to finally squeeze past the bouncers and through the door at the LPGA’s winners-only party. A little attitude from Mother Nature wasn’t going to dampen hers.
“I was thinking, ‘OK, maybe it’s time that I start that next chapter in life.’ And then I threw a win in there. So now I’m not ready (to walk away), …” – Ryann O’Toole
“Winning has brought a lot of perks, to be honest,” said O’Toole, who turns 35 on Feb. 11. “To start the year off playing in a relaxed atmosphere, playing with celebrities and amateurs, it’s a nice way to ease into the season. Being here is finally being recognized for all the hard work and for my capability. That was fulfilling a dream, winning. There’s lots of dreams to still be fulfilled but getting that first win was huge.”
She paused for a second and flashed a smile that was, on a gray day, by far the brightest thing on property. “Plus,” she added, “no cut here.”
To think, all of this – the camaraderie, the competition, the pursuit of constant improvement, the opportunity to chase down another trophy – could have been in the faraway distance when the calendar flipped to 2022. As she made her path across another middle-of-the-road campaign last summer, O’Toole had contemplated leaving the game at year’s end. And then, lightning!
In August, O’Toole played her way into contention at the Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open at Dumbarnie Links in Fife, and in the final round, everything started tumbling into place. She shot 8-under 64, and even had breathing room to enjoy the walk coming down the last hole, winning by three. In O’Toole’s 228th start on the LPGA (No. 228 … ponder that for a bit), she accomplished something she’d been trying to do since her rookie season a decade earlier. It was a relief to finally pull out of a car park with a trophy buckled in beside her.
“I watched the last seven or eight holes, and you could just tell,” said Sophia Popov, another LPGA competitor who considered walking away from tour life, only to capture the 2020 AIG Women’s Open Championship as a non-member. A true game-changer. “It felt similar to what it was like for me. She wasn’t making any mistakes. You could tell it was her week.
“It’s tough to win out here. Even to do it once, it’s that chip on your shoulder that you’ve carried for so long. You’re able to prevail and win. Ryann had been out here a long time. I have a lot of respect for her.”
O’Toole is a popular player among her peers. She carries the undisputed title as the fitness queen of the LPGA. If she’s not hitting a golf ball somewhere, there’s a good chance O’Toole can be located in a gym, working out. Or doing box jumps. Or running. Or hiking. Or doing something very active, like snowboarding. Asked if being an “adrenaline junkie” would be accurate in describing her, she laughs. “Not to an extreme,” O’Toole said. “I definitely have that middle ground. I’m not chasing giant waves or throwing myself off cliffs. I’m a gym junkie.”
Her mental side and flourishing inner confidence are starting to catch up to her physical talents swinging a golf club. No longer does O’Toole get in her own way, as she likes to say. O’Toole’s driver is reliable, but her best strength is in her iron play, which is very consistent. Even though she broke through to win in 2021, she felt as if putting was holding her back. For a player who hits a lot of greens, her lag putting lacked in quality. There were times she would stand over a long, uphill putt just trying to lag it to a few feet, and she’d get “stuck” over the ball. The putting was addressed this offseason in Arizona with lots of extra work. She felt good over the putter at the season opener, rolling it nicely in getting off to a fast start, opening with 68.
Her mental side and flourishing inner confidence are starting to catch up to her physical talents swinging a golf club. No longer does O’Toole get in her own way, as she likes to say.
As is often the case with top players, perception in assessing one’s own game doesn’t always match up with cold numbers. When O’Toole looked at her putting stats at year’s end, they weren’t nearly as dire as she expected to see. O’Toole was 51st in putting average, and 41st in putts per greens in regulation.
“I think I definitely got that sorted out,” O’Toole said. She hopes the work shows up at this week’s Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio.
Looking back to last summer, why was she so ready to walk away from a tour career? It wasn’t that she doesn’t love the game. O’Toole says she is so much more than the golfer and wants to be a mom. She married Gina Marra in a beautiful ceremony in December. And though O’Toole adores her five fur babies, she knows there is so much more awaiting her. The winning, and all those great perks, put everything on hold, but O’Toole constantly is thinking about the future.
“I got married, I want to have kids, my clock is ticking, I’m 34,” she said. “It’s one of those things. I was thinking, ‘OK, maybe it’s time that I start that next chapter in life.’ And then I threw a win in there. So now I’m not ready (to walk away), but my clock is still ticking … I need to reevaluate this situation. I’m taking it week by week, I guess.”
Finally, O’Toole is enjoying the breezy ride on the back of success. She wouldn’t tell you she played great at the Tournament of Champions, but her 13th-place showing delivered nearly $31,000. For perspective, that’s more than she made in her entire 2014 season. Some players never know the lean times, or what it’s like to miss your last eight cuts of the season, which is what O’Toole did in 2012, a year after shining in her lone Solheim Cup appearance (2-0-2).
One of O’Toole’s celebrity pairings last week was former NFL kicker Ryan Longwell, who has a pretty nice golf game. He instantly noticed O’Toole’s overall athleticism in her swing. He had looked up her story and admired, as any fellow athlete would, O’Toole’s resolve to keep on fighting.
“She has a great attitude, and she keeps things in great perspective,” Longwell said. “Ryann was chugging along, and there was enough ‘good’ in there to keep going. Finally, she closed the deal in Scotland. She works hard. And hard work never goes unrewarded.”
Sometimes, though, it sure does take its time strolling through the door.
Top: Ryann O’Toole during the 2021 Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open; Photo by Malcolm MacKenzie, PA Images via Getty Images
© 2022 Global Golf Post LLC
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Tell us how we can improve this post?