Ryann O’Toole’s highest-profile appearance in golf before Friday’s breakout performance was as a cast member on the Golf Channel’s “Big Break Sandals Resorts” show.
The premise of the show was to put golfers in tricky situations — in deep bunkers, behind trees, etc. — and let them try to escape. Those skills, and the pressure provided by the cameras, came in handy as O’Toole finished her first round at a U.S. Open at 2-under 69, just a shot out of the lead.
O'Toole remained one stroke back at 3-under through 10 holes of the second round when weather halted play at 6:09 p.m. Friday.
“I go to my caddie like after the first hole, I’m like, are the nerves going to go away yet? Because they weren’t.”
Fortunately for O’Toole, she was familiar with handling the moment.
She flew three of the first four greens but twice chipped in — one for birdie, another for par — and put another wedge within a foot for an easy par.
“Crowd is cheering, and I think that helped kind of propel me into the whole round,” said O’Toole, who made her first putt of any length, a 4-footer for birdie on No. 4.
The rest of the way, O’Toole followed her prodigious length to a series of short approach shots on the longest course in Women’s Open history. The longest club she had into a hole was a 7-iron.
O’Toole regularly out-drove playing partners Chelsea Mocio and Hee Kyung Seo by 40 or 50 yards and her drive on the 600-yard 17th hole traveled 300 yards.
Staying true to her aspirations of becoming a dominant figure on the LPGA Tour and one day making the Hall of Fame, the 5-foot-7 UCLA graduate buried any nerves as the crowds around her grew.
“This is exactly what you dream of when you’re growing up saying, I want to be professional golfer,” said O’Toole, 24. “You have a huge crowd and they’re following every group, so it really makes you feel really good.”
The situation would have been a first for O’Toole, who was making just her fifth start on the top ladies tour, if not for that background on television.
“On that show, there’s no hitting the two shots that lead up to that bad shot,” O’Toole said. “It’s, ‘Here you go; deal with it.’ I think it taught me to really stay focused and handle the nerves and really focus on what shot you’re trying to hit and not worry about the outcome of it.”
If ESPN2’s coverage of Friday’s second round was any indication, O’Toole can expect a lot more air time over the weekend.