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Plucky charms

RSS

DUNSANY, Ireland – It’s fitting that a player with the surname O’Toole has come to Ireland and found something special.

It’s vindicating too, given the criticism Ryann O’Toole has received since U.S. captain Rosie Jones picked the LPGA rookie for the Solheim Cup a month ago.

When O’Toole missed three consecutive cuts and shot over par six consecutive times, including a 79 and an 81, after being named to the U.S. team, Jones’ pick was panned as risky at best, ridiculous at worst. Yet the long-hitting, 24-year-old Californian has been one of the brightest stars for the U.S., going 2-0-1 over the first two days as the U.S. seeks its fourth consecutive Solheim Cup.

The U.S. and Europe are tied, 8-8, going into Sunday’s singles, a format the Americans historically dominate. But if O’Toole had played as poorly as her detractors feared she would, the Americans likely would be behind.

“I don’t know what was said; I stayed away from the media,” O’Toole said of the criticism of her selection. “But I know it was out there.”

O’Toole is playing well, but she’s making others around her play better, too. She has pulled Christina Kim and Stacy Lewis out of funks and teamed with Morgan Pressel to form a potent combination. Many believed Jones would need to hide O’Toole; now nearly everyone on Team USA wants her as a partner.

“She hits it miles, makes putts and I love the way she walks around the golf course,” Lewis said after she and O’Toole defeated Sandra Gal and Christel Boeljon, 2 and 1, Saturday in a crucial fourball match. “I just tried to hit fairways and greens, then let her go.”

Unlike O’Toole, much was expected of Lewis here. She is a Solheim Cup rookie, but she has won a major championship and many believed she would handle this atmosphere with ease. But she and Angela Stanford were a bad mix twice in foursomes, losing, 3 and 2 and 6 and 5. Neither played particularly well, and at times it appeared they didn’t want to speak to each other. Then O’Toole paired with Lewis in Saturday afternoon fourballs and Lewis promptly made three birdies and an eagle.

“I just feel like I have the personality to mesh with whoever (Jones) throws at me,” O’Toole said. “Christina is very energetic, very spunky. She just kept me loose out there.

“Now, playing with Stacy, I knew I could rely on her to make a bunch of birdies out there as well as stay steady.”

Kim had played poorly since June, with six missed cuts in her previous 10 events. But paired with O’Toole against Catriona Matthew and Sandra Gal in a Friday fourball match, Kim made three birdies to help earn the U.S. an unexpected half-point.

“This all is no surprise,” Kim said. “She’s a grinder in every sense of the word and she’s fiery. This format fits her perfectly.

Apparently.

Not only has O’Toole answered every question, she looks like a player who is built for multiple Solheim Cups over the next decade. She must work on her short game – chipping in particular needs some attention and she hits some loose shots in the scoring zone – but her length off the tee is impressive. She ranks sixth on the LPGA driving distance list with a 265.29-yard average.

O’Toole’s putting is spotty but she tends to make long putts when she needs to, like the 30-foot birdie on the 17th hole with Lewis that clinched Saturday afternoon’s fourball match against Gal and Boeljon.

Length and a flair for the dramatic are traits that do a Solheim Cup player well.

“A lot of people did question me when I made the pick,” Jones said. “I saw THIS in her. Whether or not she was able to do that was really going to be up to her and this team.”

A little luck of the Irish doesn’t hurt, either.