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Risky business: O'Toole the ultimate wildcard

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Ryann O’Toole made a bold play seven weeks ago.

She saw a tee sheet showing Cristie Kerr, Suzann Pettersen and Natalie Gulbis playing a Monday practice round together at the U.S. Women’s Open at The Broadmoor, and she saw an opening for one more player.

So O’Toole crashed the party. The unproven rookie squeezed her way onto the first tee with three of the game’s biggest stars.

“With all the rookies out there, they don’t know who’s who, or who is coming up,” O’Toole said. “I wanted them to know of my existence.”

O’Toole, 24, got the trio’s attention demolishing her opening tee shot. She hit one of her 300-yard bullets.

“Cristie Kerr didn’t know who I was,” O’Toole said. “She thought I was Canadian for some reason. When she found out I was American, she said, ‘Holy Cow, we need a girl like you on our Solheim Cup team.’”

Kerr said that while walking down the first fairway with O’Toole that day. And that’s where this wild Solheim Cup story started.

Right there, with just four undistinguished LPGA starts in her brief career, O’Toole made another bold play. She decided she was going to take Kerr at her word. She was going to see if the American Solheim Cup team really could use a player like her.

“That was the first moment the Solheim Cup came into the picture as a thought for me,” O’Toole said Sunday night in a telephone interview. “As a rookie, you don’t really think about that, especially somebody who hasn’t had a lot of starts, or status. But when she said that, it put a new thought, a new goal in my head.”

O’Toole’s bold ambition led to what may be the boldest play in Solheim Cup history.

On Sunday night, U.S. captain Rosie Jones made the stunning announcement that she was choosing O’Toole as one of her two captain’s pick. She was naming a rookie with a paltry seven career LPGA starts to her team. She was putting O’Toole on the roster.

Seven weeks ago, Kerr didn’t have a clue who Ryann O’Toole was. Now, they’re teammates in the most prestigious team competition in women’s golf. It’s a head-spinning tale of risk and reward.

“I know it’s a wild card,” Jones told GolfChannel.com. “I know it’s out there, but I can gamble because I have such a strong foundation of veterans. Having a strong team allows me to do this. And I have the confidence the players are behind me.”

Rookies have played in the Solheim Cup before. They’ve thrived in it. Paula Creamer went 3-1-1 as a rookie in ’05. Michelle Wie was 3-0-1 making the team as a rookie in ’09. But this is different. This is a player with little pedigree making the team on a seven-week summer burst.

O’Toole didn’t even make the postseason lineup at UCLA her senior year.

Before this burst, she was best known for her work on Golf Channel’s “Big Break Sandal Resorts.”

The swiftness of O’Toole’s seven-week Solheim burst is staggering.

With the Solheim Cup idea just beginning to percolate in her mind, O’Toole made a run on the U.S. Women’s Open leaderboard that week at The Broadmoor, where she finished ninth. She created a buzz there with her big drives and big plays. She got more than Kerr, Pettersen and Gulbis knowing who she was.

Though that U.S. Women’s Open run was O’Toole’s only top-10 finish in an LPGA event going to the Safeway Classic last week, she was catching the eyes of future teammates with her potential.

Making her run into contention again at the Safeway, O’Toole was inspired by the words of yet another American star. She was on the practice putting green before the final round when a last blast of motivation hit her.

“I see this ball of pink coming at me out of the corner of my eye,” O’Toole said. “I’m thinking, ‘Paula Creamer is coming up to me. Why is Paula Creamer coming up to me?’ She stops and says ‘Good luck, today’ with a smile on her face. And as she’s walking away, she says, ‘By the way, you are my pick for the Solheim Cup.’

“That definitely lit my fire and energized me.”

O’Toole closed solidly Sunday, tying for fifth knowing a Solheim Cup spot might be on the line.

Is O’Toole the riskiest pick in American Solheim Cup history? Absolutely. But if you look at the Americans competing for that pick, nobody made a huge impression. Nobody stood out more. In fact, there was a lot of gagging with the pick on the line. Katie Futcher played well in the majors, tying for third at the Kraft Nabisco, shooting a 64 to tie for 14th at the Ricoh Women’s British Open and tying for 14th at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, but she missed the cut with so much on the line at the Safeway Classic.

O’Toole ended up 18th on the final U.S. Solheim Cup points list despite her limited starts.

In the end, with so many players failing to make moves on the points list, the Safeway Classic turned into a sudden-death playoff for the captain's picks.

“I was basing too much on performance over the last two years,” Jones said of her evaluations. “I had all kinds of formulas going to show me who was playing the best golf. When it came down to it, I almost had to throw that thing out and say, ‘Who’s going to show me right now they want to play?’”

Jones saw who in O’Toole and Vicky Hurst, who also tied for fifth at Safeway.

“I can’t wait to kick Europe’s butt,” O’Toole said when Jones introduced her as a captain’s pick.

That boldness, Jones acknowledged, is another reason she’s comfortable taking a chance on O’Toole.

“Her confidence, her demeanor on the golf course, I liked that,” Jones said. “I wanted a player who could hold her own over there in Ireland and who would have a ‘Don’t-get-in-my-face attitude,’ who could handle what you go through in the Solheim Cup overseas. You have to have a certain personality. You have to have a little thicker skin, you have to have confidence. I see that in her.”

So Jones rewarded O’Toole’s bold play with some bravado of her own.