COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Ryann O’Toole’s big break really came this week at the U.S. Women’s Open.
Best known for her stint on the “Survivor”-like reality golf show “Big Break,” O’Toole finished in ninth place Monday with a final score of 3 over, six shots behind South Korea’s So Yeon Ryu, who won in a playoff.
Along with O’Toole’s performance came a check for $81,915 – by far the biggest of her career – and opportunities not only to compete in future LPGA events but to pick up more sponsors.
“I got my name out there,” said O’Toole, who’s already received 200 emails, most of them in the form of new Facebook requests. “That was kind of my goal: to give everyone a heads up that I can play and I can contend.”
Yes, she concedes, her stint on “Big Break” was good exposure. But she wants to be known for her work on a course at a tournament, not in front of a camera competing in challenges.
“I know I’ll always have the title of ‘Big Break,”’ O’Toole said. “But I would love to have the title of U.S. Open” winner.
She’s hardly alone.
There was a time when she was near the top of the leaderboard, before unraveling Sunday and shooting a 4-over 75 in the third round. She regrouped for the final round, finishing Monday in fine fashion with a birdie on No. 18, which was the toughest hole on the challenging Broadmoor course.
O’Toole didn’t have the biggest galleries following her around at the tournament. That distinction belonged to 2010 U.S. Open champion Paula Creamer and Cristie Kerr, the top American finisher at 1 under.
Someday, the 24-year old from San Clemente, Calif., hopes those fans are trailing her around the course.
“I’ve spent a few tournaments behind Paula, Cristie and Natalie (Gulbis). I’m sitting there going, `I want the crowd,”’ O’Toole said. “I’m hoping that this will bring that for me. I know over time that with good finishes, and hopefully a win soon, that I’ll have that.”
O’Toole is splitting her time this season between the LPGA and the Futures Tour, where she captured a title and a $17,500 paycheck in April.
But this was more than she could’ve envisioned.
“Surreal,” she said. “As a golfer and as a competitor, I didn’t win. So I’m still frustrated about that and still bummed out.
“But at the same time, if I was going into this event and someone said, `Hey, would you take a top 10?’ I would have said, `Yeah, great.”’
KERR PLUNK: Of all the shots that Cristie Kerr hit over the week, there’s one in particular that got away.
She hit a shot into the trees on the 10th hole in her second round and ended up making triple bogey. Considering she finished at 1 under, just two shots away from joining South Korea’s Hee Kyung Seo and So Yeo Ryu in a playoff, it’s understandable she was so hung up on that loose swing.
“The only thing I was thinking about was if I was Arnold Palmer, someone would have jumped in the way of that thing,” Kerr said, smiling. “So I guess I have to keep getting more popular so I can get a little army following me around out there.
“I played great and basically amounted to … one bad swing on the 10th hole. To win the Open, you can’t do that.”
STANFORD EDUCATION: The last time Angela Stanford played on a Monday at the U.S. Women’s Open, she lost a playoff in heartbreaking fashion.
That was eight years ago. This time, Monday at the Open treated her no better.
As she walked up the 17th fairway Monday to finish up her final round, Stanford had a momentary flashback to 2003 at Pumpkin Ridge.
Back then, Stanford sank a long a birdie putt on the final hole to work her way into an 18-hole playoff. She then made a 30-footer on the final hole of the playoff, only to have Hilary Lunke drain one, too, to capture the win.
That loss taught her a lesson: Soak up the moment no matter how painful.
“The pressure is one thing, but you’ve got to enjoy it, too,” said Stanford, who’s from Saginaw, Texas. “Looking back, I wish I would’ve enjoyed it a little more.”
Stanford finished the 2011 Open at even par, three shots away from earning a place in this year’s playoff. She’s still searching for her first major.
“When it happens, it’s supposed to happen,” said Stanford, who earned $150,166 for her fourth-place finish. “If it never happens, that’s the way it’s supposed to happen, too.”
CHIP SHOTS: Paula Creamer kept the U.S. Open trophy on her kitchen table. New champion So Yeon Ryu said she planned to keep it near her bed. … For her fifth-place finish, Japan’s Mika Miyazato earned $121,591. She has pledged to donate all of her winnings from the 2011 majors to the Red Cross for the recovery cause in her home country.