Risky business: O'Toole the ultimate wildcard

By Randall MellAugust 22, 2011, 12:31 pm

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.

Getty Images

Twitter spat turns into fundraising opportunity

By Rex HoggardMay 25, 2018, 6:30 pm

Country music star Jake Owen, along with Brandt Snedeker, has turned a spat on Twitter into a fundraising campaign that will support Snedeker’s foundation.

On Thursday, Owen was criticized during the opening round of the Web.com Tour’s Nashville Golf Open, which benefits the Snedeker Foundation, for his poor play after opening with an 86.

In response, Snedeker and country singer Chris Young pledged $5,000 for every birdie that Owen makes on Friday in a campaign called NGO Birdies for Kids

Although Owen, who is playing the event on a sponsor exemption, doesn’t tee off for Round 2 in Nashville until 2 p.m. (CT), the campaign has already generated interest, with NBC Sports/Golf Channel analyst Peter Jacobsen along with Web.com Tour player Zac Blair both pledging $100 for every birdie Owen makes.

Getty Images

Noren so impressed by Rory: 'I'm about to quit golf'

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 25, 2018, 5:33 pm

Alex Noren won the BMW PGA Championship last year, one of his nine career European Tour victories.

He opened his title defense at Wentworth Club in 68-69 and is tied for fourth through two rounds. Unfortunately, he's five back of leader Rory McIlroy. And after playing the first two days alongside McIlroy, Noren, currently ranked 19th in the world, doesn't seem to like his chances of back-to-back wins.

McIlroy opened in 67 and then shot a bogey-free 65 in second round, which included pars on the pair of par-5 finishing holes. Noren walked away left in awe.

"That's the best round I've ever seen," Noren said. "I'm about to quit golf, I think."

Check out the full interview below:

Getty Images

Bubba gets to drive dream car: K.I.T.T. from 'Knight Rider'

By Grill Room TeamMay 25, 2018, 4:42 pm

Bubba Watson is a known car aficionado.

He purchased the original General Lee from the 1980’s TV show “Dukes of Hazzard” – later saying he was going to paint over the Confederate flag on the vehicle’s roof.

He also auctioned off his 1939 Cadillac LaSalle C-Hawk custom roadster and raised $410,000 for Birdies for the Brave.

He showed off images of his off-road Jeep two years ago.

And he even bought a car dealership near his hometown of Milton, Fla.

While recently appearing on the TV show “Jay Leno’s Garage,” the former “Tonight Show” host surprised Watson with another one of his dream cars: K.I.T.T.

The 1982 Pontiac Trans Am was made famous in the ‘80s action show “Knight Rider.”

Though, Bubba didn’t get to keep this one, he did get to drive it.

Bubba Watson gets behind the wheel of his dream car—the KITT from Knight Rider from CNBC.

Getty Images

Cut Line: USGA readies for Shinnecock 'mulligan'

By Rex HoggardMay 25, 2018, 3:26 pm

In this week’s Memorial weekend edition, the European team adheres to the Ryder Cup secret formula, the USGA readies for the ultimate mulligan at next month’s U.S. Open and a bizarre finish at the Florida Mid-Am mystifies the Rules of Golf.

Made Cut

Cart golf. When the U.S. side announced the creation of a Ryder Cup task force following the American loss at Gleneagles in 2014, some Europeans privately – and publicly – snickered.

The idea that the secret sauce could be found in a meeting room did stretch the bounds of reason, yet two years later the U.S. team emerged as winners at Hazeltine National and suddenly the idea of a task force, which is now called a committee, didn’t seem so silly.

To Europe’s credit, they’ve always accomplished this cohesion organically, pulling together their collective knowledge with surprising ease, like this week when European captain Thomas Bjorn rounded out his vice captain crew.

Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harrington and Luke Donald (a group that has a combined 47-40-13 record in the matches) were all given golf cart keys and will join Robert Karlsson as vice captains this year in Paris.

Perhaps it took the Americans a little longer to figure out, but Bjorn knows it’s continuity that wins Ryder Cups.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

The USGA’s mulligan. The U.S. Open is less than a month away and with it one of the most anticipated returns in recent major championship history.

The last time the national championship was played at Shinnecock Hills was in 2004 and things didn’t go well, particularly on Sunday when play had to be stopped to water some greens that officials deemed had become unplayable. This week USGA executive director Mike Davis was asked about the association’s last trip to the Hamptons and, to his credit, he didn’t attempt to reinvent history.

“Looking back at 2004, and at parts of that magnificent day with Retief (Goosen) and Phil Mickelson coming down to the end, there are parts that we learned from,” Davis said. “I’m happy we got a mulligan this time. We probably made a bogey last time, maybe a double bogey.”

Put another way, players headed to next month’s championship should look forward to what promises to be a Bounce Back Open.

Tweet of the week:

Homa joined a chorus of comments following Aaron Wise’s victory on Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson, which included an awkward moment when his girlfriend, Reagan Trussell, backed away as Wise was going in for a kiss.

“No hard feelings at all,” Wise clarified this week. “We love each other a ton and we're great. It was a funny moment that I think we'll always be able to look back at, but that's all it really was.”

Missed Cut

Strength of field. The European Tour gathers this week in England for the circuit’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, and like the PGA Tour’s marquee stop, The Players, the event appears headed for a new spot on the calendar next year.

As the PGA Tour inches closer to announcing the 2018-19 schedule, which will feature countless new twists and turns including the PGA Championship’s move to May and The Players shift back to March, it also seems likely the makeover will impact the European Tour schedule.

Although the BMW PGA currently draws a solid field, with this week’s event sporting a higher strength of field than the Fort Worth Invitational on the PGA Tour, it’s likely officials won’t want to play the event a week after the PGA Championship (which is scheduled for May 16-19 next year).

In fact, it’s been rumored that the European Tour could move all eight of its Rolex Series events, which are billed as “unmissable sporting occasions,” out of the FedExCup season window, which will end on Aug. 25 next year.

Although the focus has been on how the new PGA Tour schedule will impact the U.S. sports calendar, the impact of the dramatic makeover stretches will beyond the Lower 48.

Rules of engagement. For a game that at times seems to struggle with too much small print and antiquated rules, it’s hard to understand how things played out earlier this month at the Florida Mid-Amateur Championship.

In a story first reported by GolfChannel.com, Jeff Golden claimed he was assaulted on May 13 by Brandon Hibbs – the caddie for his opponent, Marc Dull, in the championship’s final match. Golden told police that Hibbs struck him because of a rules dispute earlier in the round. Hibbs denied any involvement, and police found no evidence of an attack.

The incident occurred during a weather delay and Golden conceded the match to Dull after the altercation, although he wrote in a post on Twitter this week that he was disappointed with the Florida State Golf Association’s decision to accept his concession.

“The FSGA has one job, and that’s to follow the Rules of Golf,” Golden wrote. “Unfortunately, there’s no rule for an inebriated ‘ex-caddie’ punching a player in a match-play rain delay with no witnesses.”

Because of the conflicting statements, it’s still not clear what exactly happened that day at Coral Creek Club, but the No. 1 rule in golf – protecting the competition and the competitors – seems to have fallen well short.