Ryann O'Toole is used to working hard to prove herself. After turning pro in 2009, the now 29-year-old was selected as a 2011 U.S. Solheim Cup team captain's pick during her rookie year, a move that raised a few eyebrows. But that year, O'Toole made 11/15 cuts including two top-10s, went 2-0-2 at the Solheim Cup, and made almost $193,000. Since then, she has had mixed results on the LPGA and Futures Tour, actually falling back to Q-School in 2014. Her best finish in the majors was a T9 at the 2011 U.S. Women's Open, and now she's clamoring at the opportunity to erase 2014 from the record books and carve out her path the LPGA Tour.
How would you rate your performance on the LPGA in 2015?
2015 was a good growing year for me. I started off the year still struggling a little bit — I was striking it well, I just wasn’t scoring. I think halfway through the year I started figuring things out and pieces were falling, birdies were dropping, and I gained that confidence. Looking back at the year, I was really proud. I mean, 2014, I lost my status and had to go back to Q-School, so to finish top-70 in 2015, it’s a good stepping stone.
What was that like for you, having to basically start from scratch after falling backwards?
Let’s just say I don’t ever want to go back to Q-School. [Laughs] I got my card originally through the Symetra Tour, and where Q-School is held is not a course I particularly love. I learned to love it and I learned to play it, which was I think a good growing experience in itself, but it’s just a stressful week. To have to go back and have your career on the line and not know what tour you’re going to play on, it’s awful. During the year, when you’re stressing about making a cut…all of a sudden that’s what 2014 was. The cut line became this object versus the big picture of things. Now looking back, having to go to Q-School, it’s like ‘Oh, the cut doesn’t look so bad now that I’m trying to get top-20 [to make it to the tour].’ In the long scheme, it was good. It was a good experience and I think it made me stronger. No regrets.
So now that you’ve vowed to never go back to Q-School and have had a solid season through 2015, what are some of your goals for this year?
People say, what’s your goal in 2016 and I just say I put the next couple of weeks in front of me. In the Bahamas, my track record there isn’t good, the course was tough for me — I missed the last three years cuts, in a row. This year, I went out and was playing much better. To finish the week at 7-under was night and day from what I had been doing in the past, so I obviously see the growth in my game, see the confidence. I’ve been trying to make mini goals along the way, and going out and playing decent there was one of the goals. I’m just trying to build a foundation, whether that be top-30s and then top-20s and then top-10s and then contending, and letting the win take care of itself, I’d rather build that solid foundation so that I have that strength.
You were a captain’s pick for the 2011 U.S. Solheim Cup team as a rookie. That must have been quite the honor. Was that intimidating for you, joining those other great American golfers?
Competing for your country is an incredible experience. Being picked for Solheim, I felt great. I felt lucky. I felt really lucky that Rosie [Jones] saw in me what I saw in myself, and she believed in me and she felt like she needed my skills for the team. And I went out and did what I could. You know, it created a lot of controversy, and that created a lot of question and doubt in my own mind which I struggled with and had to kind of overcome. But at the end of the day, that tournament is awesome. It’s probably one of my favorite ones that we’re able to play in, and I can’t wait for the next one I get to play in.
Speaking of playing for Team USA, what’s your take on golf being back in the Olympics?
I think it just creates a wide range of viewers. Even though golf is worldwide, I just think it puts us on a world level again, and like I said, to be able to compete for your country — we don’t get to do that very often, you know? We don’t ever get to compete for a team, other than Solheim or Ryder Cup for the men, so to be able to go out and represent a country let alone a team, it’s fun. You know, golf is so individual: it’s all about yourself, your caddie, your coaches, your little knit team. but you never really get to come together with a few people and play together. I think that’s going to be a great experience. I look forward to the time that I get to play in that.
And what about a women’s Masters, is it time for the LPGA to have something like that?
Of course! I don’t think I could ever turn down something that could elevate women’s golf. I would love to play at Augusta. I’ve played before, just randomly, but I’d love to have a tournament there — to be able to test our skills on that level. It doesn’t even have to be at Augusta, but I’d love to have that history in the making of a stage that we consider our Masters. Whether ANA can be that, I don’t know. Evian’s its own major, which is cool. We get that fifth major which is great. If a sponsor wants to come up and provide that purse, for us, it’s a stepping stone. We’re trying to elevate our purses, we’re trying to elevate our tour, and I think to take any opportunity would be great.
So what’s an opportunity that you can take, personally, to grow the game of women’s golf?
I think at the end of the day, you have to be a representation of yourself. We are our own business, we are our own product. How do you want to sell your product? I think if you can be the best you can be, that’s one thing, but I think it’s just recognition. Of course everyone wants to see how far you can hit it — like ‘wow the guys can hit it 360,’ whatever — but at the end of the day, we do things better than the average public, and it’s being able to sell the sense that ‘Come watch us because a) you’ll get closer, b) you can relate to our games a lot more, and learn a lot.’ And I think that is a good selling point.
I think it’s interesting, like women’s tennis: for a while they bandwagoned off the men’s circuit, but they went on strike and they said, ‘Look, we’re not playing if you don’t raise our purses.’ I really admire that. I wish we had more of that strength out here to say, ‘Look, we are worth more. We are worth just as much as the men are, and we want to play for that.’ I think like anything, sometimes when the price tag gets higher, the demand gets greater.
What’s your biggest takeaway from all of your ups and downs in golf over the last five years on tour?
I think golf has made me worldly. You travel the world, you get to see all kinds of different cultures, you get to be around all different people. It gets you out of this bubble that I think a lot of people, unfortunately, can get stuck in, whether it be choice or circumstance. It allows us to see the world and see how good we really have it. It makes me appreciate what I do have. It allows me to have a conversation with you, like this, and to have a voice and to be strong. I think that not just once instance has ever given me that, it’s just the whole growth of golf itself, from junior golf to now.