Ryann O’Toole: Exclusive mastery interview

Saturday at the jtbc Founders Cup at the Marriott Desert Ridge in Phoenix, Arizona, was a long one. Friday’s second round needed to be completed due to rains on Thursday, the cut needed to be made and the remaining 83 players re-paired and sent on their way.

And one pairing in particular caught my eye: Carlota Ciganda, Ai Miyazato and Ryann O’Toole and three completely different styles of play. Ciganda is a bomber, Miyazato with a slow, languid golf swing that couldn’t possibly hit it as far as she does and O’Toole, the California surfer who brought her natural athleticism to the game.

It was a great show and after, I had an opportunity to catch Ryann for a quick interview. She was very thoughtful and shared quite a lot about the mental side of the game and her swing philosophy: 

So thanks very much. Bill Rand with Eye On The Tour.com. I interviewed you a couple of years ago — I look at the mastery side of the game.

Right.

And that time, I caught you on a really bad day.

That’s all right, I remember.

But today was one of those days where you really held it together in spite of a bunch of really strange things.

Yeah, exactly. Putts were not falling for me today and I felt like — all I kept getting all day long was left-to-righters all day. I’m like, gosh, I just can’t seem to find the high side of the hole. The front side I was finding it; it seemed faster on the front. And then I think the greens on this side — two different golf courses — played slightly different. So I think that just threw me a little bit. And then towards the end, I started trying to guide it. 

Are you working on anything in particular with your putting?

No. Putting’s been great. So today was just an off day. I think, like I said, greens were — seemed faster than during the rest of the week on the front side. I hit them a foot or two further than I wanted and so through my breaks. And then I get on this side and it’s slower and I think I just got — I didn’t get the touch on the front side and then the confidence and I came back here and it’s slower and everything’s trying to get to the hole.

So I think just go on the putting green just to see putts fall again. Work on left-to-righters just to get that confidence back and go out tomorrow and give myself opportunities as far as striking it.

Do you work with a putting coach?

Yeah, I do. Jorge Parada [at TPC Sawgrass]. I’ll probably call him and just ask for a drill or something. Or he may ask me to send him some video, but most likely, he’ll tell me to do a couple of my drills that I have, and then go from there.

Gotcha. You’re one of the most fascinating stories out here. That’s why I followed you all day long…

I appreciate that.

…I love watching you play. You know, this whole story of going from a natural surfing athlete to playing on the LPGA tour is just a great story. How do you feel it’s going at this point?

It’s getting better. I put a lot of hard work into it. I definitely had to find my way in it. I think everybody has a different way of getting here and contending. It’s different. It’s not — out of all the other sports that I’ve done, this is the hardest by far. And, yes, I love it for that.

But, you know, I’m fast tempoed by nature. I’m a fast tempo natured person; I talk fast, walk fast, swing fast and sometimes you have to control that out here. That’s what I’ve learned is the struggle for me as far as — you know, when you get excited, I get faster. And well, that isn’t always great for a golfer.

So what do you do when you get excited when a big wave’s coming? Is it the same?

Nooo. Like you just — you can go with it. Yeah, there’s times when your heart might start pumping because the waves get big and you’re getting pummeled by them and you have to control your breathing a bit more because you have to keep paddling out and go under them.

You know it’s similar out here, but when you get frustrated out here you can’t just push harder. You have to kind of take a step back. And I think that’s a big learning process.

It really is. I told you I played on the Champions Tour Monday qualifying…

Yeah.

…and, so, I know exactly what you’re dealing with. But I gotta tell you, for you, that tempo doesn’t look too fast.

No, it works for me. There’s a lot to be said for just being able to strike it solid. And for a long time I’ve just been working on my swing. I just had a natural move at impact; I get stuck and flip. And the quicker I got, the more stuck I got. And you know, to have to see the ball go left and right, you can’t play golf that way. I think mentally you lose it.

That’s what you were doing when I followed you last time, didn’t really know where it was going.

Yeah, didn’t know where it was going. And those are the days you just fear, and then it just creates this fear inside you that you step up and you have no confidence. And sports psychologists are like, pick your target, see it, go. And it’s like, “Oh, sure, that would be great if I could hit the ball there. Then that’s perfect.

So how do you manage that what that happens? Because that’s the big question, right?

Well, it’s a lot of swing work. To be honest, I’ve managed that by getting myself in a better position in the golf swing and I’ve —  eliminating a side of the golf course. So that’s a huge factor.

So what are you hitting now, a fade or a draw?

I’m trying to start — I’m going to end up being a fader of the ball which I prefer now. I hit it long enough, I don’t need the draw. Seeing the ball start left and draw is a really scary shot to me. I’d rather shank it.

[Laughing] No, don’t say that! I know you don’t mean that.

To start left and hot over the left side, you can’t play it! You can start the ball as far right as you want and you’re going to pull it even further left, so…

Who’s your swing coach?

Jorge.

Oh, Jorge. He does both?

He does everything, yeah. Great short game guy. Great with the swing. So he’s done wonders to my game. And he’s honed into what works for me, what works for someone with my tempo, my long arms. And, you know, he’s just been a great team player. He’s helped me figure out what clubs work best for me. I’ve tried to find anything that’s the stiffest possible at the tip [of the shaft]…

Really?

Yeah, I don’t want to feel anything done there. I want it to be — I don’t want to be able to flip it at the bottom. So the stiffer it is for me…

You won’t flip.

Yes. The better it is; the club will hold.

Right. So you’re swinging the clubhead and that’s what you’re looking for for that?

I don’t want to feel it up there. So I want it to feel as “boardy” as possible, so that way, if I do flip it, I won’t get that huge left miss. You know, it might draw a little bit, but I’d rather see the ball start going right.

I noticed you had a lot of nice lag in your swing…

Yeah.

…even at that tempo, but it didn’t look like there was any flipping going on.

No, it’s much better. So, I’ve learned to use my hips in the correct way rather than spinning out. I’m now learning to generate it more in an upward, through-the-ball motion and that’s been allowing me to actually get rid of that congested feeling that I had at impact.

For my readers, what do you mean by, “through-the-ball” motion? Playing with your body, your hips?

Yeah. With my hips. Really trying to feel my right hip high through impact. So that’s moving in an upward direction and through the ball. If my right knee starts collapsing, then my body slows down, then my hands pass and I flip it. So if I could really turn that right ankle in and pivot off of it, that really helps me.

Right. Any thoughts on how to time it up between the turning of the hips and the arms coming down?

No, I think that’s impossible. To be honest, a lot of coaches talk about doing it and — the only thing I think you can do is, you know, chop your swing a bit. You know, someone like Inbee Park can really time the backswing. And she can get it up there and have a bit of a lift. But then her speed is at that point where she waits and brings it down. Stacy Lewis, same thing. Ai [Miyazato], same thing.

But I think someone that starts swinging it a bit harder — like if you told Carlota [Ciganda] to wait for it, no way. Her hips are going. So for players like us, there’s no sequence. It’s just making sure that you clear the hips out of the way and not into the ball.

So that there’s a place to swing.

Correct. I mean there’s always a time that you’re not leaving your hands up there and completely out spinning, but you need to make sure that your hands are staying out in front of you. You know, your right elbow is out in front of you and your not stuck behind you. But I’m not back there taking it back and waiting for my arms to drop and then rotating.

Well, no. That wouldn’t work for you because you’re a natural athlete.

No, it wouldn’t work. So, I don’t want to lose that speed in my swing.

So how much to you think that you’re able to play athletically in this or are you stuck in the strictures of golf.

No. It’s like I’ve been out here for five years but I wish this was something that I did when I was a junior golfer. I mean, I started late. Trying to find who you are as a player happens later on, I think.

So, no. I think this year is going to be a good year. I think — I’m better than I ever was and now I think it’s just sifting through the stuff that happened in the past years and getting the confidence back of just, who I am and go out and play.

I tell you, it looks really good.

Thank you.

Really, really good.

I appreciate that.

It’s very athletic. You’ve got a nice motion through the ball. It’s like — there’s nothing contrived about it…

Thanks.

…which is why I like following you. So keep up the good work! Because I’m going to be out there watching.

I appreciate that. Thank you. Have a good one.

Thank you, Ryann. Have a good rest of the week.

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