I didn’t get very far with my scan of the Wegmans LPGA Championship leaderboard Thursday night. Played on the Locust Hill Country Club in Pittsford, New York, Ryann O’Toole, California surfer girl, was T1 and her name was the first one.
I have been an admirer of hers as I watched her first, get a grip on her fierce anger over bad shots and second, hone her swing into a classic specimen of a Tour swing. The diminished anger first became apparent at last year’s U.S. Open where she held it together and managed to finish 9th. That got her a berth as a Captain’s pick on the Solheim Cup team where she played great, finishing 2-0-2.
And then I had a chance to follow her for an entire round at the LPGA Founders Cup in Phoenix this year. She hit quality shots all day long. She had a bad 3rd and 4th round and finished well back at T75, but watching her ball flight and powerful, athletic swing made me a believer. So much so that I asked her for an interview after the round and she gave me a good, thoughtful ten minutes standing outside the scorer’s tent.
One of the things she revealed in “Ryann O’Toole: Learning To Know Herself,” was that she had just begun working with Dr. Bob Rotella, the sports psychologist of choice it seems for most of the PGA Tour. And they had a little conversation before Thursday’s round:
I spoke to Bob Rotella on the phone last night. His biggest thing with me is to try to get me to play in a sense that I do everything else. That being said like surfing or snowboarding, just kind of a free spirit a little bit. Don’t hold back.
He tries to get a little arrogant side to come out of me. He wants to keep me relaxed between shots.
After I hit the shot, kind of hit it and go find it. We will deal with it when we get up there rather than stressing on the way over there or complaining about the lie or what not. Before my round I also talked to Tripp Isenhour. He is someone who has worked under Bob forever. He is my go‑to man as far as translating what Bob has to say. He just said to me too, we’re working on things, like clicking my mind off every time I hit a shot, turn it off and keep going, letting it go, staying in the moment. I think that’s working out for me.
I got a taste of that “arrogant” side of her when I interviewed her and asked her admiringly if there was a better athlete on the LPGA Tour than her:
Uh, the cocky side wants to say no. But what makes an athlete is not just the physical, it’s also the mental. And I’d like to say — if there are mentally stronger players out here — is that to say that’s not going to be the same forever? No. And that’s what I’m working on.
Physically fit? I don’t think — there’s no one else out here that gives me a run.
I asserted that it wasn’t just the fitness as much as it was just her underlying athleticism:
Exactly. It also allows me to hit shots the other girls can’t hit and use imagination, but, when it comes to that mental side, that’s the side I’m perfecting and that’s where I’m still — as I’m out here, I still feel like a rookie. I mean I didn’t play in this event last year, so I still feel like a rookie.
Getting back to today’s interview, she was asked if her strategy was to stay conservative:
No, that’s actually been my goal is not to stay conservative. I feel like the last few events I’ve had rounds where I started to go under par, last week, I started birdie, birdie, birdie, and completely gave it away. I found myself getting protective and for what? So rather this time it was more the mindset of take one more [birdie], get another. So by getting the birdie train going, don’t try to protect it, because if anything I’m not just giving it back.
She was asked if this was “a little bit of uncharted territory for you at the top of a leaderboard at a Major,” and how she was going to approach the second round?
I don’t know, last year at the U.S. Open I was up in the ranks. I definitely can recall back on that and go, okay, where did I go wrong ? What did I do differently?
I just feel like it’s one day. I’ve learned so many times over and over again, take it as it comes. I just have to go out. I’m glad that I have an early start tomorrow. I can continue the roll that I’m on and just keep focused on what my goals were today and take it as it comes tomorrow.
From what I’ve seen, she certainly has the capacity to do that. She goes off the 1st tee at 8:21 Eastern, so we’ll be able to find out early how she was able to manage her new found consciousness.