Baldry: O'Toole shows she was worth captain's pick

Ryann O'Toole of the U.S. celebrates a birdie putt on the 7th green during the afternoon four-ball matches on Day 1 of the 2011 Solheim Cup at Killeen Castle Golf Club on September 23, 2011 in Dunshaughlin, County Meath, Ireland. O'Toole and partner Christina Kim would halve the match.

Ryann O'Toole of the U.S. celebrates a birdie putt on the 7th green during the afternoon four-ball matches on Day 1 of the 2011 Solheim Cup at Killeen Castle Golf Club on September 23, 2011 in Dunshaughlin, County Meath, Ireland. O'Toole and partner Christina Kim would halve the match.


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DUNSANY, Ireland – The only time Ryann O’Toole looked off-kilter in her Solheim Cup debut came when her playing partner, Christina Kim, bumped chests with her off the side of the 18th green. Otherwise, she looped around Killeen Castle – a Jack Nicklaus design that might as well be in Ohio – on solid footing. No doubt Rosie Jones will sleep better tonight.

O’Toole and Kim found themselves 2 down with four to play in the afternoon four-ball session but clawed back to square the match against the more subdued pairing of Catriona Matthew and Sandra Gal. Half-points are sacred in this event, and Europe leads 4.5-3.5 after the opening day.

“She proved herself as one of Rosie’s picks; there’s no question,” Kim said.

The match featured 14 birdies between the four players, with Matthew pouring in four consecutive on Nos. 6-9 to build the 2-up advantage for Europe. Kim, who played in her too-cool-for-school shades despite the absence of sun, unleashed a memorable fist-pump on the 16th after pouring in a birdie to bring the match to 1 up. O’Toole followed with a dramatic birdie on the 17th, taking them to the par-4 18th all square.

“The fighter in me knows it’s do-or-die,” O’Toole said of her late-match heroics. “If we’re going to have a chance to win this match, I have to make it.”

Moments later on the 18th, O’Toole turned away from the green and buried her head on Kim’s shoulder as Gal putted for birdie to win the match. It meant too much to her to watch.

Looking at Jones’ afternoon pairings, one couldn’t help but figure it was best to put two struggling players together rather than separate them and possibly bring two stronger players down. If they managed to pull out a half-point, well, that’s a bonus.

O’Toole missed the cut badly in the three events that followed her captain’s pick in Portland, Ore. Her scoring average over those last six rounds was an abysmal 76.33. Kim has struggled throughout the season.

Still, Matthew knew better than to underestimate.

“I kind of had a feeling they’d probably come out and play well,” Matthew said. “Match play is different.”

As for O’Toole: “I don’t remember those three missed cuts.”

O’Toole’s father, Jamie, said his daughter felt better after watching players hit less-than-mediocre shots in the morning matches, which she sat out. As Ryann later said, “They’re human.”

Both of O’Toole’s parents walked inside the ropes all afternoon, and let’s just say she comes from good stock. Jamie, a chiropractor who doesn’t play golf, is sometimes mistaken for Ryann’s boyfriend because he looks so young. Her petite mother, Dana, looked smart in bright blue pants tucked inside a pair of tall boots. Even her daughter commented on the ensemble.

And while the O’Toole name certainly sounds Irish, the family can’t trace its lineage past Kansas City. Regardless of her last name, it will be difficult for the Irish crowds to embrace the young lass. The Europeans are quite bent on ending their drought; the U.S. has won the past three matches.

O’Toole’s long blond hair and toned frame makes her difficult to miss, though one spectator commented that she looked much shorter in rain pants. Those short skorts do tend to lengthen the legs.

She actually might eat more than any other player while on the course, rattling off a grocery list of snacks. A power bar, two protein shakes, a bag of nuts and two bananas keep her energized for 18 holes. Unless she’s playing through lunch, then she might nibble on Subway between holes.

“At dinners, I’m the garbage disposal,” she said.

O’Toole spends six days a week in the gym, for 60- to 90-minute sessions. She’d rather lift weights than anything else, but does track work at UCLA when she’s at home.

The rookie proved a powerful player in what turned out to be a birdie-saturated match. The Europeans finished the equivalent of 66 while the Americans posted a 65, with concessions.

“Maybe a half is a fair result in the end,” Matthew said. “Maybe.”

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