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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ryann O'Toole? Why Not?

When Rosie Jones picked Ryann O'Toole as a Captain's Pick for the American Solheim Cup team, many people reacted in disbelief. How could Rosie pick a rookie with only 7 starts and 2 Top 10s over other more experienced players?

Ryann O'Toole LPGA photoI can truthfully say that I would have been surprised if Rosie hadn't picked Ryann. Since the debate is still going on, let me tell you why Ryann was perhaps the best possible choice Rosie could have made.

First, think about the facts I mentioned in the first paragraph -- the ones that everybody seems to think are against Ryann. She's a rookie and has only been able to make 7 starts on the LPGA Tour. Two of those are Top 10s. Excuse me, but doesn't that mean nearly 1/3 or her starts are Top 10s? (For the perfectionists out there, that's about 28.6%.) How many other players have made that kind of showing? And those two Top 10s were in the U.S. Open -- arguably one of the hardest tournaments under normal conditions, and this year's weather made it even harder -- and in the Safeway Classic, where she knew she had to play well if she hoped to get Rosie's attention at all. I'd say those stats are a pretty good argument for choosing her.

Any player will tell you that adjusting to life on tour (any tour) takes time. Ryann missed only one of those seven cuts. And yet, with only 6 tournaments where she earned Solheim Cup points, she managed to make 18th on the list. You realize that Vicky Hurst -- the other Captain's Pick, and one which everyone seems to agree with -- had 14 starts this year (twice as many as Ryann) with only one Top 10 (half as many as Ryann, which the Tour lists at 7.1%). And Vicky only made about twice as many points as Ryann (138 vs 64.5), although Vicky had the full two years to qualify. Does that sound like Vicky is playing that much better than Ryann?

Other factors indicate that Ryann is doing noticeably better than Vicky this year. Did you realize that Ryann is ahead of Vicky on the money list? Ryann is at #37 with $165,477.00, while Vicky is at #38 with $160,825.00. (Remember, Vicky has played twice as many tournaments this year.) Ryann has a better scoring average -- 72.04 in 25 rounds (#24 on Tour) vs Vicky 's 72.71 in 41 rounds (#45 on Tour). And while Ryann has just 10 points toward Player of the Year (T30), Vicky has only 6 (T35). And again, I have to remind you that Ryann has played half as many events as Vicky this year.

Ryann is also the top American in the ROY race (209 points), second behind Hee Kyung Seo (475 points). Again, Seo has played 13 events vs Ryann's 7.

While Ryann has only had 7 LPGA starts, she's also played 3 times on the LPGA Futures Tour. She has one win and another Top 10, with winnings of $20,336.00. That puts her at #18 on their money list. Jennifer Johnson has 4 starts; she's #14 with $23,535.00, and Tiffany Joh is #5 with $37,566.00. No other player above Ryann has less than 12 starts, and no player with only 3 starts is any higher than #91 -- Nannette Hill at $5,357.00.

And I don't think you can underestimate the advantage her appearance on GC's Big Break gave her. Participants talk about how that show is harder than any event because you sit for hours, then they say "You're up," all the cameras come on, and you have to make one shot that determines whether you make it to the next show or not. Players from the show who have made it to the Tour -- players like Kristy McPherson, James Nitties, and Tommy Gainey, to name a few -- have proven that they have the necessary toughness to survive, even if it takes them more than one try to succeed. And while Rosie didn't mention this specifically, she did point out that Ryann's performance under pressure when she needed to perform was what finally swayed her decision.

All of this is to say that Ryann O'Toole isn't the "wild pick" that so many commentators are making it out to be. It'll be fun to see just what she does at the Solheim Cup.

BTW, Ryann's average drive is 266 yards, putting her #4 on the LPGA and a mere 3 yards behind #1 Yani Tseng. I doubt that any of Ryann's critics -- male or female -- hit it that long. Maybe there's just a bit of jealousy involved...? Smiley