Former Golf Channel reality show star in contention midway through 2011 U.S. Women’s Open July 8, 2011 By Stuart Hall

Ryann O'Toole (center) gets help with a ruling during Friday's second round, where she carded a 1-over 72 and stands at 1-under 142 through 36 holes of the 2011 U.S. Women's Open. (John Mummert/USGA)

Colorado Springs, Colo. -- Ryann O'Toole is creating her own big break at the U.S. Women's Open.

While her name on the championship’s leaderboard may bring a quizzical who is that? reaction, avid followers of the Golf Channel may know O’Toole as the intense, uber-competitive contestant with fashion-model looks from last year’s Big Break: Sandals Resort reality series.

I don’t think I came off as mean, I was just a little competitive, joked O’Toole, who was the fifth contestant eliminated. I look at it like that show ‘Survivor’ where not always the best player wins. It’s a game, things happen, it’s golf.

In a championship that is testing players’ mettle with the usual USGA set-up, weather delays and altitude adjustments, O’Toole is holding her own at The Broadmoor’s East Course.

After not starting a hole on Thursday due to inclement weather, O’Toole played 32 holes on a marathon Friday and tidied up her second round early Saturday morning. At the halfway point, O’Toole is at 1-under 141 in the 66th Women’s Open.

On Saturday morning, O’Toole, working on six hours of sleep, missed putts of 3 and 5 feet for birdies at the sixth and eighth holes, and three-putted the ninth.  

I’m bummed, she said. My caddie said ‘You’re tied for third, relax, and I’m like ‘No, I want to be one, so I am a little angry that I let some go, but there are still two rounds left.

If reigning champion Paula Creamer says she would take even par and sit at home at this point, then O’Toole should remain positive.

Hard to imagine is that a reality show could teach life lessons, but O’Toole, 24, of San Clemente, Calif., says the show’s two-week taping, which aired last year, changed her game for the positive.

Case in point: O’Toole was well into her second round when play was suspended for 66 minutes early Friday evening.

[The show] taught you to hit shots in the moment, she said. I would warm up on the ‘Big Break’ and then would sit for 45 minutes until the camera crew got ready and then I got to hit one shot. So it taught you how to deal with situations where you go from resting to having to perform.

O’Toole, an LPGA rookie who graduated from UCLA in 2009, said the show also helped with name recognition.

It helps, especially when you’re around Paula Creamer and Yani [Tseng], she said. All the crowds are cheering their name, but then someone might recognize you and ask for your autograph. It just builds you up.

O’Toole does not especially need a reality show to build her brand. Three wins in two years on the LPGA Futures Tour validate her existence on this stage. Having finished seventh on the Futures Tour’s money list in 2010, O’Toole is splitting time on the two tours in 2011, currently owning conditional status on the LPGA.

While O’Toole has two top-10 finishes on the Futures Tour, she also has no finish higher than 32nd in four LPGA starts. O’Toole tied for 57th two weeks ago at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, opening with a 3-under 69 and closing with a 71 in her first major appearance. She also was the medalist at her Women’s Open sectional qualifier at Daly City, Calif.

O’Toole began playing at age 13, and attended UCLA, where she was a two-time All-Pac-10 honorable mention selection and enjoyed moderate success as an amateur.

Yet she is unfazed that her name is surrounded on the leaderboard by Karrie Webb, Cristie Kerr and Creamer — all three former U.S. Women’s Open champions.

I know I have worked hard and have come a long way in my game, she said. I knew this course, coming out here on Monday and Tuesday, set up great for me game and [all] I needed to do was keep my nerves under control and just play my game.

Lizette Salas, a four-time All-American at Southern California and a friendly collegiate rival of O’Toole, who is even par through 36 holes, certainly believes O’Toole’s name is worthy of being in contention.

I'm not surprised, Salas said. She's always been a good player. When she's on, she's on. I'm glad to see she's up there, too.

At the end of the weekend, O’Toole may no longer be known as the pretty face who competed on a reality show, but instead recognized as a national champion.

Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer who has previously contributed to USGA websites.