There is always something special when a player wins the LPGA Tour for the first time. The joy, the relief, the surprise, the overwhelming sense of achievement: These emotions and countless others bubble like a fire hose in the moments after the last putt. You feel it; You share it; you feel yourself tearing apart as if it were the final scene from “The Notebook” or “Field of Dreams”.
What many fans don’t see are the gauntlets who drive through after a win.
First there is the Greenside TV interview. Before she goes to the scoring, in which all the numbers on the card are double-checked, a winner stands in front of a camera – often covered in a kind of congratulatory liquid that has just been poured on her head – and answers a few how-are-it- Feel questions from TV talent on site.
Then it goes quickly along the autograph line, where children, around 70-30 girls to boys, hoist hats and hoist flags over the rope line of the gallery so that the winner can sign. She would stay longer if the officer didn’t withdraw her to the 18th green for a trophy handover. Unless it is a larger one, the network coverage is switched off until then. But the moment is still being captured by television cameras and dozens of cell phones held up like toasts at a royal dinner.
Next up are the photos that look like strolling the red carpet at the Oscars. “Hold up the trophy … Now kiss the trophy … Now hug the trophy and look into the camera.” breaking through for the first time.
From there, the player with the trophy in hand is taken to a sponsors’ meeting either in the clubhouse of a nearby hospitality area for a thank you and a round of applause.
Then it goes to the media center or the interview area, where the new winner, after giving the performance a few minutes to marinate, answers some deeper questions, often deep insights into her struggles and doubts, an insight into life before victory and her outlook after.
We saw it a year ago when Sophia Popov stunned the world by winning the AIG Women’s Open and becoming the lowest player to ever win a major championship. Popov tearfully spoke of the hardship of the past five years; how she struggled with her health and a misdiagnosed case of Lyme disease; how she’d considered quitting the game and gone so far as to look for graduate school programs; how her mother, a former Stanford competitive swimmer, encouraged Sophia to give her game another year, put everything into her diet and exercise and exercise regimen, and see how things play out. Popov recounted all of this and smiled tearfully as she answered each question.
We saw it again last Sunday when 11-year-old veteran Ryann O’Toole, arguably the fittest player on the LPGA Tour and undeniably one of the most popular, made the Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open their first win with a 64 at the end.
“Words can’t describe what I’m feeling right now,” said O’Toole of her 228th career start on the LPGA Tour. “I still can’t even – it seems very surreal and definitely a dream come true. I can’t believe it took so long to win but it’s finally here.
“To go into the weekend and take pictures of what I was doing, I think I stayed in the moment because I didn’t even think about shooting 8-under [on Sunday]”She said.” I honestly have the feeling it was one shot after the other. There were moments when I went to the bathroom and there I’m sitting alone and it’s quiet and I am [saying to myself]”Okay, don’t think about anything else, just go back to the upcoming tee.” Or I use my directions book to distract myself, bring myself back to the present and not overtake myself. “
Then she took a moment to look back on her years as a successful amateur and college player who won on the Symetra tour but failed to find the winner on the LPGA tour despite some bottlenecks and a long career.
“As a kid, I dreamed of being number 1 and dreamed of going out and being that athletic golfer who just spiced up the game,” said O’Toole. “Then, you know, life doesn’t go that way. You start to push and doubt and ask yourself: will my time ever come? Do I have the ability to achieve this? Will the stars align? Because that’s how I felt.
“But I think last year’s whiplash and the uncertainty brought about this motivation [to me] for this year that we stabilize our normal schedule and things like that. Things are going well.
“You know, I think you come to a point in your life where you sit here and talk, okay, I’m getting married in December and okay, my clock is ticking, I want to have kids. How long will I be out here? I thought this year might be my last year. I do not even know. I haven’t even announced that yet. I kind of played it by ear.
“I think I just let go of the ‘I have to do something, I have to do’ mindset and just accept that life is more, there is a future with other things, just kind of [allowed me to] get out of here.
“I’m Ryann in many ways and not just Ryann the golfer.”
Then O’Toole, like all champions, signed a mountain of pins for the volunteers, staff, clubs and sponsors before she picked up her golf bag and a winner of the LPGA tour went into the next week, the next event, the next stage of life. A career milestone that, like all first-time winners, she will never forget.