Celine Boutier welcomes pressure when she plays golf. The rising Duke junior didn’t realize, though, that one of her greatest challenges in qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Open would come before arriving at the course.
In retrospect, it was a trip gone comically wrong, with Murphy’s Law in play until the moment she stepped on the course at The Heritage at Westmoor, near Denver. Boutier arrived a few days early in hopes of adjusting to the altitude and judging the effect it would have on her ball flight – but a mid-May snowstorm had the course closed until 4 p.m. of the day before the 36-hole sectional qualifier. So, Boutier, 20, was stuck at her hotel, alone, and without a car.
And when qualifying day arrived, she couldn’t find a cab for her early tee time – so she had to call the owner of her hotel and have him drive her to the course. Not the easiest situation to navigate for a native French speaker who is, by her own admission, quiet and shy in unfamiliar circumstances.
But once she got to the course, everything settled down for the native of Montrouge, France. Despite caddying for herself, she was able to post the low score, turning in rounds of par 72 and 70 to claim medalist honors and qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst.
“It was kind of a mess,” Boutier said. “I was really stressed that morning, but then when I got there, there was a little delay, so it was fine, it worked out well.”
During her two years at Duke, golf has never been the hard part. As a freshman, Boutier was the ACC rookie of the year and finished tied for fourth at the NCAA championship. This season, she won ACC player of the year as well as several national player of the year awards, finishing tied for second in the final tournament of the year as the Blue Devils won the national championship as a team, their sixth overall and first since 2007.
True to form, Boutier hit 17 greens in regulation during the final round, carding four birdies. Thriving under pressure, indeed.
“Celine, she knows how to repeat in golf,” Duke assistant coach Jeanne Cho said. “That’s just a huge thing. She knows how to repeat shots. She is very consistent, way above average as far as that goes.”
Accuracy and mental toughness are other strengths, according to Cho. Boutier works on the latter daily while at Duke; she began especially early on, when she wasn’t as comfortable speaking and writing in English and was lacking in confidence in social situations.
Luckily, though, Boutier had Cho, who made a similar transition, growing up in France before coming stateside to play golf at Florida.
“It’s difficult because even though you know the language, you don’t get the jokes, you don’t get the slang, you don’t get the cultural differences. Socially, it can be a challenge,” Cho said. “And then just also not having your family near you, that’s challenging. She has had to become so independent so early and so quickly. In a way, it’s a good thing, because it forces you to jump in with both feet.”
While the golf skills have always been there, the difference in Boutier’s comfort level from her freshman year to her sophomore year was significant – “Oh my gosh, a huge difference,” Cho said – as she let her fun personality show through and even took on a bit of a leadership role for the national champions. Her personal drive on the course is contagious, and her teammates soaked in the benefits.
Although teammate Yu Liu decided last week to leave Duke and turn professional after her freshman year, Boutier said she expects to stay all four. Playing professionally is her dream, yes, but she wants a degree. Being an amateur hasn’t held back Boutier’s – she competed in her first LPGA event last year, making the cut at the British Open. And earlier this summer, she was in Karuizawa, Japan, previewing the course for the women’s world amateur team championship, which she plans to compete in as a member of the French national team.
More immediate, though, the challenge at Pinehurst looms. This time, she’ll have a caddie who knows the course well, and she won’t have to worry about a freak snowstorm. She can just focus on golf.
Cho, who played in three U.S. Opens herself, expects Boutier to be competitive. For her part, Boutier is going in with an open mind.
“I’m just going to try to play my best,” Boutier said. “For me, it’s more comparing my game to theirs and just trying to figure out where it stands.”