Patience is a prerequisite to winning. You hear it every week. Players talk about staying “in the moment,” and hitting “one shot at a time.” What they’re really saying is that if you let your mind race ahead, if you envision an outcome somewhere in the future, you tend to forget the task at hand.
A year ago, Celine Boutier, the defending women’s champion at the ISPS Handa Vic Open, had some help remaining in the moment. And it came from a travel mistake.
“That week I was a little distracted because I had left two of my wedges back at home,” Boutier said on the eve of returning to 13th Beach Golf Links in Victoria, Australia for the second edition of this two-in-one event where the European Tour men’s event and the LPGA Tour event are contested at the same venue at the same time for the same prize money.
As if the format, where the first two rounds are contested on two courses and there are two cuts (after the second and third rounds) before the men and women alternate tee times to determine both winners on Sunday, were not distracting enough, Boutier said, “I didn’t have my wedges, and I had two courses to learn, so I didn’t even think about winning. I thought, let’s get this week in and focus on the next week when I have my wedges. That actually helped me not get ahead of myself, to take it day by day. I didn’t think about outcome. I just had to get each round in.”
Boutier has a history of not getting ahead of herself. The 26-year-old was born in suburban Paris with her twin sister. Her parents are first generation Thai immigrants and, even though she understands some Thai, having listened to her parents speak it to each other at home, Celine is French through and through with a quick, magnetic smile and a joie de vivre that makes you want to learn more about her. She is a happy conversationalist who leans in to listen and is thoughtful in every answer she gives. She seems wounded when time prohibits her from learning more about people she’s with, whether it’s a fan who wants an autograph or a fellow competitor she wants to know better.
That was the case at the Solheim Cup where Celine was one of Europe’s most outstanding rookies, going a perfect 4-0-0 in the matches.
“I didn’t know what to expect but I thought I would be emotionally overwhelmed with everything,” she said of her experience at Gleneagles last summer. “But it helped that we got there so early. I got there on Sunday night and the first matches weren’t until (the following) Friday. We had four days to settle in and I got to spend more time with the team. I hadn’t really spent much time with them before. I knew them but I didn’t know them personally. By Thursday, I felt very close to everyone.
“It also helped that my first Solheim Cup was in Europe. It was better to have people pulling for me. I also felt very comfortable with Georgia Hall. I really trusted her throughout our matches.
“On the course (during the Solheim Cup) I was surprised by how comfortable I was. When I had a putt to win a match, I felt (pressure) but I was most nervous after I my matches were over, and I was watching everyone else.
“Solheim Cup was such a bigger stage. But the fact that you get to share those experiences and those memories with teammates, and the special connection you have with them forever after that, it’s really incredible.”
Boutier doesn’t realize the rarity of this mature perspective. But everything about her has always been a little different.
“Golf is something that is not particularly popular in France,” she said. “So it makes sense that there aren’t that many professional golfers from France.”
They exist of course – Victor Dubuisson, Karine Icher, Thomas Levet, Patricia Meunier-Labouc, Jean van de Velde, Gwladys Nocera and others – but French professional golfers are like English downhill skiers: it’s not the first thing that comes to mind when you mention a country’s athletes.
“My dad got me into the game,” Boutier said. “He is a very passionate player, so he took my younger brother, my twin sister and me to the course with him one day and that is how it took off. This was a family activity for us.
“I did not like golf for a couple of years. My sister didn’t like it at all and didn’t go anymore so Dad took my brother and me and we joined the (local) junior school. It was once a week for an hour. I was doing a bunch of other activities so I wouldn’t say I took it very seriously. Then when I was like 11 years old, I started liking it more and more.
“I was not an early bloomer,” she said. “I feel like I didn’t get better until later on. I was 17 years old when I got an invitation to play AJGA. My first was the Annika Invitational. I played four (junior) events in America. That’s when I got invites from colleges.
“I didn’t get good early so for me college was the way to go. I wasn’t good enough to turn pro at 18. I had the option of continuing school at a high level, which is not possible in France, or coming to America. I think it was very good decision.”
She certainly got better at both golf and life while at Duke University. Boutier was part of the NCAA National Championship team in 2014 and she won the European Ladies Amateur Championship in 2012 and the British Ladies Amateur in 2015. In 2014, she was the Women’s Golf Coaches Association Player of the Year, the same year she was ranked the No.1 woman in the World Amateur Golf Rankings.
Meanwhile, she learned another language. “We have English classes in France but it’s like American kids taking Spanish,” she said. “It’s not until you’re thrown into a class at Duke where everyone is speaking English that you have to learn. It was pretty taxing. You definitely learn.”
She also gained confidence as a player. “My first year (at Duke) was when I was trying to prove myself,” she said. “It was great, though, because I had teammates challenging each other to get better every day. I was having to fight for a spot (on the team) every week. But then, when you went to tournaments, every week you knew you had a chance to win.”
She graduated with a degree in psychology and a minor in economics and loves to talk about both subjects, among others. She also won twice on the Symetra Tour in 2017, along with eight other top-10 finishes.
Now, she tees off in Victoria as the defending champion and a Solheim Cup stalwart who already has two top-10s in the first two events of 2020. But as she is quick to point out, “My life hasn’t changed that much. On the course, I’m definitely more comfortable. I was able to reach a lot of my goals (in my first two years on the LPGA Tour). Now, I’m just trying to get better and have another good season ahead of me.”