Most people wouldn’t call a season worthy of garnering ACC Rookie of the Year honors a disappointment, but Celine Boutier does.
Boutier—a sophomore whom her head coach Dan Brooks called a perfectionist—played in all 11 of Duke’s tournaments last season, finished tied for sixth at the ACC Championship and finished tied for fourth at the NCAA Championship. But at the end of the season, she still felt like something was missing.
“I didn’t play as well as I hoped,” Boutier said. “My long game has been really good but I wasn’t really scoring well because of my short game. It was really frustrating for me because I felt like I had the game to win, but didn’t make the scores that corresponded to my game.”
After finishing in the top five of two more tournaments this season, Boutier finally met her lofty goals this weekend. The Montrouge, France native led No. 3 Duke to a 21-stroke victory at the Bryan National Collegiate at Bryan Park Golf and Enrichment Center in Browns Summit, N.C., and claimed her first individual title as a Blue Devil.
Boutier finished with a 54-hole total of even-par 216 after rounds of 72, 71 and 73 on the 6,386-yard, par-72 Champions Course to earn a one-stroke win that was long overdue.
“It’s just really awesome that it’s finally coming and my hard work is finally paying off,” Boutier said.
Boutier’s final-round 73 helped the Blue Devils secure the gaudy margin of victory despite brutal conditions. Golfers battled very cold temperatures and sleet at the start of the round, and no team broke 300, but Duke was able to triple its lead and cruise to victory because of its resilience. The Blue Devils finished with a three-day total of 18-over par.
Freshman Yu Liu—who has finished in the top 10 in all six of her starts—and senior Laetitia Beck overcame the weather to finish tied for third at four-over-par, and Boutier was able to hold off Clemson’s Ashlan Ramsey to earn the win by hitting 13 fairways on the day.
“She was just very solid from tee to green with really difficult conditions,” Brooks said. “I thought she handled the wind and cold very well. She’s a very hard worker and she asks a lot of herself. Her standards are very high, and that’s made her a great player.”
Boutier’s experience playing in Europe likely gave her an advantage against her competitors. The Frenchwoman competed in the 2013 RICOH British Women’s Open at St. Andrews and made the cut, finishing in a tie for 56th despite dealing with the severe wind gusts and rain that seem to define the event.
It was also Boutier’s first time playing in an LPGA event, meaning that she got a first glimpse into how the most decorated athletes in her sport conduct themselves on and off the course.
“It was [really good] for me to compare my game to the best players in the world, and making the cut was the best thing I could have hoped for,” Boutier said. “I’ve been playing in British events for four or five years now, and the weather is always really windy and rainy, so I know how to adapt really quickly. It definitely helped me in this tournament. Keeping the ball low was really helpful for me.”
Although she had a successful freshman season, Boutier felt there were still aspects of her game that needed improvement—namely distance from the tee.
The scary part—for her competitors, at least—is that Boutier is starting to see her added length affect her scoring. Boutier has finished in the top 12 in her last five starts, as she is capitalizing on the birdie opportunities that come with hitting more than 11 fairways per round via her increased driving distance.
“When I got here, the courses were so long for me so I really had a hard time adapting to it,” Boutier said. “I usually hit it straight and am in the fairway, but I’ve been working on hitting it farther and with more power for the last two years. I feel like I really gained some distance and it definitely helped me. That’s been the biggest improvement.”
Boutier’s recent results have coincided with Duke’s best performances of the season as a team. The Blue Devils have now claimed two consecutive individual and team titles—winning the tournaments by a combined 31 strokes—and look ready to earn more accolades when postseason play begins April 17.
“The field [this weekend] wasn’t really strong—there was only one other top-10 team—so for us to feel great about our performance, we needed to have a good margin of win, and I saw it,” Brooks said. “Twenty-one shots is a good-sized margin. When you have a possibility of winning a national championship, it’s because you have many individuals who can win individually. We’ve developed into that sort of team.”