The first time Celine Boutier heard a sports psychologist tell her she was experiencing mild panic attacks over the golf ball, she laughed. Surely this was a joke.
Instead, sports psychiatrist Michael Lardon offered a serious answer to the downward spiral that took Boutier from NCAA Player of the Year in 2013-14 to dead last at the 2016 NCAA Championship her senior year.
“I was supposed to turn pro that same summer and couldn’t break 85,” Boutier said.
What started out as a shot here and there her junior season turned into a full-blown disaster her final year at Duke. Boutier lost control of the clubface off the tee. She cried every day at the NCAA Championship and feared stepping onto the course.
Swing coach Cameron McCormick sent her to Lardon. Now, one year into her professional career, the Frenchwoman has locked up her 2018 LPGA card.
“I feel like this is going to be a good test for me psychologically,” said Boutier, “just to see if I can work through it – what I’ve been struggling with the past two years – to see what I can do out there.”
Boutier, 23, entered the final event of the Symetra Tour season in second place on the money list thanks to a pair of victories and two runner-up finishes. The final round of the Symetra Tour Championship, which was cut to 54 holes, at LPGA International was pushed back to Monday due to weather, but Boutier was one of five players who had mathematically locked up LPGA status for 2018 regardless of their finish in Daytona Beach, Fla. Boutier was tied for eighth after two rounds.
UCLA’s Erynne Lee will join Boutier on the LPGA as a rookie next season. The pair are similar in their tales of redemption and the fine line that separates success and desperation.
Lee, a former first-team All-American, thought 2017 might be her “last hurrah” if things didn’t end well. She had won the first tournament on the Symetra Tour in 2016 and had high hopes. But the 24-year-old plateaued and finished her rookie season 17th on the money list. The realities of life on the road hit hard.
“You don’t realize it’s not very glamorous on tour,” said Lee, who felt overwhelmed by the toll 2016 had taken on her mind, body and emotions.
So Lee and her father, Brian, decided a change was in order. Lee started the year on her own, with her boyfriend occasionally filling her dad’s role as caddie. Lee’s boyfriend, a former college golfer, was the opposite of dad in terms of attitude and offered a nice change of pace.
“You try to crack a joke with (Dad) on the golf course and it doesn’t work out,” said Lee, who was tied for 17th after two of the three rounds of the Symetra Tour Championship.
The time away made both father and daughter appreciate each other more. Brian came back, instilling the confidence and reassurance Lee needed to win twice in the span of four weeks.
Lee’s mother, Debbie, died of a brain aneurysm while Lee was a freshman at UCLA. She was the driving force behind Lee’s golf game, taking her to practice and researching golf swings on YouTube. Lee said her resiliency and determination comes from her mother, who owned a Vietnamese restaurant in Washington.
What would mom say about her oldest daughter realizing a dream?
“Probably like any other ‘Tiger Mom,’ she’d be like ‘That’s expected of you,’ ” Lee said. “In her way of showing it, she would obviously be proud.”
Both Boutier and Lee have learned to appreciate that they play a game for a living. Boutier said she was too dramatic, too focused on golf.
With her form lost on the brink of her professional career, Boutier was forced to re-imagine her identity. She’s grateful the crisis happened when it did.
“I feel like I had to take a step back and realize that it’s not the end of the world,” said Boutier, who never experienced anxiety in any other area of her life.
There were a couple of rounds toward the middle of the 2017 Symetra Tour season when Boutier played anxiety-free golf.
“I’m on the right track,” she said. “I don’t think I’m fully back yet. This is something I will work on for the rest of my career.”