Adventure leads Duke's Boutier to NCAA contention

Duke's Celine Boutier during the second day of play at the 2014 NCAA Division I Women's Championship in Tulsa, Okla.

Women's Rankings »

RankNameSchoolRating
1SooBin KimWashington  68.13 
2Alison LeeUCLA  69.06 
3Leona MaguireDuke  69.52 
4Nanna MadsenS Carolina  69.75 
5Dana FinkelsteinUNLV  69.83 

Women's Team Rankings »

RankNameRatingEvents
1Washington 70.58 
2South Carolina 70.87 
3UCLA 71.23 
4Duke 71.35 
5Stanford 71.38 

TULSA, Okla. – Even on a classic A.W. Tillinghast course, with a majestic city skyline rising over wind-tousled trees, Tulsa is a far cry from the south of France. Celine Boutier can attest.

Two years ago, the Duke sophomore was living in Toulouse, a city of nearly 500,000 on the banks of the River Garonne, and working exclusively with swing coach Karine Mathiot. Boutier (pronounced BOO-tee-a) had finished high school but was well behind in the American college-selection process – one that moves at an absurdly fast pace for student-athletes. So Boutier moved from her native Paris and took an academic sabbatical to hone her game, compete around the European amateur golf circuit and choose the right school.

As a member of the French national team, Boutier had played in a handful of events around the U.S., usually traveling with national-team members. Most notably, she had won the AJGA’s Annika Invitational in January 2011, which annually draws one of the top-10 strongest fields (of foreign and domestic players) in girls golf.

Head coach Dan Brooks knew the name. The first time he watched Boutier, she came from behind to win an AJGA title. As she continued to play well, Brooks continued to follow.

Duke assistant coach Jeanne Cho was aware, too. A former French national player, Cho learned Boutier’s name just by keeping an eye on her old team. Cho’s French background opened up a line of communication with Boutier, and Cho and Brooks got Boutier to Durham, N.C.

It was a rough transition for Boutier, who struggled with a language barrier and extreme shyness during her first semester of college. Cho became a confidant. When together, they still speak almost exclusively in French, but Boutier has opened up more in the past year because of Cho’s influence. Her English has taken hold, but Cho never recalls Boutier struggling as mightily as Boutier might lead others to believe.

“Celine is very hard on herself by nature,” Cho said.

Shedding some of those tendencies as she settled into a different culture is part of what got Boutier to this point. She is No. 7 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings after having won three of her past four starts.

“I think she has eased up on herself a little bit,” Brooks said, “and that’s one of the keys to her success.”

Through two rounds at the NCAA Women’s Championship, Boutier is even par. She has been Duke’s top scorer in Tulsa as the Blue Devils chase a sixth national title. Two poor shots on par 3s have cost Boutier dearly. She made a triple bogey at No. 6 in Round 1 and a double bogey at No. 14 on Tuesday. Boutier birdied Nos. 15 and 16 in the second round to get back to 2 under but hung her drive at the 18th in the trees and closed with another double.

In those moments, she is quiet and fierce-looking. It adds to her intrigue, and so do the French murmerings of anger. Sometimes it just comes out better in French, Cho reasons.

“As reserved and as shy as she might seem,” Cho said,” she is not. She’s funny; she has a lot of personality.”

Cho has a lot of work ethic, too. She asks the right questions in practice rounds, Cho has observed. Her focus on the non-glamorous aspects of game improvement is a result of sheer discipline.

What Boutier lacks in power off the tee, she compensates with a deft touch around the greens.

“A lot of players will put the time in, but they won’t put time in putting, chipping and pitching,” Brooks said.

Boutier does, and therefore often is able to make up strokes around the greens. She has added a club’s worth of distance through the bag since arriving at Duke.

Boutier is so well-traveled, she can’t even decide on the best place she has visited. Paris and Toulouse were nice, though as she explains, it’s not like a Frenchwoman visits the Eiffel Tower with any regularity (Boutier has been twice) or hits the beaches on the country’s southern coast. What Boutier really remembers about all this travel is she never felt pressure to hit the ball far until she began playing more in the U.S. It was something she had to address.

“I’m not really going to miss it far left or right,” she said. “I’m just trying to work on getting my swing more efficient and hit it farther. Getting more power is my main goal.”

Swing changes made earlier this year, plus a more serious commitment to fitness, increased her power, and suddenly Boutier became a favorite for the national title. A year ago, as a freshman, she was third in scoring for Duke and tied for fourth in her first national championship (where the team was runner-up) at year’s end. Then she promptly returned home to France for the summer.

Between NCAA regionals and nationals this year, Boutier flew to Colorado and won a 36-hole one-day qualifier for the U.S. Women’s Open, to be played next month at Pinehurst No. 2, a little more than an hour from Duke’s campus. Boutier caddied for herself in the qualifier, which is rare with such high stakes.

“It was my first try,” she said. “It’s very stressful because it’s 36 holes, but you have no idea where you stand throughout the rounds.”

When the national championship ends Friday, Boutier will make a quick scouting trip to Karuizawa, Japan to see the Women’s World Amateur Championship venue in advance of the September tournament. Mathiot will accompany her before the two make a stop in France, then return to Pinehurst.

Mathiot, who coaches the French national team, has been a somewhat regular visitor in Durham, but Boutier has consulted swing instructor Andrew Park, too. Park coaches LPGA player Karine Icher, also from France, as well as Boutier’s teammate Yu Liu.

All of this has helped extract Boutier from a once-thick shell. She has become college golf’s most notable Frenchwoman, and one of its most notable players in general. As Brooks notes, it’s sheer drive.

“She commands that ship,” he said. “She rises to the occasion.”

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