Celine Boutier breaks through at Vic Open for first LPGA title

GEELONG, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 10: Celine Boutier of France pretends to take a selfie while holding her trophy on the 18th green during the ISPS Handa Vic Open at 13th Beach Golf Club on February 10, 2019 in Geelong, Australia. (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images) Kelly Defina/Getty Images

Celine Boutier breaks through at Vic Open for first LPGA title

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Celine Boutier breaks through at Vic Open for first LPGA title

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Many players likened the feel of the Vic Open to a top amateur golf event, with fans walking down the middle of fairways and circling the greens. From the koala bear on the first tee to the dogs out for a walk at 13th Beach Golf Links, the tournament had a throwback feel to it.

But make no mistake, the Vic Open is one of the most progressive events on the golf calendar.

Sunday fans were treated to not one but two victors over the Beach Course, with Scotland’s David Law securing his first European Tour title with eagle on the 18th hole and Celine Boutier claiming her maiden victory on the LPGA. This marked the first year the European Tour and LPGA co-sanctioned the unique event that features men and women playing on the same course in alternate groups for equal prize money.

“I have heard so much about this event before from the girls playing in it, and I was super excited to come this year,” said Boutier, who closed in 72 for a two-shot victory at 8-under 281. “It exceeded all my expectations.”

While most of the LPGA’s top-ranked players skipped the Vic Open, there’s hope that as the purse grows (currently the smallest of the year at $1.1 million) and it perhaps gains a more desirable spot on the schedule (it’s the start of four in a row), it will become a can’t-miss event.

What’s more, that it will be replicated on U.S. soil.

“Bummed to not be playing in the final round of @VicOpenGolf,” tweeted rookie Jaclyn Lee, “but it was great to be a part of something bigger than myself.”

Aussie Sarah Kemp double-bogeyed her first hole Sunday but shook it off and poured in nine birdies to post a 7-under 65 and take a share of second along with compatriot Su Oh and Charlotte Thomas. Katherine Kirk made it three Aussies in the top 5.

“It was one of those days you almost can’t remember what happened,” said Kemp, who knocked in five consecutive birdies at Nos. 4-8. “It just all happened so fast and everything was going to plan. I tried to stay patient. I knew that I was kind of having a good score at the end and I got a little nervous coming down 18, but yeah, just lucked out.”

Thomas wasn’t the only rookie in the top 10. Alabama’s Lauren Stephenson skipped her final semester of college after earning her full LPGA card in November. She closed with a 68 to take a share of eighth.

Kim Kaufman came into the final round in control, leading Boutier by two strokes. It looked as if Kaufman might sprint to her first LPGA victory after an opening birdie, but that quickly faded. Kaufman instead went bogey-bogey-double on Nos. 3-5 and ultimately struggled to a 78 and share of eighth.

“Just missed some putts,” Kaufman said, “but I know the difference in my feel of it, it’s a little tentative, and how to deal with that. The more we get in that position, hopefully the more you get to experiment and figure it out.”

Boutier won the Ladies British Amateur, European Ladies Amateur and was NCAA Player of the Year in 2013-14 while at Duke. But the road from top amateur to LPGA winner’s circle was anything but smooth for the Frenchwoman.

As a senior at Duke, Boutier cried every day at the 2016 NCAA Championship and feared stepping onto the course. She finished last that week.

“I was supposed to turn pro that same summer and couldn’t break 85,” she recalled.

Swing coach Cameron McCormick sent Boutier to sports psychologist Michael Lardon, who told her she’d been experiencing mild panic attacks over the golf ball.

Boutier worked through the anxiety that caused her to lose control of the clubface, to the point that she finished third on the 2017 Symetra Tour money list to earn full status for the ’18 LPGA season.

“I don’t think I realize right now,” Boutier said of her latest breakthrough. “But no, I’m super excited with the way I handled myself. It’s not always easy to be able to get your first win.” Gwk

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