The 25-year-old from Montrouge, France, became a Rolex First-Time Winner in February when she captured the ISPS Handa Vic Open in Australia. That win has proven to be a driving force behind Boutier’s renewed spirit on the golf course.
“It's definitely made me more confident in my game, my ability to win out there,” said Boutier, who speaks openly about battling through mental struggles during the end of her collegiate career at Duke University and her first two seasons on the Symetra Tour. “I feel like I was kind of lacking that confidence last year. Being able to get that first win on the first tournament was definitely helpful with that. I feel like also my game has been getting better and better, so I'm just super happy to be able to start the tournament this way.”
Nine-time LPGA winner Na Yeon Choi, playing in her first event since last April thanks to a chronic back injury, carded seven birdies en route to a 7-under 65. The 2012 U.S. Women’s Open champion is tied for second with four other players – two-time Tour winner Jin Young Ko, 2016 Olympian Nanna Koerstz Madsen and 2019 Tour rookiesCharlotte Thomas and Alana Uriell.
CHOI COMES OUT FIRING IN LPGA RETURN
Na Yeon Choi took a medical extension in April 2018 after aggravating a back injury while competing in the HUGEL-Air Premia LA Open. Today, she returned to the LPGA Tour after 11 months to sit one off the lead at the 2019 Bank of Hope Founders Cup at -7.
“I'm very happy back on tour,” said Choi, winner of the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open. “I needed some break, so I had a break and I did a lot of rehab to get stronger.” Choi said the time off from golf was a new experience for her, and she really enjoyed the opportunity to rest and travel on her own terms. After some time away, which included some solo trips to Germany, Croatia and Austria, the game called the 31-year-old back to the course.
“I didn't play golf for four, five months, and then suddenly I just woke up in the morning (and said), I miss golf,” she said. “I was waiting until I felt that I miss golf.”
This week, the Republic of Korea native has a newfound focus on having fun. “I didn't expect any good score today because this is first day for me,” said Choi, who credits legendary LPGA stars Meg Mallon and Beth Daniel with helping her accept that she needed to step away from the game. “I practiced hard of course, but like it's hard to tell how I'm going to shoot the first day. Less expectation I think always give you better result. I think that's really funny.”
URIELL PICKS UP WHERE SHE LEFT OFF
What a whirlwind two weeks it’s been for 2019 LPGA Tour rookie Alana Uriell. On March 10, the University of Arkansas graduate captured the Symetra Tour’s season-opening SKYiGOLF Championship, a win coming in her professional debut. The very next day, she made her way from south Florida to her hometown of Carlsbad, Calif., to participate in Media Day for the Kia Classic. Fast forward to March 21 and Uriell again finds herself right at the top of the leaderboard, this time in a tie for second after 18 holes at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.
“I think it's given me a lot of confidence coming into the LPGA having a win under my belt,” said Uriell, who carded seven birdies in her bogey-free 7-under 65. “I feel a little more at home out here so I don't mine letting loose and seeing what I'm capable of.”
With 54 holes remaining in the tournament, it is certainly too early to forecast a second victory for Uriell. But should she find herself in the winner’s circle come Sunday, she would become just the third player in LPGA Tour history to earn victory in her Membership debut. The most recent? Uriell’s fellow second-place player Jin Young Ko, who won the 2018 ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open in her first event as an LPGA Member.
SCHMELZEL DRIVES ON IN HONOR OF THE FOUNDERS
In celebration of the past, present and future of the game, the LPGA Tour this week unveiled a new brand campaign entitled #DriveOn. As the Tour’s Chief Brand and Communications Officer Roberta Bowman said, “Drive On is clearly rooted in golf, but it’s a bigger idea. It captures the power and potential in each of us and celebrates the hard work, focus, and tenacity that it takes to achieve our goals.”
The Drive On campaign initially launched with a 45-second film celebrating LPGA Tour athletes and all young women with a dream to achieve. Phoenix native and 2019 LPGA rookie Sarah Schmelzel is making her third career LPGA start this week and reflected on the impact the 13 LPGA Founders have had on her career.
“It's amazing,” she said after getting off to a hot start with a 5-under 67 on Thursday. “What the Founders have done for us is something we can never repay them for, to be able to stand out here and live our dreams and play in front of these grandstands and everything. It's amazing to see the opposite end of that where we have the LPGA*USGA Girls' Golf out here and getting to see them and be the media room and everything. I really think it's good for us and good for golf.”
Rolex Rankings No. 89 Celine Boutier (64)
Rolex Rankings No. 9 Jin Young Ko (65)
Rolex Rankings No. 486 Na Yeon Choi (65)
Rolex Rankings No. 258 Charlotte Thomas (65)
Rolex Rankings No. 483 Alana Uriell (65)
Rolex Rankings No. 219 Nanna Koerstz Madsen (65)