French-Thai Celine Boutier absolutely blazed her way around Wildfire Golf Club on Thursday, carding a bogey-free 8-under 64 and holding the lead after 18 holes of the 2019 Bank of Hope Founders Cup.
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)
- Boutier’s first-round 64 is the second-lowest round of her LPGA Tour career; she shot a 63 in the third round of the 2018 Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic
- This is the first time in Boutier’s LPGA Tour career that she has held the lead following any round, with the exception of her victory at the 2019 ISPS Handa Vic Open
- She hit 13 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens
- Boutier is in her third season on the LPGA Tour; she became a Rolex First-Time Winner at the 2019 ISPS Handa Vic Open
- This is Boutier’s fifth event of the 2019 LPGA Tour season; she won the ISPS Handa Vic Open and has two other top-25 finishes
- She is competing in her second Bank of Hope Founders Cup; she missed the cut in 2018
- She is a 2016 graduate of Duke University with a degree in Psychology and Economics; she was a member of the 2014 NCAA National Championship-winning team
Rolex Rankings No. 9 Jin Young Ko (65)
- Ko’s first-round 65 is ties for the second-lowest round of her LPGA Tour career; she has shot 64 three times, including in the fourth round of the 2019 ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open
- She hit 12 of 14 greens and 14 of 18 fairways
- Ko is in her second season on the LPGA Tour; she won the 2018 ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, and also won the 2017 LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship as a non-Member
- This is Ko’s fourth event of the 2019 LPGA Tour season; she finished second at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open and tied for third at the HSBC Women’s World Championship
- She is competing in her second Bank of Hope Founders Cup; she finished T46 in 2018
Rolex Rankings No. 486 Na Yeon Choi (65)
- Choi’s first-round 65 is her best round since she shot a 64 in the second round of the 2016 ShopRite LPGA Classic
- Her first-round 65 is her best round ever at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, besting three rounds of 66 (second and fourth rounds in 2015, third round in 2016)
- She hit 13 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens
- Choi is in her 12th season on the LPGA Tour; she has nine career victories, including a major win at the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open
- Choi missed most of the 2018 LPGA season due to a back injury; this is her first event since a first-round withdrawal from the HUGEL-Air Premia LA Open in April 2018
- She is competing in her eighth Bank of Hope Founders Cup; she finished T2 in 2012 and has one other top-10 finish
- She was No. 2 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings for 36 weeks in 2012 and 2013
Rolex Rankings No. 258 Charlotte Thomas (65)
- Thomas’s first-round 65 is the lowest round of her LPGA Tour career, besting the 68s she shot in the first two rounds of the 2019 ISPS Handa Vic Open
- She hit 11 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens
- Thomas is a 2019 LPGA Tour rookie; this is her fifth career LPGA Tour event, joining the 2019 ISPS Handa Vic Open and 2017, 2018 and 2019 ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Opens
- This is Thomas’ third event of the 2019 LPGA Tour season; she finished T2 at the ISPS Handa Vic Open
- She played on the Symetra Tour in 2017 and 2018, with a best finish of second at the 2018 Sioux Falls GreatLIFE Challenge
- She is a 2011 graduate of the University of Washington, with a degree in Mass Communications; she was a member of the 2016 NCAA National Championship-winning team
- She was born in England but spent much of her teenage years in Singapore
Rolex Rankings No. 483 Alana Uriell (65)
- She hit 10 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens
- In her professional debut two weeks ago, Uriell won the Symetra Tour’s 2019 SKYiGOLF Championship on March 10
- Uriell is a 2019 LPGA Tour rookie; this is her fourth career LPGA Tour start and first as a professional, joining amateur appearances at the 2016 and 2017 Walmart NW Arkansas Championship and the 2018 Evian Championship
- She is a graduate of the University of Arkansas
Rolex Rankings No. 219 Nanna Koerstz Madsen (65)
- Madsen’s first-round 65 ties for her second lowest round score of her LPGA Tour career; she has shot 65 two other times at the 2015 Ricoh Women’s British Open, and 2018 CP Women’s Open
- She hit 11 of 18 greens and 8 of 14 fairways
- Madsen is in her second season on the LPGA Tour; she recorded her career-best finish T15 at the 2018 Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic
- This is Madsen’s third event of the 2019 LPGA Tour season; she finished and T27 at the ISPS Handa Vic Open and T38 at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open
- She is competing in her second Bank of Hope Founders Cup; she finished T32 in 2018
- Xiyu Lin had a hole-in-one at No. 17, from 142 yards with a 9-iron; she wins a two-year lease for a 2019 Ford Ranger pick-up truck and finished the day in a tie for 46th at -2
- 2019 LPGA rookie Cheyenne Knight qualified for the tournament by firing a 63 in the Monday qualifier; she took advantage of her opportunity to play by shooting a 6-under 66 in Thursday’s opening round