GEELONG, Australia — It was already ground breaking, but the ISPS Handa Vic Open ended up being earth shattering, too. At least it did for the equally well-paid two champions to emerge from this mixed-gender collaboration of the European Tour, the LPGA, the PGA of Australia and Australian Ladies Professional Golf. Only five events into his rookie season, 27-year-old Scot David Law can now call himself a European Tour champion. And Celine Boutier of France can do likewise on the LPGA Tour, early in only her second year as a full card-holder.
Reflecting perhaps the difficulty in setting-up any course for both men and women—a succession of tight pin positions on the final day were a lot more accessible for the male pros—the winning scores ended up 10 shots apart. Law’s closing eagle on the par-5 18th on the Beach Course at the 13th Beach Golf Club not far from Melbourne took the former Scottish Amateur champion to 18 under par and a one-stroke advantage over a pair of Australians, Brad Kennedy and Wade Ormsby. Boutier’s eight-under aggregate was two strokes better than two more Aussies, Sarah Kemp and Su Oh, as well as England’s Charlotte Thomas. Both winners earned $165,000.
Law’s victory was ultimately the more dramatic of the two. Standing on the 16th tee, the Aberdonian (a protege of 1999 Open champion Paul Lawrie) was 15 under and three shots behind the long-time leader, Ormsby. But that was soon to change. In the space of 30 minutes, Law made a birdie on the 16th, then struck a hybrid to 12 feet on the final green and holed the eagle putt. All before Ormsby made a disastrous double-bogey 5 on the par-3 17th. The roles were suddenly reversed.
“My aim was to finish 3-2-4 [all birdies],” said Law, who shot a final-round 66. “My caddie and I reckoned that would get me a top-three finish. All I was trying to do was beat Brad. We had been competing hard for two days so that felt like a reasonable target. But that shot to the 18th was the most important of my life. It has changed my life really.”
Perhaps even more commendably, Law had earlier called a penalty on himself when his ball moved as he addressed it in semi-semi-rough just off the ninth fairway. His reaction was more positive—birdies on each of the next two holes.
Boutier, too, had some stellar moments down the stretch. Locked in battle with Oh in the final group—Kemp had finished much earlier with a best-of-the-day 65; Thomas not much later with a 69—the Duke University graduate made a 25-foot birdie putt on the short par-4 15th just after her playing partner had lipped out for eagle. Boutier then made 10-footers for par on the 16th and 17th to preserve her advantage. As a result of those telling and timely putts, the safe par she made on the last a formality as she capped a closing even-par 72.
“I’m so excited,” was Boutier’s understandable reaction. “I’ve been working really hard for the past two years, and I’m just so happy that I was able to get my first win. I’m happy, too, with the way I handled myself today. I was struggling a little bit in the beginning, but I just held on and kept fighting until the end.”
There is nothing new in that, of course. Despite much success in her amateur career (she was a member of the French sides that won the 2010 and 2011 European Team Championships and the Duke team that lifted the 2014 NCAA crown), Boutier initially found life as a professional a lot more stressful. But since working with swing coach Cameron McCormick of Jordan Spieth-fame, things have rapidly improved.
“At the beginning, I was just super nervous, stressed and anxious, and I kept missing cuts,” says the 25-year-old, only the second Duke player to win on the LPGA Tour (joining Brittany Lang), and the fourth golfer from France (but first since 2003). “I was focusing too much on results, and I didn’t feel like I belonged out there. Now I do.”
Law also knows a bit about perseverance. And heartache. Now the proud parents of a daughter, Penelope, he and his fiancée, Natasha, endured the agony of a still-born child two years ago.
“When you go through something like that, you realize how fragile life is,” Law says. “I’m just so grateful that we got the support we did. It was unbelievable. I went back to play two weeks after it happened and, honestly, it was probably six weeks too early. We were both still in a pretty bad way. But I had to play, and I knew that the longer I put it off, the harder going back would be. That first week, in particular, was horrendous.”
Less than a year later, Law won the 2018 Scottish Challenge in his 100th start on the European Challenge Tour, where he had lingered for five years. That victory, however, sent him into the top-15 money winners. And there he stayed until the end of the season, advancing to the European Tour. Finally.
“I think that it’s only natural you begin to have some doubts,” he says of his earlier struggles. “I knew I was good enough to play and be competitive at a higher level, but when you keep getting knocks you start to wonder if you’ll ever get the chance. It’s not something you really want to think about, but there comes a point when you can’t ignore it any longer.”
And so to the celebrations. Law’s joking plan, living down to every Scottish stereotype, was to “sink around12-15 pints,” while Boutier predictably went with “champagne, French of course.”
Some things never change. You can put men and women together on the golf course, but sometimes they just have to go their separate ways.