Farewell to Aquitaine and the Médoc golf course, hello to Normandy and Deauville. The Lacoste Ladies Open de France is moving this year to the very chic resort of the Côte Fleurie. From Thursday to Saturday, 108 participants will try to win the 32nd edition of the event, including the defending champion, Céline Boutier. The 28-year-old Francilienne, based in Texas, assumes the label of favorite that she also owes to her indisputable rank of No. 1 tricolor. Rather rare in France, the golfer accustomed to the American circuit (LPGA), twice winner of the Solheim Cup with the European team, confided in 20 minutes.
As defending champion, do you see yourself as the favorite of this edition?
I think, a little. As the French number 1, there is also a little more expectation. I’m also a partner with Lacoste, so that’s close to my heart. This is not necessarily a bad thing, you just have to know how to manage the situation.
After your victory last year, you spoke of a “special” moment. What does it change for you to play and win in France?
It’s the National Open, I had played it three or four times before without succeeding in winning it. Moreover, I play mainly in the United States and I only return to France for a competition twice a year. When I come back, I want to do well. It’s also nice to play in front of the French public. These are often good weeks, and winning last year made the week even more special. It was also the first professional tournament I had played as an amateur. So there is always a bit of emotion. And when you have already won this tournament, you want to win it again.
For a non-specialist, golf is a sport of concentration. Can we feel pushed by the public?
Yes, completely. When you manage to have a few people following, it helps, it’s more fun. Having people who appreciate our beautiful shots, our birdies, all that, is super encouraging.
This year, the tournament is played for the first time in Deauville. Is this an element likely to reshuffle the cards?
Yes, I think it changes a lot of things. Firstly because I’ve never played there and secondly because it’s a completely different place and setting from golf in the Médoc. I really don’t know what to expect. It’s going to be like a new tournament, with a slightly different formula.
You are the best French golfer, and in August reached 15th place in the world, the best ranking in history for a Tricolore tied with Victor Dubuisson. What inspires you?
Generally speaking, I don’t pay too much attention to rankings. It’s really more a consequence of our performances on the course and I’m focusing on that. But inevitably, it’s quite gratifying to say that we have been part of the history of French golf.
Despite the initiatives of the Federation, golf retains an elitist image, and we talk more about men’s golf than women’s. Do you feel this is changing?
This image remains very present. We ask to have the same respect as men. That said, it is something that is changing, slowly but surely. Especially in the United States, when we see the number of tournaments increasing, and the tournaments increasing their endowment. There is a little “shift” in people’s mentality, more respect and appreciation for women’s golf. But it takes time and I don’t know if we will one day achieve perfect equality between men and women.
Can certain sports inspire you in this direction, such as tennis or football in the United States?
Downright. But there are so many other sports that are in much worse positions than us. Inevitably, we aspire to better but I know that I am very lucky to be able to make a living from golf. Not all sports offer this possibility and it is something to be taken into account.
Do you feel that you inspire young girls, especially in France?
I hope it will be a consequence of my performance. What creates excitement and attention is having players who win tournaments, who make you want to watch their competitions. The Fed is doing a lot to help. When Victor Dubuisson was at the top and started playing Ryder Cups, we saw the enthusiasm around golf increase in France. That’s really what we need, more players who win on the PGA and the LPGA, who will inspire more people.
Yourself, did you have a model when you started?
I started when I was 7 years old. Inevitably, there was already Tiger Woods who was in top form. It was hard to ignore it! Among the girls, I watched a lot of Michelle Wie who “performed” very early on. It was quite inspiring. There is also Lydia Ko, also very precocious.
You have lived in the United States for ten years. Would you be the same golfer if you had stayed in France?
No. It made me grow a lot as a person and as a golfer. I knew many more styles of play, courses. It’s much more competitive and you have to improve your game. I had to learn to play on more types of grass and above all to adapt much more quickly. It also made me discover another culture much more based on performance and ambition.
You travel throughout the year. Do you ever feel tired?
Every week it’s a different tournament and we start from scratch. It’s hard to be bored. Of course, it’s a tiring lifestyle. We are exhausted at the end of the season. You have to know how to manage yourself throughout the year to be able to give the best until the last tournament.
What tournament do you still dream of winning?
Honestly, I’d take any Major. But if I had to choose just one, Evian is a bit more special to me as a Frenchwoman.