Less pressure, more kindness for Vu, Boutier in POY-caliber seasons

Less pressure, more kindness for Vu, Boutier in POY-caliber seasons
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NAPLES, Fla. – In a season riddled with parity and a record number of first-time winners, two players have emerged from the pack in a tightly contested duel for Player of the Year: Celine Boutier and Lilia Vu.

Boutier and Vu enter the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club each with four victories and separated by just 27 points in the season-long race for Player of the Year. Vu overtook Boutier at the top of the standings with her fourth win of the season on Sunday at The Annika. Points are awarded to players who finish inside the top 10, with 30 going to the winner and 12 for a runner-up finish; points are doubled in the five major championships.

Whether the biggest honor of the LPGA season should be determined by a points system, rather than a player vote like the PGA Tour utilizes, has been debated for years. For Boutier, who enjoys combing through statistics to analyze her own game, she appreciates having the season’s top honor determined by a mathematical calculation.

“I do believe in the points system because I think – sometimes you just can’t fight against points,” Boutier said Tuesday at Tiburon. “There is a system and you have to perform to be able to win.”

Vu, on the other hand, has gone out of her way to avoid looking at the numbers and admits to not understanding how the POY points are awarded. She says the only updates she’s received on her standing have been through her encounters with the media. Ahead of the tour finale, Vu says she’s trying to ignore where she resides or what she needs to do.

“I don’t really know how any of the points systems works, to be honest,” Vu said. “I just kind of hear and you guys tell me. Yeah, so I’m not aware.”

While Vu and Boutier differ in how they’re approaching the year’s highest honor, how they’ve come to be in position for the award has followed a common path, beginning the year with a new mindset.

Vu rode into her fourth campaign as a professional on the heels of a bounce-back season in 2022, in which she racked up eight top-10s but no wins. It was a vast improvement over her 2019 rookie season, in which she made one cut in nine starts and was relegated to the Epson Tour. Vu learned through that challenging stretch that she was putting too much pressure on herself to try and win.

“I’m really my own enemy,” Vu said about how she treats herself on the golf course. “I’m balancing between the line of trying to be perfect on the golf course and then not being too content where I’m at. It’s a fine line that I keep going between.”

Vu says to be a little kinder to herself, she tries to focus on what’s right in front of her, staying in the moment, and focusing on the next shot at hand. Her new mindset propelled her to the winner’s circle for the first time at the Honda LPGA Thailand in February. She picked up her second win – and first major title – at the Chevron Championship in April and then added a another major victory, at the AIG Women’s Open in August, to become the first American since Juli Inkster in 1999 to win two majors in a single season. It was after that win that Vu said she first entertained the possibility of being named Player of the Year. She added her fourth win of the year at last week’s Annika event to continue a season she best described as “wild.”

“I was really hard on myself last year,” Vu said Tuesday, “so I’m really excited to play this year with a different mindset that I’ve learned and changed over the past year.”

That’s something Boutier believes was only made possible by her own attitude change. And like Vu, Boutier was coming off a strong 2022 LPGA season, in which she recorded 12 top-10s but no wins. She realized she’d forced too much on herself, trying to make a victory happen, and like Vu needed to change her approach. When Boutier got an early win in March at the LPGA Drive On Championship it eased the pressure she’d been placing on herself. The victories then came flooding in from all over the world: her native France (in the major Evian), Scotland and Malaysia.

“This year I just felt more comfortable in contention, which I didn’t necessarily feel last year, and just a little bit less pressure to have to win,” Boutier said Tuesday. “I just feel like I just take the opportunities as they come and I don’t necessarily try to force as much, which has been a little bit of a difference.”

Should Boutier earn the Player of the Year award she would make history as the first Frenchwoman to be recognized with the title and if Vu were to win, she would become only the third American to be named Player of the Year since Beth Daniel in 1994 and first since Stacy Lewis in 2014.

Vu might not know this, since she says she doesn’t pay attention to the system, but Boutier likely does: with the 27-point differential between the two, Boutier must win this week to have a shot at the POY trophy. If she wins the CME and Vu finishes solo eighth, the two will tie in the points race. If she wins the CME and Vu finishes T-8 or worse, Boutier takes POY. Any other scenario and the tour’s top trophy is Vu’s.

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