Maguire, Boutier look to lead Duke women to seventh NCAA title

They’re back. All of them. For the first time in NCAA history, two national players of the year will compete in the same lineup. The lucky coach? Duke’s Dan Brooks, who, in an age of one-and-dones, managed to welcome back to Durham, N.C., 2015 POY Leona Maguire and Celine Boutier, who won the honor in ’14.

In addition to returning all five starters, Duke also welcomes a talented freshman from Italy, Virginia Elena Carta. It’s no wonder Golfweek has tabbed the Blue Devils as preseason No. 1.

See the complete preseason ranking

“We’ve a very strong team,” said Ireland’s Maguire, who was asked on a weekly basis over the summer if she planned to turn professional.

“My plan was always to come back,” she said.

Duke lost in the semifinals of match play last May at the NCAA Championship at Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Fla. The fate of the Blue Devils came down to a dramatic six-hole playoff against Baylor in which Maguire’s twin sister, Lisa, lost to fellow freshman Lauren Whyte.

Boutier, part of the victorious 2014 NCAA Championship squad, was more than a bit frustrated by that semifinal upset.

“I wanted to win again before I turn pro,” the Frenchwoman said of her 2016 plans.

Brooks said he takes responsibility for the team not winning a seventh NCAA title.

“My approach is always to build independence,” Brooks said. But the 30-plus-year coach learned last year in Bradenton that the new match-play format doesn’t particularly match his style.

“I think a coach can have a little bit more involvement in match play to the benefit of the team,” he said.

Over the summer, Maguire and Boutier squared off at the Vagliano Trophy, a biennial event that matches Great Britain & Ireland against Continental Europe. (Maguire won, 2 and 1.) Money can’t buy the intangibles that a friendly rivalry can bring to a team.

“Any time you can play against people every day that are the same standard as you,” Maguire said, “you’re always going to have to push against them. That’s huge.”

What Maguire admires most about Boutier, a senior, is her control with wedges and short irons. Actually, add putting to the list as well.

“I’d like to be able to putt as good as her,” she said. “Usually when she stands over a putt, it just looks like she’s going to make it.”

Brooks said that when Boutier came to Durham, he noticed the one ingredient that he says every future star must possess: She was hard on herself.

“That’s at the root of anybody that ever got any good at anything,” he said. “You have to constantly ask a lot of yourself and be dissatisfied when you’re not doing it. And then you have to get to where you’re kind enough to yourself to sustain the effort and the passion and the joy.”

Boutier has learned in recent years to be kinder to herself, to accept an error and move on to the next shot.

Brooks also made note of the strength she has gained in the weight room. When it comes to Boutier’s overall body of work, Brooks said she puts in as much time as anyone he’s ever coached. She’s the one you’ll find off by herself during practice in a quiet spot, getting the job done.

It’s a professional approach.

“Celine made a decision a long time ago that she was going to make it as a pro,” he said, “and I think that shows up in everything she does.”

In Maguire, Brooks sees a player who diligently approaches all parts of her game. She’s particularly focused on distance control, an area that Brooks says separates the amateurs from the professionals.

Speaking of pros, in July, Maguire finished second to American veteran Beth Allen at the ISPS Handa Ladies European Masters on the Ladies European Tour. Maguire won three times during her freshman year in college and posted a school-record 70.8 scoring average. She also won the Mark H. McCormack Medal as the world’s leading amateur in 2015.

“I’ve never known a player to think as well as she does on the course,” Brooks said.

Brooks’ definition of a successful season isn’t measured solely by hardware or scoring averages. He sees an even bigger picture.

“We have a lot of trophies around here,” he said. “I really just want to know that everybody on my team is getting better all the time.”

Winning, as they say, will take care of itself.

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