After a promising freshman year, Nebraska women’s golfer Vanessa Bouvet found herself struggling.
Despite recording the third-best stroke average ever for a Husker freshman in 2018-19, she opened her sophomore year with an 85th-place finish. Bouvet didn’t compete for the rest of the fall, and only competed in two more events.
The last event Bouvet did compete in that year was the Westbrook Spring Invitational, where she finished 26th with the second-best tournament total of her career. After that though, the rest of the season was canceled due to COVID-19.
This meant that she finished the year with six total rounds played and a worse stroke average than the year before. Bouvet has returned to form this year to begin her senior season, but said that having the drop off she did after a successful freshman year was “very frustrating.”
“I just put way too much pressure on myself and set my expectations way too high,” she said. “It’s good to have high expectations but I would just get so angry when I wasn’t meeting them when I needed to meet them.”
Bouvet wasn’t new to seeing inconsistencies, on and off the golf course. She was born in Damascus, Syria, but had lived in five different countries by the time she was 16. That included Venezuela, the United States, New Zealand and her current home, Brunei.
She described moving to new places as being like “going on a really long vacation,” and said that having to move so often was never a negative experience.
“Whenever we have to move it’s sad for a bit, leaving friends behind, but it’s always a new adventure and I’ve never hated anywhere we’ve moved to. I’ve always loved it, it was so pretty and I adjusted really quickly and always made friends very quickly,” she said. “I’ve honestly really enjoyed moving around and experiencing different cultures.”
Bouvet first started golfing during her time living in the U.S. in Houston. Her dad got her into it, and it took off from there. When it was time for college, she visited over 10 different schools, and finally picked Nebraska over Kentucky and Oregon.
The adjustment to Lincoln was harder than others she faced. It was her first time moving somewhere without her family coming along, and she also had to adjust to a different school system.
“I got homesick quite a lot freshman year and I would say I still do,” Bouvet said. “So it is tougher being away from family and what you’re comfortable with but I think I did a good job adjusting.”
None of those feelings kept her from having successful performances. She opened her Husker career by tying for third in a tournament and went on to have two more top-25 finishes and rank second on the team in stroke average.
After that year though, head coach Robin Krapfl retired and the team hired Lisa Johnson. That caused Bouvet to begin putting too much pressure on herself to prove her talent all over again.
“It was definitely a big change. I felt like I had to prove myself to her like, OK, I had a good freshman year, I want to prove to her that I’m the best and whatever,” she said. “My sophomore and junior year were definitely quite tough with golf because I was constantly trying to prove myself and fight for a spot on the lineup and just putting way too much unnecessary pressure on myself.”
The next two seasons were especially frustrating, as she said that she’d do well when she went home in the summer and competed.
The low point came during her junior year, when she didn’t crack the lineup at all in a season impacted by COVID. Bouvet said that the mix of poor performance and homesickness took away some of her motivation.
“I’m very hard on myself. So when I play bad, I’m very defeated, I’m very deflated. So when it’s a constant thing, it also honestly was very hard to stay motivated to practice,” she said. “That obviously doesn’t mean I don’t want it but it was hard to stay motivated to want to practice more than our scheduled practice.”
She fell into the mentality that there was no point in going out and practicing on her own, since she wouldn’t make the lineup regardless.
With the support of her head coach and David Niethe, a mental performance coach that she’s worked with throughout her life, she changed that mentality.
“I worked with him when I was like 13, 14, 15. Back then I didn’t really have the maturity to really understand what he was explaining,” she said. “Now I feel like it’s been extremely helpful having him as a mental performance coach, just the things he says have really helped in the things like the goals we set for tournaments and for practice.”
Bouvet did compete in one event in her junior year, the PGA Works Collegiate Championship. PGA Works focuses on diversity in golf, and Bouvet, a Black woman and the first Black letter winner for the Husker women’s golf program, said it was refreshing to see other golfers that looked like her.
This fall, she’s already gotten back on track, leading the Huskers with a career-high 73.0 stroke average and three top-10 finishes. Most recently, she tied for sixth with teammate Megan Whittaker at the Dale McNamara Invitational.
She still maintains the goal of playing golf professionally after her Husker career is over. Before then, though, she’d like to finally break through and earn first in an event.
“It means a lot. I put in the work over the summer and I train harder and smarter, and I’ve really focused on my goals,” Bouvet said. “I’m just hoping to win one sometime soon. I’ve been so close, so it means all the hard work is paying off and I’m just happy and really excited to play well and finish well. It’s my last year, so I want to have a good one.”