NAPLES, Fla. - She should be used to it by now. Yu Liu, the quiet 24-year-old from Beijing, China who had a stellar college career at Duke, came to Naples with seven top-10 finishes in her sophomore season on the LPGA Tour. So, entering the weekend at the CME Group Tour Championship tied for sixth, just five shots back, should be nothing new. Liu will have a late tee time on Saturday and is in a perfect spot to make a move.
But she is also a realist, smart and remarkably reflective for a woman so young. “I haven’t been driving the ball that well lately so today was just being conservative off the tee and trying to keep the ball in the fairway,” she said after a 6-under 66 on Friday. “I think that worked out pretty well because the other parts of my game have been pretty solid and I was able to leave myself some easier putts.”
Every tournament has those rounds, days where you don’t have your best stuff. Champions find ways to grind out good numbers in those moments. Liu should be thrilled that her day of iffy driving led to the second-lowest round of any player in the top 10 (Jodi Ewart Shadoff shot 65 to enter the weekend T9).
You’d also think that this would fill Liu with confidence that she could perhaps make the last event of 2019 her first career win. Nothing like the largest winner’s check in women’s golf history for her first victory, right?
But Liu is nothing if not self-aware.
“I’m not an overly confident person,” she told LPGA.com. “My confidence has always been on the lower side. But I’ve really grown a lot this year. I’ve been getting a lot more settled on Tour, getting myself adjusted to the life out here and getting used to playing with the big names. My rookie year I was a little scared playing with the (big names on Tour).”
A lot of players arrive on tour with varying levels of trepidation. The players they’ve grown up admiring, the icons they’ve always wanted to emulate, are now warming up next to them on the range and playing alongside them on the biggest stage in the women’s game. It takes some adjustment.
“I showed up out here and knew right away that I had to get better at everything,” Liu said. “From the consistency of my long game to my short game and course management, everything had to improve.”
Liu was one of the top-ranked amateurs in the world when she joined the Tour. But the jump from the college game to the LPGA Tour is far bigger than most fans realize.
“I learned a lot about myself during that time,” Liu said. “I was just trying to keep my status (during my first year). Now, I’m coming to realize what I’m really capable of achieving. My putting still needs to improve. That’s the weakest part of my game. But I’ve built a lot of consistency. I’ve learned to remain focused on the moment.”
She has also adjusted her routine to the rigors of Tour life. “It was pretty demanding from both the mental and physical side to keep your body ready for the entire season,” she said. “You really have to put a lot of work into it. I really feel like I’m getting a lot stronger working on my physical conditioning. (Improving) the mental side has been tougher.”
Positive self-talk and personal challenges have been the key to building her mental strength.
“After my first year, I saw my potential of being possibly one of the best players out here,” Liu said. “So I tried to challenge myself to be the best version of me, to give it everything I have, to not leave anything on the table. The last thing I want to do is look back on my career and see things that I could have done better. I’m trying to do everything I can to be the best player I can be.”
A win is part of her growth plan but Liu understands that the game doesn’t work that way. Too many variables are out of her control. All a player can do is work on the process and execute to the best of her ability.
While she’d love to find that first victory this weekend at the CME Group Tour Championship (a win that would more than double her career earnings), Liu has her sights set on another goal.
“Ever since I was a small kid my dream has been to be an Olympian,” she said. “Even before I knew what sport I would be in, I dreamt of being in the Olympics. It’s the ultimate, the top. I don’t want to get ahead of myself but making (the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo) would be an incredible honor.”