Banner 2023 Season Lands Lilia Vu Four Victories, Rolex POY Honors

Lilia Vu had no idea what was coming for her in 2023.

After a tough rookie season on the LPGA Tour in 2019, one that saw her make just one cut in nine starts, the UCLA alum lost her LPGA Tour card entirely. She took up Epson Tour membership in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, and the struggles continued as she only made three cuts in seven starts, earning a measly $2,587.

But the California native finally found her footing in 2021.

That year saw a revitalized Vu come out swinging, capturing her first professional victory in April and then picking up another win at the Twin Bridges Championship in July. She won again a few weeks later in August, and after earning seven other top-10 finishes throughout the season, Vu finished the year ranked first in the Epson Tour’s Race for the Card. Her 2021 performance also earned her Epson Tour Player of the Year honors, but more importantly, it helped Vu to regain her LPGA Tour status for the next season.

Things were much steadier in 2022 on the LPGA Tour as Vu missed one cut in 24 total starts and finished in the top 10 eight times, three of which were T3s or better. She ultimately finished 20th in the Race to the CME Globe at the end of the season, and while her consistency throughout the year was a far cry from how poorly she played in 2019, Vu was still a touch disappointed to have not come out with a win considering all of her close calls.

Little did she know that that elusive first victory was just around the corner as the calendar turned to 2023.
Lilia Vu of United State poses with the trophy on the 18th green after winning the 2023 Honda LPGA Thailand at Siam Country Club on February 26, 2023 in Chon Buri, Thailand. (Photo by Thananuwat Srirasant/Getty Images)

Unable to play in the season-opening Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions, Vu kicked off her season at the Honda LPGA Thailand at Siam Country Club in Chonburi, Thailand. She started strong with a 6-under 66 but dropped down the leaderboard on day two to T15, picking up the pace again in the third round with another 66 that put her in a tie for fourth at 14-under.

Sunday saw Vu at her best as she went bogey-free en route to an 8-under 64, one that saw her make eight birdies, five of which came consecutively on holes eight through 12. She then had to wait in scoring to see if Thailand native Natthakritta Vongtaveelap could match her 22-under total, nervously staring at the TV screens as Vongtaveelap eyed her last few shots. When the 2023 LPGA Tour rookie ultimately failed to birdie the final hole to force a playoff, Vu had finally accomplished her lifelong goal.

She was an LPGA Tour winner at long last.

“Feels really good to get it done,” Vu said in her winning press conference. “I feel like I put a lot of pressure on myself at the end of last year, and during the off-season, I kind of changed my mindset. I always knew I was going to win, I just got to let it happen. The more you hold onto something I feel like it gets further away. I came close a lot towards the end of the last season, so I was just going to have fun and play my game and it would eventually work itself out.”
Lilia Vu of the United States celebrates winning on the number 18 first-playoff hole against Angel Yin of the United States during the final round of The Chevron Championship at The Club at Carlton Woods on April 23, 2023 in The Woodlands, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

After finishing T14 or better in her next three starts, Vu traveled to The Club at Carlton Woods in The Woodlands, Texas for The Chevron Championship. This year’s edition of the major championship marked the first time that the event was not contested at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., and with a new venue in a new city, it felt like a new history was begging to be created as the LPGA Tour’s best teed it up just outside of Houston.

Determined to be a part of it, Vu got off to a solid start, carding rounds of 68 and 69 on days one and two to sit in a tie for second at 7-under heading into the weekend. She then slipped outside of the top 10 after her Moving Day was derailed by a 1-over 73, leaving her four shots back of leaders Allisen Corpuz and Angel Yin with 18 holes to play.

While that four-stroke deficit could have seemed overwhelming given how challenging Carlton Woods was playing, it wasn’t insurmountable, especially considering how chaotic the final rounds of majors can be. So, Vu put her head down and charged ahead, chipping away at the lead with a final-round 68. A pair of Yin bogeys late in the round on holes 16 and 17 left Vu with the lead, but a Yin birdie on the par-5 18th hole sent the pair into a playoff with each player vying for their first major title.

Vu and Yin both found the fairway with their drives, but a watery approach shot from Yin left Vu with the advantage. She knocked her second shot over the green and then lagged her eagle try from off the green to approximately 10 feet, leaving her a quick, downhill birdie putt that would’ve made even the most storied of veterans nervous.

When Vu’s ball tumbled over the edge of the cup, she simply couldn’t believe it. She was now a major champion. After a celebratory jump in the lake and the trophy presentation, Vu once again sat in front of a media center full of journalists, in shock about her latest accomplishment.

But this time she told a different story.

“The reason I'm here is because of my grandpa,” explained Vu. “When my grandpa and his kids and wife fled Vietnam, he went away for a couple of months at a time building a boat in the countryside. One day, he told my mom and her siblings, it's time to go, it's time to go, and I remember her telling me that her and her little sister were running through the forest to get to that boat. Now my mom is here, and then she had me.

“He passed away at the beginning of COVID. I was in such a bad place with my golf game. Everything was life or death. I was leaving for an Epson Tour event, and my grandpa was in the hospital for his heart condition. It seemed like he was fine, and the last thing he told me was to play my best. When we came back from that tournament, my mom got a call from my aunt that Grandpa is in the ER, and that day he passed away.

“That's something that I think about a lot. Even today, I was getting really upset on the course, and I had to remind myself, Grandpa is with you, and he'd be really disappointed if you were getting upset like this and that you didn't get your act together.”
Lilia Vu of the United States is sprayed with champagne in celebration of winning on the number 18 first-playoff hole against Angel Yin of the United States during the final round of The Chevron Championship at The Club at Carlton Woods on April 23, 2023 in The Woodlands, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

Despite her triumphs, the struggles returned for Vu, who missed four cuts in her next seven starts, including at the U.S. Women’s Open and the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, only finding the top 20 once at the Bank of Hope LPGA Match-Play presented by MGM Rewards. As she turned her attention to the AIG Women’s Open, the final major of the 2023 season, the doubts Vu felt as a rookie were starting to creep in again, but she did her best to drown out the voices in her head and went to work at Walton Heath Golf Club.

After opening with an even-par 72, Vu carded rounds of 68 and 67 over the next two days in Surrey, England, moving her into a tie for first with home-country hero Charley Hull. While the final round was poised to produce an epic battle between Vu and Hull, two aggressive players who know how to go low even in the most challenging of conditions, Vu ultimately routed the Englishwoman, making birdie on the last hole to card another 67 en route to a six-shot victory.

Then Vu once again opened a vein in her post-round interviews, giving fans an idea of just how hard it is to maintain excellence in golf for an extended period of time and showing the world that wins don’t always mean everything is going well, both on and off the golf course.

“After The Chevron and how I felt afterward and honestly thinking that those two wins were a fluke and to be here today, I can’t think my team and my family enough for really believing in me,” said Vu during the trophy presentation at Walton Heath. “It was really hard the last couple of months and then somehow, they believed in me and helped me get this win.”
Lilia Vu of the United States celebrates on the 18th green after winning the AIG Women's Open on Day Four of the AIG Women's Open at Walton Heath Golf Club on August 13, 2023 in Tadworth, England. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

But the fruits of her labor at the AIG Women’s Open came with a new added benefit this time around – a spot at the top of the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings.

“Being the best in the world, that's crazy to me,” said Vu. “Thinking about the struggle I had this year and to come out with that, it's incredible.”

And Vu wasn’t done yet. The Rolex Rankings No. 1 had one more victory left to squeeze out of the 2023 LPGA Tour season, a win that came in the penultimate event of the year, The ANNIKA driven by Gainbridge at Pelican.

She opened with rounds of 67 and 66, carding an 8-under 62 on Saturday to sit within striking distance of 54-hole leader Emily Kristine Pedersen at Pelican Golf Club. Sunday saw Vu play as steady as ever as her competitors ultimately fell away, and she needed just a 66 to capture her fourth victory of the 2023 season, winning by three shots over Alison Lee and Azahara Munoz.

“Annika has done so much for women's golf. Every single level of golf, junior golf, The ANNIKA Junior, and then the ANNIKA Award in college,” Vu said in her winning press conference. “I was really bummed out when I didn't get that when I played in college, so I'm finally super excited to win something (her) name on it.”
R to L) Annika Sorenstam of Sweden presents the trophy to Lilia Vu of the United States on the 18th green after The ANNIKA driven by Gainbridge at Pelican at Pelican Golf Club on November 12, 2023 in Belleair, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The win propelled her to the top of the Rolex Player of the Year rankings with just the CME Group Tour Championship left on the schedule, and Vu led by a nearly insurmountable 27 points over Celine Boutier as the two set their sights on Tiburón Golf Club. Boutier, needing a win to take home Player of the Year honors, just couldn’t get going in Naples, Fla., ultimately finishing in a tie for 16th after recording rounds of 69-70-70-66.

That left the door wide open for Vu, who shot 70-66-66-65 to finish solo fourth at 21-under. While she would’ve liked to come out with a fifth victory in the final event of the season, the top-five result was enough for her to take home the Rolex Player of the Year award, a dream ending to a banner season that saw Vu overcome the struggles and herself to finally break through and become the player that she’s always wanted to be.

“I think it's been unreal for (Player of the Year) to happen,” Vu said. “I came in with no expectations and tried to win every tournament that I played in. Kept my goals really small, and I think that helped me achieve Player of the Year. I think (it’s the) highest award for me to ever achieve. My goal throughout my entire life was to get Player of the Year where I was. I kept trying to do it every single level as I got better.

“I really stuck to my 1% better every day. I tried to do little things every day to help me achieve that goal. It wasn't even golf-related. I was trying to grow as a person every day. I stuck to that, and then golf just followed along.”