When the Chevron Championship moved to The Club at Carlton Woods after a storied 51 years at Mission Hills Country Club, the biggest question was: will the winner jump in the pond?
Lilia Vu answered that on Sunday night when she leapt into the water just off the 18th green – without a second thought of either the cold or the snakes.
“Cole and I passed by 18 during the practice round and discussed would you jump, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I would jump; if I won here, of course I would jump,’” Vu said with a laugh. “Yesterday or the day before we saw a snake on 17 pond so I was kind of thinking about that today, but I think the emotions were high and just adrenaline (said) ‘Got to jump into that pond.’”
The final round of the Chevron Championship was a showcase for the tour’s young talent, highlighted by a flurry of long birdie putts from 20-year-old Atthaya Thitikul on the front-nine, a long putt for eagle on the 18th by 24-year-old Nelly Korda to jump into solo third place and some miraculous chipping from 24-year-old Angel Yin to save more than a couple pars.
Until the very end, it was truly anyone’s game. Thitikul went on a tear early in the afternoon to reach 10-under and tie for the lead before an unfortunate shot into the water on 18 led to a double bogey. Yin held fast at the top of the leaderboard until consecutive bogeys on 16 and 17 dropped her to 9-under with Vu already in the clubhouse at 10-under. But, at the 11th hour, a smooth birdie on 18 from Yin forced a playoff for the title. Nothing was certain until Vu’s final 14-foot putt for birdie on the first playoff hole dropped.
Though she didn’t come up with a win, Yin was more than happy with the way she played and the drama she brought to the competition.
“I did play well,” Yin said. “I really like this golf course. I feel like I have so much potential with playing even better here that I didn’t even do this week, and I feel like it’s exciting to come back next year and be able to showcase that and do what I didn’t do this year.”
But, in the end, Vu proved to be the brightest rising star of the pack. Just a few short months after finding her first-ever LPGA victory at the Honda LPGA Thailand, Vu now has her first major win in hand and is the first player with multiple wins in 2023.
“I think of myself as the biggest obstacle, I had a pretty tough, not easy past two days,” Vu told NBC after holing that winning birdie putt. “I was definitely my own enemy, and I don’t know how I pulled this out.”
Later, she elaborated on that sentiment when speaking with the press: “Honestly, the past two days, I was very angry. I didn’t feel like myself, just internally. Golf game, that’s whatever. I just felt like I was getting angry over every single little thing, and that’s usually not how I roll, so I was upset about how I portrayed myself and how I handled myself. I couldn’t believe that that happened, that we won a major.”
When the day began, Vu was T11 and four shots behind leaders Angel Yin and Allisen Corpuz at 10-under. Vu found three birdies on the front nine to get to 8-under but was plagued by a par streak on the back-nine. She managed to turn it around with a miraculous birdie putt on 17 and one more on 18 to tie the lead.
For anyone watching, it was Vu’s putter that earned her the win. She needed just 25 putts to get through the Jack Nicklaus Signature course on Sunday – her lowest total of the tournament – and card the lowest score of the day, a 4-under 68. Vu has been unstoppable on greens lately and has led the LPGA Tour in strokes gained putting since the CP Women’s Open.
But Vu credited her grandpa, who passed away in 2020, with the win – it was his memory that allowed her to calm down and be herself again, to play her own game.
“I was leaving for my tournament in Florida, an Epson Tour event, and my grandpa was in the hospital for his heart condition and the last thing he told me was to play my best,” Vu said. “He’s in the hospital, thinking of me and my tournament.
“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 just 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.’”
And get her act together she did – both on the golf course and after she emerged from the pond sopping wet just minutes before the trophy ceremony. As soon as she emerged from the water into the frigid Texas air, she was wrapped in a thick white robe embossed with the Chevron logo and her mother quickly brushed the wet hair out of her face. The youngster looked as spick and span as anyone who was soaked to the bone could when she hoisted the Dinah Shore trophy over her head, honoring 51 long years of tradition and her grandpa.