Why this major champion is flying under the radar at title defense

Lilia Vu speaks to the media at the Chevron Championship.

Lilia Vu likes flying under the radar in her title defense.

Jack Hirsh/GOLF

THE WOODLANDS, Texas — When Lilia Vu touched down this week, something felt different.

“Instantly, when I landed in Houston it felt very calming to me,” Vu said Tuesday. “I felt almost sort of home. I don’t know, I just kept thinking about it. Even my parents were talking about it last night; could be a place to consider to move.

“Once I hit that first shot on the first hole yesterday I was like, this is home. It just feels so right.”

Vu is back as the defending champion at the Chevron Championship, which is being played for the second time at the Club at Carlton Woods, a half-hour drive from Houston.

The 26-year-old not only seeks to continue as the Chevron’s only winner since its move from Palm Springs, but she’s also the winner of the most recent major championship at last summer’s AIG Women’s Open.

Vu had a breakout 2023, winning two other times in addition to her two major titles and ended the year as the top-ranked player in the world and the LPGA’s Player of the Year.

One would think coming into her first major title defense she’d be the center of attention. But Lydia Ko won the season’s first event in Orlando to get within a point of Hall of Fame qualification, and Nelly Korda has ousted Vu as World No. 1 with a stunning run of four wins in as many starts; a victory this week would make five.

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That’s left Vu somewhat under the radar, which is fine by her.

“I typically like to fly under the radar,” Vu said. “They’ve been playing great. It shows how competitive this sport is.

“I’m going to be honest, I’m not trying to put too much pressure on myself. I think I’m going to look at this tournament as a new opportunity to win and not put too much pressure of trying to defend my title.”

This season, Vu has not yet found the success of 2023; her best finish was a T7 in a title defense at the Honda LPGA Thailand. She then withdrew mid-tournament from her next two starts while dealing with a back injury.

“It’s been a rough couple months battling with my injury. It’s been a little scary,” she said. “I’ve definitely cried a lot on the range sometimes because my back just couldn’t hold up.

“It’s just been kind of an up and down not being fully physically healthy. On the days that I feel physically healthy, then I’ll get upset not performing the way I think I should.”

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But Vu arrived in Texas feeling finally healthy and ready to enjoy herself on the course, she said. She has stopped lifting for the time being and is working with a physiotherapist daily.

She comes to a Carlton Woods course that is different than the won she one won a year ago. The club built new greens and added several bunkers along the Jack Nicklaus Signature course that was the LPGA’s longest test last season.

Vu said she expects it to play tougher and firmer, but the changes help her to forget that she’s defending this week.

She also got some final words of encouragement before she started her prep for the week.

“Once we landed here on Sunday my dad was saying to me, ‘Whatever happens, happens. Let it be. Don’t get angry. Don’t get too up and down. Just do your thing. You’re good enough,'” Vu said. “If I stay healthy this week I think I’ll be able to do what I need to do.”

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