Lilia Vu, once on top of the world, nearly quit golf. Now she’s a major champion
THE WOODLANDS, Texas — Lilia Vu’s Pro V1 hardly reached the bottom of the cup before tears started flowing down her face. After plucking the ball out of the hole, she pulled her visor down low over her eyes and wept.
After battling a cold and windy Texas spring day, Vu was the last competitor standing. On a Sunday in which just three golfers broke 70 at Carlton Woods, the 25-year-old pro posted the lowest round of the day with a four-under 68 to complete a comeback victory and win the Chevron Championship for her first major title.
“I couldn’t believe that that happened,” Vu said. “That we won a major.”
When you look at Vu’s resume, it makes sense that she adds her name to the Dinah Shore Trophy. She’s a former No. 1-ranked amateur in the world. She was once named Pac-12 Player of the Year. She won a whopping eight tournaments at UCLA. Her list of amateur accomplishments is on par with some of the biggest stars in the game. A successful pro career would be the next logical step.
But the road to success is rarely linear.
In her first year on the LPGA Tour in 2019, she made just one cut and pocketed only $3,830. She felt lost playing the game she loved. Away from the course, things were no better. Her grandfather died early on in the Covid-19 pandemic, and she even contemplated giving up her pro-golf aspirations and going to law school.
“I was just in such a bad place,” Vu said. “Everything was life or death. I just saw everybody that I’ve competed with being successful, and I just compared myself all the time.”
If she’d quit, Sunday at the Chevron would’ve been much different.
Coming into the final round, few had Vu on the short list of potential champions. There was talk of Nelly Korda and her opportunity to win without her best stuff. Of Angel Yin and her chance to breakthrough for her first victory. And of a potential charge by Atthaya Thitikul, who was seeking her first major title.
For much of the final round, that theme remained true. Korda battled her swing and stayed near the top of the leaderboard, and Thitikul did make a charge into red numbers. A Lim Kim attempted to nab another major title in Texas, and Yin sized up the glass slipper. But in a span of one hour late in the afternoon, Vu catapulted herself into the championship conversation.
Of the 278 strokes Vu made at Carlton Woods this week, her tee shot at the par-3 17th was perhaps the most consequential. Standing 149 yards from the flag, Vu unleashed a towering short iron onto the green. Moments later, she poured in the lengthy putt to cut Yin’s lead to one.
The par-5 18th resulted in another circle. She blasted her drive into the fairway, lasered her shot over the green and got up-and-down to post the clubhouse lead at 10 under.
“Somehow 17 and 18 comes, birdie-birdie,” Vu said. “And then now we’re here.”
“Tee Bow” Striped Golf Tee
Yin had a chance to take the title in regulation with a 35-foot eagle try on 18, but when the putt motored past the hole, it ensured the first iteration of the Chevron Championship held in Texas would need bonus golf to determine a champion.
Replaying the 18th, both competitors split the fairway with their drive, but with Yin playing first into the green, the clock finally struck midnight. Her 5-iron rifled low and left, clattering off a stone wall short of the green and into the hazard.
“I just didn’t hit a good shot,” Yin said. “It just kind of spoke a lot about today.”
When Vu holed her birdie putt, the only drama remaining was whether she would take a plunge into the lake next to the green. Although Poppie’s Pond is 1,500 miles away, many wanted to see the traditional leap by the champion continue.
They got their wish.
Despite temperatures in the high 50s, Vu, along with her caddie and trainer, took a polar plunge off a dock built for the occasion.
“I don’t know how I pulled this out,” Vu said clad in her winner’s robe. “I’m just really happy.”