THE WOODLANDS, Texas (AP) —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.
Lilia Vu relied on her grandfather’s steady hand and calm demeanor to keep her grounded during difficult times.
He died in 2020, but on Sunday at the Chevron Championship with a chance to win her first major, Vu’s thoughts of her grandfather helped her once again.
“I was getting really upset on the course, and I just had to remind me, Grandpa is with you,” she said. “And he’d be really disappointed if you were getting upset like this and that you didn’t get your act together.”
With his memory in her head, Vu finished strong with two straight birdies, then birdied the first playoff hole to beat Angel Yin in a dramatic finish on Sunday at The Club at Carlton Woods.
Yin’s second shot came up short and left and splashed into the pond guarding the par-5 18th hole. Vu, after a huge tee shot, hit her approach safely just over the green. She went with putter from off the green and came up well short, but she converted the birdie from about 10 feet for the victory.
“I knew on that last putt, all I had to do was just do my routine, read the putt how I usually do, and just hit this putt because I’ve hit that putt a million times,” Vu said. “And I knew I could make it.”
The 25-year-old Californian won for the second time on the LPGA Tour and took a celebratory leap into the pond, a tradition borrowed from this tournament’s former venue at Mission Hills in the California desert.
Vu closed with a 4-under 68 for a four-day total of 10-under 278, then waited as other contenders — including Yin — faltered.
But Yin, after bogeys on the 16th and 17th holes, birdied the 18th to force the playoff.
“Obviously in the playoff hole, I just didn’t hit a good shot,” Yin said. “It just kind of spoke a lot about today.”
Vu played at UCLA but considered quitting the game after a rough start to her pro career. She regrouped and won three times on the developmental Epson Tour in 2021, then had a solid 2022 before breaking through in February with a victory at the Honda LPGA Thailand. She came into this event ranked 12th in the world; the 24-year-old Yin, who turned pro while still in high school, was No. 172.
Yin had her second runner-up in a major. She tied for second in the 2019 U.S. Women’s Open.
“I’ve just come a long way,” Yin said. “I’m just really happy with who I am, where I am, and what I’m doing right now. Just a lot to appreciate.”
Unable to find a sponsor willing to add to the half-century run at Mission Hills, the tournament — known as the Dinah Shore for its longtime celebrity host — bolted for the woods of suburban Houston under a six-year deal with Chevron.
Winners had been jumping into Poppie’s Pond off the 18th green at Mission Hills since 1988, and Vu continued the tradition by leaping off a small dock into murky water on a chilly day.
“Yesterday or the day before we saw a snake on (the) pond, so I was kind of thinking about that today,” she said. “But I think the emotions were high and just adrenaline, got to jump into that pond.”
Vu took home $765,000 for the win from a purse of $5.1 million, the largest ever for this event.
World No. 2 Nelly Korda continued to struggle with her putting Sunday but eagled the 18th to finish alone in third at 9 under.
“I think on 11 or 12, I was just like, ‘It’s just not my day today,'” Korda said. “I’ve put myself into contention a bunch this year already. I just haven’t been able to finish it, which stings, obviously, but I think one of those days, if I keep knocking on the door, it’ll eventually open for me.”
A few others will rue their missed opportunities.
Atthaya Thitikul made four straight birdies from Nos. 7-10 was at 10-under standing in the 18th fairway when she hit her third shot into the water, leading to double bogey.
“I hit it pretty solid, but it just went like that because maybe misunderstanding with the wind,” she said.
Playing partner A Lim Kim was 8 under, needing a closing eagle to match Vu, when she shanked her second shot and made par. Thitikul and Vu finished two shots back alongside Amy Yang, Albane Valenzuela and Allisen Corpuz.
Corpuz, who entered the final round tied for the lead with Yin, had four bogeys in the first nine holes to fall out of contention. She shot 74.
After multiple rain delays through the first three rounds, play was suspended again for 50 minutes Sunday morning because of thunderstorms in the area. The rain stopped after that, but it remained cloudy and chilly throughout the day with the temperature hovering around 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
*Credit Information to www.lpga.com