2023 Chevron Championship: Lilia Vu, golf’s newest major champion, draws inspiration from her late grandfather, who built a boat to escape a war-torn Vietnam

THE WOODLANDS, Texas – Lilia Vu felt an unusual amount of anger bubbling up inside this week over little things. Upset by the way she handled that anger, there were times during the final round of the 2023 Chevron Championship that Vu thought about her grandpa, Dinh Du, and how disappointed he’d be if she didn’t get her act together.

Standing at the podium soaked in champagne and cloaked in a white robe and slippers, the shiny Dinah Shore trophy by her side, Vu told the story of how her grandfather built a boat to help his family escape a war-torn Vietnam. How he’d go off in the countryside for months at a time, trying to literally build a better life for their family with his bare hands.

Vu’s mom, Yvonne, and her siblings ran through the forest the day in 1982 her father told them it was time to go. The boat was meant to hold no more than 54 people, but as others swam out to meet them, the number swelled to 82.

“He took them all,” said Yvonne.

After two days, the boat sprang a leak. They shot off a flare and were. soon rescued by the USS Brewton, a Naval ship that was decommissioned in 1992.

“My grandpa is the reason why I’m here,” said Vu, who birdied the last two holes on the Nicklaus Course at the Club at Carlton Woods to make her way into a playoff against fellow American Angel Yin.

After finishing the tournament knotted at 10 under, the pair headed down the par-5 18th once again, where Vu hit a drive so long she had 7-iron in on a hole she hit hybrid not long before in regulation.

After Yin’s approach found the water, Vu’s second shot went long over the green. Vu opted to putt through the long grass for her eagle attempt and left it 14 feet short of the hole.

Vu didn’t lose her turn, and after she stoically converted the birdie putt broke down in a heap of sobs as friends showered her with champagne.

For the win!

Lilia Vu birdies the first playoff hole to win the 2023 Chevron Championship! pic.twitter.com/bn0iPR0VLe

— LPGA (@LPGA) April 23, 2023

“One of the things I noticed early on when I started caddying for her was that she rises to the occasion pretty well,” said Cole Pensanti, who also looped for Danielle Kang when she won the 2017 KPMG Women’s PGA.

Yin, who has yet to win on the LPGA, was emotional after the round not because she lost, but because she wondered if she’d ever have a chance to contend like this again after battling injuries.

“I think I’ve just come a long way,” said Yin. “I’m just really happy with who I am, where I am, and what I’m doing right now. Just a lot to appreciate.”

During her first year on the LPGA in 2019, Vu made one cut in nine starts and earned $3,830. The winningest player in UCLA history, with eight titles, considered hanging it up and going to law school.

Vu’s mom, however, convinced her to stay the course.

As Vu prepared to head down to Florida for an Epson Tour event during the 2020 pandemic, her grandfather was in the hospital battling a heart condition.

Lilia Vu jumps in the lake after winning the 2023 Chevron Championship. (Photo: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports)

“The last thing he told me was to play my best,” said Vu. “He’s in the hospital, thinking of me and my tournament.”

It wasn’t long after they returned to California that her grandfather died.

It was then Vu began to realize that she’d been treating every shot like it was life or death, comparing her success to that of the peers she’d grown up competing against.

A change in outlook freed up Vu to unlock her potential and, in 2021, she finished first on the Epson Tour money list to earn back her LPGA card.

After finishing in the top 3 on three different occasions last year and not hoisting a trophy, a frustrated Vu once again changed her mental approach. She decided she’d been putting too much pressure on herself. Vu determined that she was bound to win one day and needed to just let it happen.

Vu won in her second start of the season at the Honda LPGA Thailand and has yet to finish outside the top 15 in 2023. A $765,000 winner’s check at the Chevron gives her $2,036,647 in career earnings.

Team Vu! Lilia with her parents. Dad taught her the game. Mom convinced her not to quit. pic.twitter.com/KzlAYKe77j

— Beth Ann Nichols (@GolfweekNichols) April 23, 2023

At this time last year, Vu was ranked 127th in the world. She came into the Chevron ranked 12th, and while Nelly Korda is projected to rise to No. 1 once again after her third-place finish in Texas, Vu is undoubtedly the hottest American player in the world right now.

Sunday at the Chevron was a windy, chilly and, early on, rainy affair. There certainly were no guarantees that this year’s winner would have any interest in stepping foot on the shiny new dock next to the 18th green. Even Vu wasn’t sure if she’d leap into the murky water after spotting a snake near the pond on the 17th earlier in the week.

But the emotions were running high as the crowd chanted “Jump! Jump!” and, well, this is the major the kid from southern California was most familiar with – and this was her chance.

Vu took off her shoes and socks, grabbed the hand of her trainer and as her caddie belly-flopped off to the left, Vu carried on the most storied tradition in women’s golf.

What would her grandfather think?

“I think he’d say that all my struggles were worth it,” she said.

As were his.

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