THE WOODLANDS, Texas — 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 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, and Vu hit her approach just over the green. Vu went with putter from off the green and came up well short, but she converted 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 birdied her last two holes for a 4-under 68 and a four-day total of 10-under 278 at Carlton Woods 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 in California, 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 — long known as the Dinah Shore for its longtime celebrity host — bolted the California desert 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 to 10 and 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 Kim finished 2 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.