Vu’s 2017 Success Continues at U.S. Women’s Amateur
August 11, 2017
By Julia Pine
Seven years ago Lilia Vu stood at the practice area of the 2010 U.S. Women's Amateur, watching in awe as competitors hit chip shots with ease. At just 12 years old, Vu had herself qualified for the Championship, held at Charlotte CC and eventually won by fellow Southern Californian Danielle Kang, but the young girl from Fountain Valley felt out of her league.
"I remember standing there for almost two hours just watching this girl from Texas A&M hit flop shots that I knew I couldn't hit," said Vu, now 19. "I knew it was special to be there when I saw how many great players there were in the field."
What Vu didn't know, however, was that it would be another seven years until she would find herself back in the field at the U.S. Women's Amateur Championship, now in its 117th year. Attempting to make it through qualifying every since being at Charlotte CC, Vu is finally back in the event and taking advantage of it, winning Friday to advance to the semifinals.
For some, Vu's success may seem like a surprise, but for those who have followed women's amateur golf for the past 12 months know, the rising UCLA junior has quickly become one of the game's brightest stars. After earning her first win since her junior golf days last summer at the SCGA Women's Amateur Championship at Rancho Santa Fe GC, Vu went on a tear, winning four times individually this season as a member of UCLA's women's golf team, including at the Pac-12 Championship. Her success led her to be named Pac-12 Women's Golfer of the Month twice this season. She would then finish second at the prestigious Canadian Women's Amateur in July. The phenomenal year catapulted her to No. 5 on the World Amateur Golf Rankings, exempting her into this year's Women's Amateur.
"I didn’t win one single time in high school," said Vu. "I was always getting top 5 but never the win. I didn’t have any confidence. And then I went to college and my teammate Bronte [Law] who is very competitive, she brought out this new side in me. I've followed in her footsteps and learned a lot from her. I’m really thankful for that."
Back in the Championship seven years later with a new confidence and winning resume, Vu has played as solidly as anyone else in the field this week at San Diego CC. And besides now being able to hit flop shots as well as the rest of the field, it's the mental side of the game that Vu credits for her success.
"I think I’m a more well-rounded player," said Vu. "I have better course strategy. I’m less risky. I know where it’s OK to miss, and I always take that into account. I play smarter, not necessarily better."
The course strategy comes in handy at San Diego CC, which is known for its diabolical greens. So far this week Vu has been able to master them, although Friday was a grind. Despite winning her quarterfinal match 4 and 3 over young phenom Lucy Li of Northern California, Vu was unable to record a birdie all day, earning her victory despite a 1-over par showing in 15 holes.
"With the irons today I just didn’t put it where I wanted," said Vu. "I hit it long today, which was good. But I had a lot of downhill putts, and those are really challenging here. I didn’t leave 4-5 footers uphill like I want to."
But Vu didn't let the struggles derail her, showing the smarter, wiser play she credits for her success.
"I used to get angry after every bad shot, now I accept it and move on to the next one," said Vu. "It’s too much energy to get angry. It takes too much mental energy that I could use to think about the next shot."
Where did that come in handy? On No. 10, where Vu didn't want to lose the momentum she had gained on No. 9, where she had just extended her advantage to 3 up for the first time in the match.
"I had 140 in, hit a 9-iron and blew it over the green, which was surprising since I opted to take the lower club," said Vu. "I had a tough downhill chip, and tried to flop it and land soft. It rolled 15 feet past the hole. I was angry. But I picked myself up and realized I just had an uphill left to right 15-foot putt next and made it."
Li matched with a 15-foot par putt of her own, but struggled on the day, posting six bogeys and allowing Vu to lead from the second hole on.
"I couldn't hit the ball straight today," said Li, 14. "I don't know if it was because I was tired after 36 holes yesterday or what. I'm very proud though, this is the furthest I've ever made it in match play. I beat a lot of very good players in the first three rounds."
The victory for Vu allowed her to seek some revenge for teammates Bethany Wu and Mariel Galdiano, who both lost to Li earlier in the week.
"It was some good redemption for us," said Vu. "I knew it was going to be a grind today, I told my mom that before the round, because I saw how much [Li] challenged my teammates. But I didn't let it get to my head. I just wanted to play golf and do me."
For Vu, the birdie-free round was a stark difference to Thursday, where she advanced through the Rounds of 32 and 16 with seven birdies in just 31 holes. She'll try to fall back into that groove tomorrow, when she faces Albane Valenzuela of Stanford at 8 a.m. in the semifinals. Valenzuela defeated Robynn Ree of USC, the only other SCGA member to advance to the quarterfinals, 4 and 3 to advance to Saturday's action.
"I'm going to work on my putting a bit this afternoon, but then probably take it easy and rest up for tomorrow," said Vu, who started to feel her back bothering her a bit beginning on the ninth hole. "I came into this tournament with no expectations. I’m back again for the first time since I was 12. I just wanted to try my best, and I’m happy with where I am now. Hopefully I can make it to Sunday."