UCLA's Lilia Vu Earns First Big Amateur Victory
For Lilia Vu, it had been a long time since she had raised a trophy high. But on Tuesday at Rancho Santa Fe GC that drought ended in fashion, as she beat out a strong field to come from behind and capture the 2016 Women's Southern California Amateur Championship.
With her mom on the bag and fellow Pac-12 golfers by her side, Vu, a rising sophomore at UCLA, turned in a final round score of 68, the second lowest of the tournament, to snatch victory away from Haley Moore and Karen Chung, who had battled it out all day. USC's Chung, who held the 36-hole overnight lead, struggled to a final round 76 to finish third, while Moore of Univ. of Arizona fired a third-round 69 to finish as the event's runner-up, 2 strokes behind the champion.
"It kind of felt like college golf again because this is like a typical pairing" said Vu. "It just felt really comfortable to me."
The premier final group of the day didn't disappoint, as the three women combined to shoot 2-under par through the first nine holes on a course that had challenged the event's 72 competitors all tournament. Chung, who entered the day with a 2-shot advantage, played the first six holes in even par, remaining at the top of the leaderboard but allowing her playing partners to make a move. For Moore, it was a wild start to the day, as she birdied her first two holes, struggled to a double bogey on hole 3, before earning a highlight-worthy, tap-in eagle on the par-5 4th hole where she took advantage of her significant length off the tee. Her first par wouldn't come until the fifth hole.
With Moore bouncing around the leaderboard and Chung staying in the same place, it was Vu who steadily climb up it all day. Accurate tee shots, an impressive short game and clutch putting allowed the eventual champion to take the lead midway through the round, one that would get matched but never passed. But Moore wouldn't go away, matching Vu's birdie on the par-3 14th hole to remain two strokes off the lead.
The 15th hole looked to be an important one, as both Moore and Vu gave themselves a great opportunity for birdie, with Moore facing a slightly longer putt of about 18 feet. It would just slide by the hole, eliminating her chance of pulling within 1 and putting significant pressure on her opponent, and instead gave Vu the opportunity to all but close the door on the championship. Vu, however, would push her own birdie attempt a good two feet by the hole, leaving things as they were heading into 16.
That is when the firework happened. With great drives by both ladies left in contention, Vu was up first for her approach shot into the green on the par-4 386-yard 16th hole. Looking at a second shot about 138 yards out, Vu struck the ball perfectly, landing it 8 inches from her target before it took one hop inside the hole.
"I couldn't see it go in, but I heard the spectators yelling that it did," said Vu. "I knew I hit a good shot, and I really wanted a birdie, so it was awesome to hear it had gone in."
The spectacular shot gave Vu a 3-stroke advantage heading into the final hole of regulation, where Moore would collect a birdie and Vu would tap in for par and the win. She carded rounds of 71, 71 and 68 to finish the tournament at 6-under par. Only Moore, who holds the course record of 66 at Rancho Santa Fe GC, would also finish under par, with Chung finishing even. Rounding out the top 5 was Megan Kim of the University of Michigan and high-schooler Calista Reyes.
For Vu, despite a ton of success in the sport, earned her first golf tournament victory in four years, an AJGA victory at Robinson Ranch GC she earned as a 14 year old. Vu's career had been highlighted by an appearance at the 2015 U.S. Women's Open, as well as a top finish at the 2014 ANA Junior Inspiration, an event run by SCGA Junior which granted Vu a spot in the LPGA's Southern California Major Championship.
Next year, the Women's Southern California Amateur Championship, an event jointly run by both the SCGA and WSCGA, will be held July 31-Aug. 1 at San Gabriel CC. The Top 10 finishers from this year are exempt into the 2017 field.