GUILDERLAND – Lilia Vu felt the frustration rising in her gut, and she knew she had to make a quick attitude adjustment as she headed to the par-3 ninth tee during the final round of the Symetra Tour’s Twin Bridges Championship Sunday at Pinehaven Country Club.
The 23-year-old native of Fountain Valley, California wasn’t playing up to her lofty expectations, but she took a deep breath, put a smile on her face and hit one of two key shots that helped her record her second tour victory and earn $26,250.
“On the front nine, I felt really angry with myself,” said Vu, who carded an 8-under-par, three-day total of 205 to defeat Rachel Rohanna of Marianna, Pennsylvania by two shots. “So on the ninth tee box, I decided I was going to have fun. I had a birdie on that ninth hole,” she noted.
Vu’s other crucial shot came on the par-5 15th hole. She had just lost her lead after a bogey on the par-3 14th hole, but she nailed a 6-iron to within two feet to set up an eagle that moved her back into a tie for the lead and gave her the momentum that carried her the rest of the way.
“It was about 170 yards uphill but down wind,” Vu said about her approach shot on 15. “I figured my 6-iron would be enough. I set up and blocked everything out. I hit it to two feet, and it was a great shot.”
Vu played steady golf the rest of the way with a birdie on the par-5 17th hole and a clutch up-and-down par on the 18th hole to hold off Rohanna, who came up short on her final approach shot, putted from well off the green for a must-make birdie and then missed her par putt to end up two strokes off the pace.
Vu is no stranger to top-level golf. She helped Team USA to victory at the 2018 Curtis Cup and was a member of the 2018 Arnold Palmer Cup and USA World Amateur Teams. At UCLA, she was awarded the 2018 PING WGCA Player of the Year and Pac-12 Conference Golfer of the Year awards, and she was also a Honda Award Finalist and a three-time WGCA First-Team All-American and All-Pac 12 performer. She’s ranked No. 1 on UCLA’s all-time career victory list with eight.
But now, she’s becoming a dominant professional player as well.
“It feels great to actually come out on top,” said Vu, who started the day in third place on the Symetra Tour’s money list and is now No. 1 with $99,178. “I think the one thing I’ve improved on my game this year is my mental game. I always knew the skills were there. Knowing I can pull off the shots and have fun is what is different now.”
Vu gave a lot of credit to her mother, who walked the course as usual, for her support, both on and off the course.
“My mother is my backbone,” she said.”Two years ago, I played really bad and I was contemplating quitting golf. I asked my mom if I should go to law school or do something else, but my Mom said I was doing well enough and to pull myself out of this.”
Vu said she knew her lead group, which included Rohanna and Maddie McCrary of Wylie, Texas, had pulled away from the rest of the field, turning the final threesome into a match play scenario.
“It makes sense that we were in the final group. We were all playing super well,” Vu said. “Rachel came out of the gate very well, and I knew I had to play well, also, but I can only control my game.”
Vu also knows where she stands on the money list, which means she is getting very close to nailing down her LPGA card for next year. The top 10 players on that list earn automatic berths.
“I know where I stand, but I try not to focus too much on it,” she said. “I try to focus on each event and win it. Everything else will take care of itself.”
Vu said she was a lot more nervous than she appeared, even though she already had a win on the Symetra Tour this season.
“Winning is not as easy as it looks,” she said, “My heart was beating out of my chest on the last putt. I don’t have it all together.”
Rohanna, 30, a former All-Big Ten First Team performer for Ohio State in 2010 and 2012 and a two-time Symetra Tour champion, was obviously disappointed. She held the lead or was a stroke off it the whole day.
“Today, I felt great,” she said. “One-under-par on this course is pretty good, considering the wind and the rain this morning. Lilia played unbelievable. Her second shot on that par-5 was to a foot and a half.”
“I love it that I had another great finish,” she added. “Somebody always has to sit with a target on their back, and it might as well be me.”
Rohanna said she thought her approach shot on the final hole was all over the flag, but the wind came up suddenly and the ball dropped well in front of the green.
“I hit my 135-yard club from 130 yards, and I just pured it,” she said, “The next thing I know the ball is climbing. Then, I felt the breeze. Then I didn’t have the greatest lie in front of the green. It was tricky to judge the shot from that weird pin position. I hit two great shots coming in, and I thought I made a decent putt at the end.”
Rounding out the top five were Kaitlin Milligan of Norman, Oklahoma (66-208), Sierra Brooks of Orlando, Florida (69-210) and McCrary (73-210).
Lilia Vu 68-205, Rachel Rohanna 70-207, Kaitlin Milligan 66-208, Sierra Brooks 69-210, Maddie McCrary 73-210, Dewi Weber 69-211, Isi Gabsa 70-211, Katharine Patrick 70-212, Maude-Aimee Leblanc 71-212, Min-G Kim 73-212, Laura Wearn 68-213, Daniela Iacobelli 68-213, Beth Wu 69-213, Fatima Fernandez Cano 69-213, Haylee Harford 70-213, Emma Broze 71-213, Milagros Chaves 72-213,Savannah Vilaubi 73-213, Fernanda Lira 74-213, Kendra Dalton 68-214, Weiwei Zhang 68-214, Roberta Liti 70-214, Prima Thammaraks 71-214, Sophia Schubert 72-214, Britney Yada 72-214, Kelly Whaley 73-214, Binny Lee 73-214.
Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected]
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