ORLANDO, Fla. –– Bethany Wu is not a “sincerely” or “affectionately yours” kind of gal. In the monthly blog Wu keeps for Golfweek, she dutifully tracks the life of an elite junior golfer. Each post is signed with her tagline: Whistles go Wu Wu.
Wu, 17, laughs when asked where that phrase came from. She admits it was something she picked up at the Junior Solheim Cup in the fall – an AJGA staff member said it to her and it had a nice ring to it.
A year ago, it was Wu’s Annika Invitational victory that made her more than just the girl with the memorable – and pun-able – surname. Wu set a tournament record with a 10-under 206 as she claimed her first big national title. With a repeat Jan. 20, Wu proves she is worthy of her national ranking (No. 3 by Golfweek), her impending spot on the UCLA roster (Wu has verbally committed) and the headlines sure to follow the Diamond Bar, Calif., native.
When Wu won the 2013 Annika, it was something of a coming-out party, culminating with a nod in Sports Illustrated’s monthly feature, Faces in the Crowd. The idea of defending that title didn’t even become a consideration for Wu until the night before Monday’s final round at Reunion Resort’s Watson course.
“I couldn’t really sleep last night,” Wu said. “I don’t think I got enough.”
That’s understandable for a player who stood poised to break her own scoring record and glide out of town with a lopsided victory. But Wu’s ride wasn’t nearly that easy.
Wu went to sleep at 8-under 136 and with a five-stroke lead – three more than what she had in 2013. Even though Monday turned out to the be the warmest day of the tournament by far, Wu started with three bogeys in her first five holes. At No. 6, she got up and down for a hard-fought par and made her first birdie at No. 8. With those holes, Wu effectively put the wheels back on the tracks.
That turnaround couldn’t have come soon enough. First Frenchwoman Mathilda Cappeliez then Massachusetts native Megan Khang began to charge. Wu was within reach for only a short stretch of holes, however. With birdies at Nos. 14, 15 and 16, she put enough distance between herself and chasers that she had the tournament practically in the bag by the time she teed it up at No. 17.
“I was thinking a lot,” Wu joked, but in the end she overcame the tendency to overthink.
Wu needed only one more birdie at No. 17 or 18 to get to 10 under for the second year, but instead parred both. Still, at 9-under 207, she finished eight shots ahead of a trio of players in second (Yuting Shi, Ziyi Wang, Megan Khang).
Wu looked all grown up as she walked off the green with the tournament in hand. She breathed a visible sigh of relief, accepted congratulations from tournament namesake Annika Sorenstam – one of the sweetest traditions of this tournament, now in its sixth year – and proceeded calmly to the scoring tent.
Reunion, Wu explains, simply sets up well for her.
“I feel very confident – I really like the grass here,” she said.
But it’s more than that. In the year-long stretch between her Annika victories, Wu established herself as one of the top players in girls golf. She took out a trio of highly ranked peers (top-ranked Nicole Morales, Samantha Wagner, Casie Cathrea) on her way to the semifinals of the U.S. Girls’ Junior, then went undefeated at the Junior Solheim Cup a few weeks later.
On Monday, however, Wu said she felt as if she was just the same Bethany who brought Reunion to its knees a year ago.
“It feels like deja vu,” she said.
Sound the whistles for victory.