Lilia Vu can’t be stopped.
The UCLA junior closed out a two-shot victory Feb. 27 at the Bruin Wave Invitational for her third consecutive win. It’s her seventh overall, thanks to a run of four in a row last spring, which ties the school wins record held by Bronte Law.
After a year-and-a-half of ranking among the best in college golf but not capturing a title, Vu never got impatient. Eventually, the spoils arrived.
“I didn’t have winning in my mind until I actually won, and then I was like, ‘I can get used to this,’ ” Vu said.
Has she ever.
In her latest triumph, Vu blew a five-shot lead during the final round but posted three birdies on the back nine to storm back.
Vu is No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, to little surprise. The Fountain Valley, Calif., product is known as a phenomenal ballstriker who excels on the greens.
“Her ability to match line and speed is pretty unsurpassed in the college game, in my opinion,” said Carrie Forsyth, UCLA’s head coach.
Confidence on the course
Vu’s confidence rarely wavers, either.
“When she’s having a bad day, she just tells herself, ‘I’m the best out there.’ ” said Mariel Galdiano, Vu’s sophomore teammate.
Vu, 20, looked up to Law when they were UCLA teammates. Vu’s biggest calling card may be course management, thanks to Law pounding that concept into her head.
Her practice habits have shifted, as well.
“I didn’t have a clear view of what I needed to practice,” Vu said. “I just hit.”
Over time, Vu came to understand the value of a practice plan.
But oddly, her junior campaign – three wins, a second and a T-6 – started in peril. A vacation to Vietnam before the school year left Vu rusty. In four rounds of team qualifying for the season-opening ANNIKA Intercollegiate, she couldn’t hit a fairway, went 33 over and finished dead last.
She was benched. For a golfer who had set a goal for player of the year honors, it was a huge setback.
“I took that to heart,” Vu said.
After getting her swing on track, Vu passed through a four-for-one team qualifier for the Stanford Intercollegiate, where she’d finish T-6. A second followed at the Nanea Pac-12 Preview. But she grew anxious again at the Battle at the Beach, the fall finale, when she reached the clubhouse in second.
Vu teared up and questioned how she could earn player of the year after a winless fall. Then Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho stumbled late, giving Vu the title. Months later, Vu may be the front-runner for player of the year.
If fortune appears to favor Vu on the course, it’s only fair considering what happens off it.
‘Completely unathletic’ outside golf
“In any athletic endeavor other than golf, Lilia is completely unathletic,” Forsyth said, with a laugh.
Playing tennis against Law, a terrified Vu could barely make contact with the ball.
In an earlier trip to Vietnam, Vu ran into a motorcyclist while riding a bike. When she had a motorcycle taxi pick her up, Vu hopped on and immediately burned her right leg on the exhaust pipe.
Then there was Vu’s adventure into Hawaiian waters. Law, knowing her then-teammate didn’t swim well, told Vu to stay close to her. That backfired when a big wave came. A panicking Vu frantically grabbed Law’s head to stay afloat, accidentally pushing her teammate under.
“I was like, ‘I know you can’t swim very well, but I’d really appreciate if you didn’t drown me,’ ” Law said with a laugh.
Law left midway through her senior season (2016-17) to turn pro, but she and Vu remain close. With Vu on the verge of breaking her record, Law doesn’t want her friend to slow down.
“I hope she breaks it,” Law said. “(And) not just break the record, but smash it.” Gwk