U.S. WOMEN'S AMATEUR
Vu Feeding Off San Diego’s Good Vibes
August 10, 2017 | Chula Vista, Calif.
By Bill Fields
A shuttle cart transporting Lilia Kha-Tu Vu to the clubhouse at San Diego Country Club stalled Thursday afternoon, forcing a replacement vehicle to be summoned.
But that was the only time Vu was slowed down on another idyllic Southern California day at the 117th U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship.
Vu, 19, of Fountain Valley, Calif., won two matches to advance to Friday’s quarterfinals. She defeated Sarah Burnham, of Maple Grove, Minn., 1 up, in the Round of 32, then eliminated Sarah Rhee, of Seattle, Wash., 6 and 5, in the Round of 16.
The rising junior at UCLA, who is No. 5 in the Women's World Amateur Golf Ranking, clearly feels at home in San Diego County, where she won titles in the Callaway Junior World Championship when she was 10, 12, 13 and 14, and had success in other events in the area.
“This course actually reminds me of every single San Diego course I’ve played combined,” said Vu, who faces 14-year-old Lucy Li at 1:30 p.m. PDT on Friday. Li has already knocked out two of Vu’s Bruin teammates: Mariel Galdiano and Bethany Wu. “It looks like The Farms and [Rancho] Santa Fe Country Club combined. Really good vibes.”
It has been a family affair for Vu this week. Her brother Andre, 22, who will be a fifth-year senior at UC-Riverside, where he plays on the men’s golf team, caddied for Vu in stroke play. Her mother, Yvonne Du, has been on the bag since match play began on Wednesday, but the job description is limited.
“It’s fun. It’s comfortable,” said Vu. “She feeds me and gives me water. I kind of like to do my own thing. [I tell her,] ‘Can I have an 8-iron?’ She’ll give me the club. I don’t like to be too dependent on my caddie, so I can be OK on my own. I don’t want to rely on anyone.”
Vu’s father, Douglas, who with his wife operates Golf’s Future Pro Shop in Fountain Valley, Calif., has been his daughter’s instructor.
“I wish he could have been here, but he’s doing business in Vietnam right now,” Vu said. “I don’t know if he knows about [my results]. I haven’t heard from him in three days. But I think he knows.”
Yvonne has closed the family business for a couple of days so she can watch her daughter, who had a torrid stretch this past spring at UCLA. She won four consecutive individual titles, highlighted by victory in the always-competitive Pac-12 Championship. Eight of the final 16 players this week were from Pac-12 schools.
Vu’s admirable golf swing and good putting touch have played key roles in her success.
“She’s one of the best ball-strikers I’ve ever coached,” said UCLA head coach Carrie Forsyth, who was in Vu’s gallery Thursday. “I remember watching her at the U.S. Girls’ Junior and being so impressed with her strike, how clean she hit it and the sound that it makes. She’s got a lot of speed. You don’t get a lot of girls who hit it like that with that kind of compression.”
An example of how solidly Vu hits the ball was evident on the 12th hole against Rhee, a rising junior at the University of Washington. Into the wind on the 364-yard par 4, Vu’s tee shot finished in the center of the fairway, 40 yards past her opponent’s ball. She won the hole with a par and closed out the match with a par on No. 13.
Vu, competing in her first U.S. Women’s Amateur since missing the cut in 2010 at Charlotte (N.C.) Country Club, owned a 4-up lead at the turn after hitting her approach 5 feet from the flagstick on No. 9, an example of her accurate iron play.
“The second match today, it was windy, but I was hitting my irons better,” Vu said. “I was sticking it to 4 or 5 feet and giving myself a lot of opportunities for birdies and I took advantage of those opportunities.”
More frequent birdie chances are also the result of Vu’s new mindset on the course. Forsyth said Vu “used to kind of get up and hit it,” but not now.
“I think a lot more before I hit,” Vu said. “I have to account for everything: how far it is to the back, where the break is, where to land it, where do I place myself to have up uphill putt that is easier than a downhill putt. I have to think about all that. And the wind too. I saw that it benefited me. I’m going to keep it that way.”
Some of Vu’s strategic evolution was self-directed. But according to Forsyth, she also got some help from UCLA teammate and 2016 Annika Award-winner Bronte Law, who went 5-0-0 in the 2016 Curtis Cup Match to lead Great Britain and Ireland past the USA at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club in the Republic of Ireland.
“Bronte really helped her a lot,” Forsyth said. “She is a great thinker on the course, and she would get on Lilia’s case when she’d do silly things. Sometimes, you’re going to listen to a teammate more than you would a coach. The last couple of years, she’s become very focused on her game.”
During one of Vu’s four straight collegiate victories, at the Silverado Showdown, she made a triple bogey on a par 4 after flailing a couple of shots out of heavy rough. “Next day, she chose a different line off the tee,” said Forsyth. “She learned.”
Although Vu is playing with both wrists taped due to soreness and tightness in her forearms – “It still hurts, just less,” she said of the wraps’ effectiveness – success has a way of minimizing the pain.
“I’m a little better and I understand the game more,” Vu said. “And it’s fun.”
Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.