Lilia Vu’s late grandfather taught her resilience; she’s now the world No. 1 in women’s golf

Lilia Vu’s late grandfather taught her resilience; she’s now the world No. 1 in women’s golf

The Straits Times - Sports·2024-02-28 19:01

SINGAPORE – Every world No. 1 has a story of resilience to tell. Francis Ngannou escaped Cameroon and slept on the streets of Paris before making his name as a mixed martial arts fighter. Roger Federer lost his childhood coach, Peter Carter, to a car accident before his 21st birthday.

Lilia Vu is no different. The 26-year-old’s inner steel comes from her late maternal grandfather, Dinh Du, who fled after the Vietnam War in 1975.

From Can Tho, a southern city in the Mekong Delta region, he spent years building a boat which he used to take his family out of the country in 1982. They were later rescued by a US Navy unit and eventually, Du and Vu’s mother, Yvonne, made it to the United States.

“Everything comes from my family,” Vu said on Feb 28 ahead of this week’s HSBC Women’s World Championship. “My grandfather was the most hard-working person. They believe in me the most, and everything I do is for them.”

For much of her career, Vu struggled with the demands of the LPGA Tour. Losing her card during her 2019 rookie season, she spent the next two years working her way back up from the second-tier Epson Tour.

She then had her breakthrough season in 2023 – winning four LPGA tournaments, including two Majors. She credits her revival to her grandfather.

Before Vu left for the Epson Tour’s Florida’s Natural Charity Classic in March 2020, Du was hospitalised.

Vu, whose fingernails are usually decorated with koi to remind her of the many fishes her grandfather used to rear in his backyard pond, said: “I was at the hospital and he was about to get discharged. Everything was fine. He told me to play my best, try hard and never give up.”

Those were the last words she heard from him as he died shortly after.

She returns for the US$1.8 million (S$2.4 million) tournament at the Sentosa Golf Club with a different perspective too. At the 2023 edition, Vu finished in a tie for 14th, nine shots adrift of eventual winner Ko Jin-young.

Yet Vu, who is paired fellow American Alison Lee and China’s Yin Ruoning for the opening round on Feb 29, is unbothered. “In the past, sometimes I would get really down on myself and frustrated if I didn’t hit a shot I know I could pull off. But now I’ve taught myself to be more patient,” she said.

“It’s really fun to go to the golf course and try to birdie every single hole. That’s literally my goal and if I don’t I just move on to the next one and try again.”

About her game plan for the week, she added: “This golf course is pretty demanding off the tee and with how the green has been playing, it’s a little bit on the firmer side, so you can’t really attack the pins.

“You kind of just have to aim for the front of the green and have a plan after that. So just playing smart golf, not being too greedy.”

France’s world No. 3 Celine Boutier also alluded to the challenges of the Tanjong course, noting the addition of new bunkers on the par-four 18th hole.

She said: “It makes it definitely harder. The line is going to be more towards the right and it makes the fairway more narrow. It’s definitely a little bit more tricky.”

She shrugged off questions about reaching the world No. 1 spot, insisting she is focused on improving her game.

“I’m not really worried too much about rankings personally. Obviously it would be a huge deal to be able to get to No. 1, but I’m just trying to focus mostly on the week-to-week and try to put myself in position as much as I can,” she added.

Besides Boutier and Vu, the 66-strong field includes former No. 1s Lydia Ko and Ariya Jutanugarn as well as multiple Major champions Brooke Henderson and Minjee Lee. Amateur Chen Xingtong, 15, is the sole Singaporean competing.

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