NAPLES, Florida – Lilia Vu cried on the 18th green last year at the CME Group Tour Championship. The desire to win was so great that when the season came to an end, Vu broke down.
“It’s kind of this concept where when you want something too much, it gets away from you,” she said of her close calls. “You just have to believe it’s coming, and I did that this year.”
Just before Vu left for CME last season, the windshield wipers blew off her car. Her caddie urged her to buy a new car during the offseason. Vu told herself that she’d buy her dream car, a Mercedes Benz G550, after she won her first event. Vu jumped the gun, however, and bought it before that first triumph came at the Honda LPGA Thailand in February. Three more victories have since followed, including two majors.
“I was like, ‘Oh, it’s because I knew I was going to win,’ ” she said with a smile.
Vu enters the final event of the 2023 season with 27-point lead over Celine Boutier in the Rolex Player of the Year race. Boutier, who became the first Frenchwoman to win the Amundi Evian over the summer, will need to win the CME to have a chance of upsetting Vu. A victory is worth 30 points.
Boutier would be the first Frenchwoman to win the award. No American has won the POY since Stacy Lewis in 2014.
Neither Vu nor Boutier had ever won an LPGA event prior to this season, making their rise in 2023 all the more intriguing.
Boutier didn’t start thinking about her chances for Player of the Year until after she won an epic nine-hole playoff in Malaysia for her fourth title. She knew it would take something special to overtake Vu’s two major victories. While the PGA Tour uses a player vote to determine its POY, Boutier appreciates the LPGA’s points format.
“You just can’t fight against points,” she said.
Celine Boutier of France plays an approach shot on the tenth hole during the second round of The ANNIKA driven by Gainbridge at Pelican Golf Club on November 10, 2023 in Belleair, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Last season, Boutier ranked third on the LPGA in top-10 finishes with 12 in 24 starts. While she can’t really point to one aspect of her game that’s drastically different to last year, she does believe that putting herself in the mix so many times in 2022 gave her the confidence to enjoy a breakout season.
Vu, who returned to No. 1 in the world after her victory last week at The Annika, currently tops the money list with $3,252,303. Sponsor-less to begin the season, logos now adorn her clothing.
With a $2 million first-place check on the line in Naples, talk around the CME always comes back to money.
Money used to be a sore subject for Vu, who struggled her rookie year when she compared herself to others coming out of college who had sponsors. Vu had help financially from her parents, and while she was grateful for it, the self-inflicted pressure to pay them back hung over her head. The 2019 season was mostly miserable for the former Bruin.
“I think I kind of just like stopped letting money control me,” she said. “I don’t really think about it anymore. I just knew like, OK, I just want to start having fun playing golf again and then everything will follow along. That’s what happened.”
The pandemic break was “huge” for Vu, who used the time to reset her mind with books. The book that got everything started was “The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson.” The premise of the book, she said, is to get one percent better every day.
Vu started a practice in 2020 of reading at least 10 pages of a book every day that she still continues. Right now she’s reading “101 Essays That Will Change the Way You Think” by Brianna Wiest.
Vu looks back on a time when she nearly quit golf as an important building block to her success.
“My rookie year just destroyed me,” she said. “I put so much pressure on each and every shot, life and death.
“I just remember being miserable. This is like the dream, everything we ever worked for was to be out here, and I was just not in the right mindset for it.
“Everything happens for a reason and that’s why I’m here now.”