BELLEAIR, Fla. — Lilia Vu rose to No. 1 in the world and took the lead in the Rolex LPGA Player of the Year race when she came from three strokes back to win by three at Pelican Golf Club on Sunday.
Vu, a two-time major winner this season, gave her winner’s press conference right next to Annika Sorenstam, tournament host for the newly renamed Annika driven by Gainbridge at Pelican.
It always bummed Vu that she didn’t win The Annika Award for college player of year while at UCLA.
“I’m finally super excited to win something with your name on it,” said Vu, who actually won the Rolex Annika Major Award this year, too.
But while much attention is given to the top of the leaderboard, and rightly so, there’s always so much drama going on further down as players vie for a chance to play at CME and keep their cards.
Two of the biggest names who didn’t make the 60-player field in Naples, Florida, include defending champion Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson, reminding us once again of how quickly things can turn.
Here are five storylines from a sun-splashed Sunday in Florida, where so much was on the line:
Flipped a switch
Vu said she started to feel the wheels come off on the back nine after a bogey on No. 12 and a mishit off the tee on the 13th.
“I was 40 yards behind everyone,” said Vu, “and then I like hit my approach shot, and I was a little soggy diapers about that.”
That’s when Vu’s caddie, Cole Pensanti, stepped in and told her that it didn’t matter where she was on the green, she could make a putt from anywhere.
“I think that really flipped my mindset,” she said.
Vu birdied Nos. 15 and 16 to close with a 66 and earn her fourth victory of the season. She entered the penultimate event trailing four-time winner Celine Boutier by three points in the POY race. That changed pretty quickly, however, after Boutier missed the cut and Vu came out on top, earning 30 points. She now leads by 27.
Mom on the move
Azahara Munoz felt like throwing up all week. The Spanish player had never had to fight for her card like this before. Coming off of maternity leave, Munoz has had to balance life on the road with son Lucas, though she chose to come to The Annika on her own so that she could focus.
“Trying to win a tournament is stressful,” said Munoz, “but trying to keep your card is very, very stressful.”
Munoz started the week 100th on the CME points list and moved up to 64th after taking a share of second at Pelican. She’ll have Category 1 status in 2024.
Cookies and crochet
There was a point during Bianca Pagdanganan’s season when she missed four cuts in a row by a single stroke. She called it crushing.
“When you’re going through those times,” she said, “it feels like you’re never going to got out of it.”
Pagdanganan tried to find other hobbies outside of golf to fill her time so that the game wouldn’t consume her. She picked up baking, raving about her chocolate chip cookies, and she started crocheting. She also read about a dozen books.
When she finally did manage to turn things around – a share of third in Arkansas and a share of second in Texas – it was too late to make it to any of the Asian events because fields were already set.
Forced to sit out for a month while she crocheted a narwhal and dinosaur, the wait, and the hobbies, paid off.
Pagdanganan came into The Annika 60th on the CME point list – the top 60 advance – and finished 57th after a top-20 finish at Pelican that included a birdie on the last hole.
“I kept working hard and just doing everything I could to try to get my game back,” said Pagdanganan. “It takes a lot to be able to do that so I’m very proud of that.”
Moving in and out
LPGA sophomore Stephanie Kyriacou of Australia qualified for her first CME Group Tour Championship by jumping 15 spots on the CME points list after her T-5 finish at The Annika.
“Today I definitely found it pretty tough,” said Kyriacou. “I mean, even before the round started I was quite nervous.
“But my caddie kind of just said, you know, it’s another round of golf. Like, yeah, there is more riding on it, but you’ve played good up until now not thinking about that, so let’s just try to go out there and do it again.”
Kyriacou and Patty Tavatanakit were the two players who played their way into the CME field this week, knocking out Celine Borge and Albane Valenzuela.
Rookie race wraps up
South Korea’s Hae Ran Ryu locked up the Louise Suggs Rookie of the Year award with a share of 12th at the Pelican. Ryu said she first set the goal of winning Rookie of the Year after her maiden victory in Arkansas.
Ryu met with the media on Sunday and answered questions in English. When the interview was over, she smiled wide and gave a deep exhale. Asked which was harder, the interview or the win, Ryu said, “English is more difficult for me.”
Ryu first started English classes at age 4 in South Korea and continues to work with a tutor once a week while on the road. She has 13 top-20 finishes on the LPGA this season and is ranked 13th in the world.