[PHOTO: Zhe Ji]
The return of the Buick LPGA Shanghai, cancelled the past three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, did not disappoint. On Sunday afternoon at Qizhong Garden Golf Club, Angel Yin and Lilia Vu found themselves in a duel for the title that needed a playoff to decide the winner. It was a moment of déjà vu for the pair of Californians: in April, they were in a playoff at the Chevron Championship. There, Vu became a major champion. In Shanghai, it was Yin’s turn. After 159 LPGA starts, the 25-year-old LPGA veteran finally had her first tour win.
Angel Yin, -14 (final-round 70)
Lilia Vu, -14 (68)
Hye-Jin Choi, -13 (64)
Esther Henseleit, -13 (68)
Yu Liu, -13 (68)
Ariya Jutanugarn, -13 (69)
Pavarisa Yoktuan, -13 (70)
“That helped me a lot, to be able to be expressive and not just flat-lining on the golf course,” Yin said of her new on-course strategy where she expresses the emotion she’s feeling in the moment. “Growing up, everyone taught me to be stone-faced, no emotions, poker face. I don’t think that fits me. What’s fitting me right now is what I’m doing to express myself.”
What it means
For years, Yin has been known as one of the longer hitters in the women’s game. But it takes more than length to win. Yin has been on tour since she was 19 years old. And though she’s had success—she’s already played in three Solheim Cups for the U.S.—the wait for the win was getting long.
This year, the 25-year-old has found a strategy that works for her: instead of remaining even-keeled throughout each round, she’s letting herself feel and express her emotions. Yin has talked to World Golf Hall of Famer Juli Inkster, who told her to stop hindering her emotions on the golf course. “I [told Juli that I] don’t really feel much emotions on the golf course,” Yin said. “She was like, no, that’s not good. I want you to get mad again.”
If Yin is experiencing frustration, she lets herself feel it. If she’s psyched, she lets herself feel that, too. After a great tee shot on the 17th hole in the final round at Qizhong Garden Golf Club, Yin could be heard on the broadcast yelling to herself, “Yes! Come on!”
With only one missed cut in the 15 tournaments she’s played in 2023, and five top-10 finishes, including this first career win, her new, more expressive, on-course strategy is certainly working.
How it happened
Vu started the final round at 10-under, two shots behind Yin. It was a lot like the Chevron, where Vu also came from behind to force Yin into a playoff. Vu’s closing 68 gave her the clubhouse lead at 14-under. But then Yin countered, making a birdie on the 17th and a par on the 18th to finish with a two-under 70 for the round and matching Vu’s 14-under to force the playoff
“She’s world No.1 for a reason,” Yin said of Vu. “Her performances this year have been incredible. Second time playing with her so I know I had to do something good.”
Yin did something good right away: she birdied the first playoff hole, securing her first LPGA win and the $US315,000 winner’s cheque.
— LPGA (@LPGA) October 15, 2023
Best of the rest
It feels a little cheap to call the runner-up the best of the rest, but Vu deserves more attention than she’s received this season. The 26-year-old has won two majors in 2023, the Chevron and the AIG Women’s Open. The feat made her the first American to win multiple majors in a season since Inkster in 1999. In February, Vu also won the Honda LPGA Thailand. She’s the No.1 player in the world and nearly became the first with four wins this year. As we head into the final four tournaments of the season, Vu is showing her game is still plenty sharp as she leads the LPGA Rolex Player of the Year race. Should she win, she would become the first American to claim that title since Stacy Lewis in 2012 and just the second sine Beth Daniel won it in 1994.
Special mention needs to also go to Karis Davidson, the Scotland-born Australian tour pro who was tied for the lead at 13-under until a bogey at the par-3 16th hole dropped her to 12-under, two shots out of the playoff and tied for eighth – a result that was closer than it sounds. It was Davidson’s best finish of the LPGA season and lifted her to 88th on the CME points list.
Question of the week
This is an intense time of year for players trying to keep their LPGA cards. The top 100 on the CME points list maintain status for the next season, meaning these final events are critical if you’re a player hovering near that top-100 line. But while players are trying to have their best finishes of the season, they’re doing so with a wild travel schedule. The tour went from Texas to Shanghai and now proceeds to South Korea, Malaysia and Japan before returning to Florida—with no weeks off. Players are now not only trying to perform, they’re having to do so with the variables that come with travel, from jet lag to losing clubs via an airline. Creating a tour schedule is a complex task, but is this too critical of a time on the calendar for this much travel?