[PHOTO: Richard Heathcote/R&A]

Came, saw, made off with the trophy across the Atlantic. It’s a familiar tale when it comes to major championship golf played in England during 2023. Every now and then, history really doesn’t waste any time in repeating itself.

Indeed, even if Mississippi native Ally Ewing wasn’t able to maintain the furious pace that saw her recreate the five-shot halfway lead eventual champion Brian Harman owned in last month’s Open Championship, the parallels between the AIG Women’s Open and golf’s oldest major kept on coming almost to the end. At Royal Liverpool Harman held off, among others, local hero Tommy Fleetwood to claim the claret jug by six clear shots. And at Walton Heath, Californian Lilia Vu was, with 18 holes to play, paired with English rose Charley Hull at the head of a tightly packed leaderboard.

As contender in Women’s Open, major winner Lilia Vu battles the weight of her own expectations

The eventual result was similar and not one designed to please the locals. Playing the steady, near mistake-free final round that saw Harman all but lap the field at Hoylake, Vu’s five-under par 67 saw her emerge victorious by a convincing six-shot margin. Just once, at the par-4 15th, did Vu drop a shot to par.

And yes, you guessed it, Vu’s winning aggregate of 14-under par pipped that of Harman by a stroke. Ladies first, you know. This is England after all.

All of which is in sharp contrast to Vu’s play after annexing her maiden major victory at the Chevron Championship in April. Since then, Vu has played in six strokeplay LPGA events. In four of those – including the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and the US Women’s Open – she has failed to make the halfway cut, her best finish T-35 at last week’s Women’s Scottish Open. This week was a startling reversal in form.

“It feels a little surreal to have had this sort of Sunday, especially after the way I’ve been struggling recently,” said Vu, who is projected to be world No.1 in the wake of this, her third win of the year. “I wasn’t sure if I could ever win again. Today, I don’t remember one shot in particular but that shows I was just playing my game. That is the only thing I could control and I stuck to that. Sometimes I can get in my own way. I was horrible at the US Open, for example. So for me it’s all about handling mistakes. I didn’t look too hard at the leaderboard. But I knew I was doing pretty well. Again, it was all about playing my game.”

In contrast to Vu’s almost unrelenting excellence, Hull’s relatively erratic closing 73 – four bogeys, three birdies – was climaxed by a 30-foot putt for par on the 18th that saw her cling to second place, one shot ahead of Jiyai Shin. By way of little consolation, that easily outran Fleetwood’s ultimate fate. At Hoylake, the Englishman could do no better than a T-10 finish.

Perhaps because of that, Hull, who was also second in the US Women’s Open this year, had nothing but good things to say about her conqueror.

“Lilia played unbelievable, really,” she said. “But I just didn’t feel anything went my way, even some lies that I had and I was just running out of steam at the end. But she played great, although it is a little annoying. This is my fourth second-place finish of the year. But I really feel like next year will be my time. I’m going to really focus on working on that over this winter. I feel like I want to start tomorrow with my coach.”

Long after the destination of the title had been all but decided and just after Hull pitched to the penultimate green, play was momentarily interrupted by an outside force. Three “Just Stop Oil” protesters added golf to a list of targets that previously contained the World Snooker Championship, an England vs Australia Ashes Test and the World Cycling Championships. A couple of smoke flares did little to damage the playing surface, but Hull, an asthma sufferer was briefly affected.

“A bunch of idiots came on the green,” she said with typical bluntness. “It wasn’t scary. I was laughing at them. But the smoke went down my chest. I needed my inhaler but didn’t have it in my bag. I was coughing for a bit down the last. I’ve been around smokers all my life, but that was really thick. Plus, how did they get here today? Do you reckon they drove? They are such a bunch of idiots.”

Indeed, they should have known how futile such a gesture would be. Nothing was ever going to stop Lilia Vu. Not on this day.