Culture / Sporting Life

New No. 1 Nelly Korda Quickly Falls For Texas and The Woodlands, While a Worthy Chevron Champion Emerges For This Diverse Land

This LPGA Major Makes More Than a Splash In Its Texas Debut

BY // 04.24.23

Nelly Korda raises one long arm in the air and lets it drop. This is how she celebrates sinking a 55 foot eagle putt on the 18th green. It’s a putt that will leave her one shot short of a playoff for the LPGA’s first Major of the year. A putt that will vault her back into being the No. 1 ranked women’s golfer in the world. But it’s not really about any of that to Korda in the moment.

It’s more about feeling she finally gave all the fans who watched her in The Woodlands something to shout about.

This is the first of what figures to be a long run of Chevron Championships in this Texas township that’s grown into a hub of its own outside of Houston. And while this initial Woodlands run will be most remembered for Lilia Vu, whose incredible family story makes her just about the perfect champion for one of the most diverse regions in the entire United States, it’s also about building for the future tournaments to come.

And one thing’s already certain. Texas loves Nelly Korda. She plays to the largest galleries at The Club at Carlton Woods, including for Sunday’s final round. Even after several players seem to leave her behind — pre 18th eagle — the crowds stick with her. It’s not quite Nelly’s Army. But it is easy to imagine the masses growing to that in the future here.

For her part, Nelly Korda doesn’t need to wait. She’s already ready to give the love and appreciation right back.

“The crowds were amazing,” Korda tells PaperCity when I ask her for overall impression of this first Chevron Championship in The Woodlands. “The crowds that we have gotten, that followed my group, were really great. They’re treating us really well. I like the golf course too.

“I think it’s a lot more. . .  It’s challenging.”

It is certainly Major worthy. This Chevron Championship finish squeezes in more drama than the most monumental episode of Succession. Korda gets on the par 5 18th in two and drains that eagle putt to get to nine under. Vu birdies the 18th (after birding the 17th) to take the clubhouse lead at 10 under. Angel Yin, who looks like she’s collapsing with bogeys on 16 and 17, finds a way to birdie 18th to force a sudden death playoff with Vu.

Yin than hit the ball into the water on the playoff hole (that drama queen No. 18 again), essentially taking all the pressure off Vu, who finishes with a third straight birdie. If a men’s Major ended with that many twists and turns, we’d be hearing about it for decades.

The Chevron Championship – Final Round
Lilia Vu (right) and her trainer gets out after jumping in the water to celebrate winning the Chevron Championship. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Women’s golf deserves that kind of obsessive attention and maybe this Major in The Woodlands can become part of eventually building that type of real crossover buzz. Vu jumping off the brand new mini dock off the 18th green into a pond after winning — keeping a tradition alive that started when this Major, played in Palm Springs for more than 50 years, was known as the Dinah Shore — certainly made for great TV. Having your champion holding up a shiny silver trophy while wearing a white terry cloth bathrobe and slippers is one of the more uniquely delightful scenes in all of sports.

“The crowds were amazing. The crowds that we have gotten, that followed my group, were really great.” — Nelly Korda

Lilia Vu and One Incredible Grandpa

Lilia Vu, everyone’s All-American as a college star at UCLA, makes it mean even more meaningful by bringing her grandpa’s story onto the stage with her. Vu’s grandfather Dinh Du died in 2020, but he changed the trajectory of his entire family — and numerous other families in the Vietnam village where he lived — by building a boat by hand.

A boat large enough to carry 54 people. Well, the boat was built to carry 54. It ended up allowing 82 to escape the war-torn country, with many swimming out to the craft and pleading to be let on. Du refused to turn anyone away, even if it made the already harrowing journey even more dangerous.

“Again my dad, he’s my hero,” says Yvonne Vu, Lilia’s mom and Dinh Du’s daughter. “And that’s why Lilia, I love her. I love her.”

This mom loves that her daughter thinks of her grandfather after the biggest win of her career. Lilia Vu gets a $765,000 first place check and that shiny Dinah Shore trophy, but she knows it’s her grandfather who moved mountains and crossed an ocean to make her family’s story possible.

In many ways, it’s a Houston kind of story. The most diverse city in America (or at least its region) being home to an LPGA Major, and champions like Lilia Vu just fits

“Not only is Houston one of the fastest growing cities in the country, but it’s also an incredibly diverse city,” Chevron Championship tournament director Jeremy Harvey-Samuel tells PaperCity. “It’s also from a cultural perspective incredibly diverse. From the food and beverage to the art scene to all that.

“And that’s something we want to tap into. That’s something we want to bring to this event. The LPGA is an incredibly diverse organization. . . We’d proud of how we celebrate diversity and equality and equity. The city reflects our identity as well.”

The Chevron Championship – Final Round
Lilia Vu jumped into the pond and got soaked with champagne to celebrate her first Major title at the Chevron Championship. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

The LPGA players seem to feel a real responsibility to do right by the people who come out to watch them play, especially the little girls who come out to see them. Allisen Corpuz comes out after her final round with a whole box of golf balls so she can sign them for the kids waiting along one of the barriers. Lilia Vu gets mad at herself during her 4-under 68 final round for the way she’s going around the course, acting almost angry.

“I was upset about how I portrayed myself and how I handled myself,” Vu says.

So Vu reminds herself of the last time she talked to her grandpa. He was in the hospital for his heart condition and she was stressed about a tournament she was headed to play in. Vu’s grandfather told her she’d play her best.

“He’s in the hospital, thinking of me and my tournament,” Vu says, shaking her head.

Now, Vu is thinking of her grandpa after the biggest moment of her golf life. Thinking about how there are bigger things than golf, more important stories.

Nelly Korda, The New No. 1

Nelly Korda’s quick bond with Texas and The Woodlands is another kind of tale. A successful long-running golf Major needs this kind of easy star power too. The 24-year-old Korda is now the No. 1 ranked player in the world for good reason. She figures to be back in contention in The Woodlands next year too. The crowds will be back for her for sure.

Korda hits it beautifully on this uncharacteristic overcast and downright chilly Texas spring day. She gives herself chance after chance. But too few putts fall, almost no big ones until that 55 foot eagle on her 72nd hole of the tournament.

“I think on 11 or 12, I was just like, ‘It’s just not my day today,’ ” Korda says. “I’ve put myself into contention a bunch this year already. I just haven’t been able to finish it. Which stings, obviously. But I think one of those days, if I keep knocking on the door, it’ll eventually open for me.”

There may be no better place to do it than this land of opportunity. An LPGA Major in Texas, in The Woodlands, just feels right.

“I’m very emotional,”  Yvonne Vu says of hearing her daughter talk about the family’s true hero, the dad who built a boat by hand. “Very.”

It’s that kind of day, that kind of new Texas tournament.

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