At 11 years old, most kids who are interested in golf are just learning to hold a club. Lucy Li is not most 11-year-olds. Lucy Li will be playing this weekend in the US Women’s Open Championship on Pinehurst, No.2—the same golf course which brought golfers like Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson to their knees last week.
Li, a pigtailed home-schooled sixth grader from Redwood Shores, CA, qualified in May at a tournament in Half Moon Bay, near San Francisco, and is the youngest ever to qualify for a US Women’s Open tournament. Shooting 74-68 over 36 holes, Li not only qualified, but won the tournament by seven shots over the runner-up. Now she is on the big stage, and does not seem rattled in the least. Saying she just wanted to go out and “have fun and play the best I can,” Li said she does not care about the outcome. She simply wants to “have fun and learn.”
At 11 years old, Li is still too young to join the American Junior Golf Association, which is for 12-year-olds. She is no stranger to the “youngest” tag she carries with her this week at the US Women’s Open. In 2013 she was also the youngest qualifier in the history of the US Women’s Amateur, and the youngest player to reach the match play stage of the Women’s Amateur Publinks Championship. In fact, she told the media on Tuesday that she loves golf because it is different. “Anybody can play it, [whether] you’re tall, short, fast or slow.” Li came under the public eye for the first time in April, when she won her age group at the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt championship the Sunday before the Masters at Augusta.
Her interests go beyond the game of golf, too. She says she likes math, history and science—and likes to read. For fun, she loves arcades and Dave & Buster’s. Her favorite books include anything by Rick Riordan. She also loves Sherlock Holmes novels.
On Tuesday, Li got a chance to play nine holes at Pinehurst, No. 2, and played alongside Beatriz Recari, an LPGA Tour player from Spain. After the round, Recari called her “fearless,” and said she thought she was “going to do well.” Impressed with how calm she stayed as the crowd watched her every shot, Recari said “It’s good to see youngsters not afraid to compete” at such a high level.
Michelle Wie knows exactly what Li is experiencing this week. Wie was only 13 when she competed in the US Open in 2003, and said she hopes Lucy will have the courage to ask questions of the older players. “That’s one thing I wish I did when I was 13,” Wie said when asked about Li, adding “I would tell her to just have fun.”
Not all of the LPGA players were totally on board with Li’s appearance this week at Pinehurst. Stacy Lewis, the world’s No. 1 women’s player, questioned whether it is a good idea for an 11-year-old to be there, “I’d just like to see kids learn how to win” before getting beat up in major tournaments. Lewis added that it might be a good idea for Li to play in more amateur events before taking on the LPGA professionals.
Like it or not, 11-year-old Lucy Li will get a chance to display her talent to the world this weekend at the US Women’s Open. In an effort to promote the women’s game, the USGA decided to hold the event this year on the same course on the week following the men’s championship. The USGA will be the first to admit that having an 11-year-old ambassador like Lucy Li in the field will not hurt the event’s popularity one bit.
Golf Shots is a daily series which provides analysis and commentary on the PGA tour and golf-related topics all year long.
Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky