PINEHURST, N.C. — With pigtails and plenty of giggles, Lucy Li just wants to have fun like any 11-year-old girl.
Except that she’s playing the biggest event in women’s golf.
Li, a sixth-grader from the Bay Area who doesn’t appear to be the least bit overwhelmed by the attention around her, became the youngest qualifier in U.S. Women’s Open history when she shot 68 at Half Moon Bay last month to win her sectional by seven shots.
She celebrated by having dinner at her favorite restaurant and watching “The Amazing Spiderman 2.”
Now it’s time for the amazing Lucy Li show.
“She looks so darn cute,” said Michelle Wie, who didn’t make it to her first Women’s Open until she was 13. “I was like, ‘I don’t think I looked that cute when I was 11.’ But she just looks so excited, so wide-eyed. ... And I’m just really so excited for her to be out. It’s a memory that will last her a lifetime. What other 11-year-old can say that they played in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst? And she got to see the men play, too.”
Life is moving at warp speed for little Lucy Li.
She only became serious about golf four years ago when she set up shop in Miami to work with Jim McLean. Just two months ago, the precocious 11-year-old with a mouth full of braces won her age division in the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at Augusta National. And now she’s at Pinehurst No. 2, ready to take on the course where Martin Kaymer won the U.S. Open on Sunday.
“It’s awesome, right?” she said. “I mean, Pinehurst and Augusta National in like two months. I mean, that’s just amazing. It’s mind-blowing for me. It’s been awesome, because it’s been ... I mean, the food is great and it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve made a lot of friends.”
There’s something about U.S. Women’s Open in the North Carolina sandhills that attracts all the kids.
Morgan Pressel qualified when she was 12 and had just turned 13 when the Women’s Open was down the street at Pine Needles in 2001 (Li wasn’t even born then). Lexi Thompson qualified and played at 12 when it returned to Pine Needles in 2007.
Too young? Both went on to win major championships.
“Look, if you’re good enough, you’re old enough — or young enough, whichever way you look at it,” Laura Davies said. “If you can play the golf and you can qualify, then have a go. What’s the worst that can happen? She shoots a million this week and everyone says, ‘Wasn’t it great she was here?’ So I don’t think anything bad can come out of it because she’s too young to worry about the pressure.
“She’s just having fun. She’s got a week off school. It’s perfect.”