The top female golfers from the United States and around the world will tee it up at Pinehurst in June for the U.S. Women's Open. And among the field at that major championship will be Lucy Li, an 11-year-old.
Li, a sixth grader from Redwood Shores, California, on Monday became the youngest ever to qualify for the event. She carded rounds of 74 and 68 on the Old Course at Half Moon Bay Golf Links in California to not only qualify but also win by seven strokes. Li will be 11 years 8 months and 19 days old when she tees it up June 19 at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club in Pinehurst, North Carolina.
Li will eclipse the previous youngest qualifier, Lexi Thompson, who was 12 years 4 months 18 days old when she played in the 2007 Open.
But she is not the youngest-ever competitor; that distinction belongs to Beverly Klass, who played in the 1967 Open at 10 years 7 months 21 days old, when qualification was not required. Sectional qualifying for USGA championships started in 1976.
Last year at 10 years 8 months 16 days old, Li became the youngest player to advance into match play at the Women's Amateur Public Links Championship - surpassing Allisen Corpuz of Hawaii, who qualified for the 2008 championship. Michelle Wie had previously been that event's youngest qualifier at 10 years 8 months 23 days in 2000.
Li also became the youngest qualifier in history at the Women's Amateur Championship in 2013, delighting galleries as she hopped and skipped down fairways, snapping her tiny fingers as she sang between shots.
There is no minimum age requirement at the Open.
"That's the democratic nature of all the championships conducted by the USGA," said Christina Lance, assistant manager for USGA championships. "As long as players reach the handicap requirement, they can attempt to qualify. This tournament is open to all."
Li, a youngster with ribbons in her hair, obviously looks like a child, but she was eligible to qualify because her handicap is 2.4 or better.
Li handled the spotlight with ease in April at Augusta National during the Masters week when she won the 10-11 age division at a Drive, Chip and Putt Championship. Her poise, despite her age, has drawn high praise from her swing coach, Jim McLean, who has trained her for nearly 3 1/2 years.
Last year, when asked at the Public Links event if she wanted to play college or professional golf in the future, Li shrugged and replied, "I don't know, just wherever it takes me."
And when asked what she learns from watching professional golf on television, Li, who is a fan of Rory McIlroy, said, "When you watch the men play, their games are very interesting because they hit balls all over the place and sometimes they have to get out of the woods."
Qualifying for the Women's Open will continue through May 30. Alexa Pano, a 9-year-old from Florida, has entered the last qualifying tournament in Vero Beach, Florida, and could surpass Li and Klass as the youngest entrant.
"It's a great thing for the future and growth of the game to see these young players qualify," Lance said. "It's still pretty extraordinary."
© 2014 New York Times News Service