Michelle Wie never did it.
Neither did current LPGA Tour wunderkinds Lexi Thompson or Lydia Ko.
None of those phenoms qualified for the biggest championship in women’s golf at 11 years of age, but Lucy Li has.
Li, a precocious sixth-grader from Redwood Shores, Calif., is making a habit of breaking records. In 2013, at age 10, she became the youngest player to advance to match play at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, and the youngest to compete in the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
Now Li is the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open. On May 19 at Half Moon Bay (Calif.) Golf Links’ Old Course, Li shot 74-68 for an even-par total of 142 to earn medalist honors by seven strokes in a sectional qualifier. Kathleen Scavo, a 16-year-old high school junior from Benicia, Calif., finished second at 149, with University of California-Davis golfer Paige Lee taking the third and final spot at 150.
The U.S. Women’s Open will be conducted June 19-22 at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2 in the Village of Pinehurst, N.C. The 69th U.S. Women’s Open will be contested the week after the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, marking the first time the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open will be played on the same course in consecutive weeks.
Li will surpass Thompson, who was 12 years, 4 months and 18 days old when she competed in the 2007 Women’s Open at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines, N.C. Li, who turns 12 on Oct. 1, will be 11 years, 8 months and 19 days old when she begins the championship at Pinehurst on June 19.
Although Li is the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open, she will not be the youngest to compete in the championship. Beverly Klass played in the 1967 U.S. Women’s Open at Virginia Hot Springs Golf & Tennis Club in Hot Springs, Va., at 10 years, 7 months, 21 days old. Sectional qualifying was introduced in 1976.
News of Li’s accomplishment traveled fast on Twitter Monday night.
Golf Channel announcer Kay Cockerill tweeted, “DCP champ still wows,” referring to Li’s victory at the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship in April at Augusta National.
And from CBSsports.com’s Gary Parrish: “I have an 11-year-old who can barely tie shoes.”
A young competitor making history at a USGA championship in the North Carolina Sandhills is nothing new.
In 2000, Wie, then 10, became the youngest player to compete in the WAPL at Legacy Golf Links in Aberdeen, N.C., a short drive from Pinehurst. A year later, Morgan Pressel became the youngest to qualify for a U.S. Women’s Open, which was conducted at Pine Needles. Pressel was 12 at the time of her qualifier, but had turned 13 by the start of the championship.
Thompson beat Pressel’s mark in 2007 by six months, again with the championship at Pine Needles. Both Pressel and Thompson have gone on to win the Kraft Nabisco Championship, a women’s professional major, at 18 and 19 years of age, respectively. The youngest player to make the cut at a U.S. Women’s Open is Marlene Hagge, at age 12 years 6 months, in 1946.
In 2008 at Pinehurst No. 2, Danny Lee became the youngest U.S. Amateur champion at 18 years, 1 month, a mark he held for one year, until Byeong-Hun An won that championship at 17 years, 11 months, 13 days at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla.
Li has already shown remarkable aptitude for the game at a young age. Last June, she qualified for match play at the WAPL in Norman, Okla., before falling in the first round. In August, she shot a 1-under-par 70 in the second round of stroke-play qualifying at the U.S. Women’s Amateur, missing a playoff for the match-play field by two strokes.
“She is still learning to play,” swing instructor Jim McLean told the Charleston Post-Courier last August prior to the U.S. Women’s Amateur. “She makes great contact almost every time and she has improved her accuracy. It’s fun to watch her. I’m very proud of Lucy, the person she is, how mature, how smart and how nice she is. She’s a very nice girl.”
McLean has been working with Li since she showed promise 3½ years ago. Li tagged along to the driving range to watch her older brother, Luke, hit balls. Luke, who attends Princeton University, competed on his high school golf team. Lucy had been a diver – she dove off the 10-meter platform at 4 – and a gymnast before discovering golf.
Li’s parents contacted McLean, whose students include Thompson, to have a look at Lucy’s swing and he was immediately impressed. In just a few years, Li, who averages about 225 yards off the tee, was competing against much older players.
This past December, Li finished 11th at the prestigious Dixie Amateur at Heron Bay Golf Club in Coral Springs, Fla., shooting rounds of 76-70-73-71 for a 2-over total of 290. A week later, she finished 17th at the Junior Orange Bowl, an event won by Canada’s Brooke Mackenzie Henderson, who has qualified for a second consecutive U.S. Women’s Open and is No. 3 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking™.
Competing against players her own age, Li won the 10-11 Division at the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship on the Sunday before the Masters. That event was televised nationally by Golf Channel, and Li wasn’t awed by the bright lights.
Now a brighter spotlight awaits Li at Pinehurst next month.