PINEHURST, United States: In pigtails and polka-dots, pint-sized Lucy Li displayed plenty of poise on Tuesday as she talked about taking on the US Women’s Open at the age of 11.
The California sixth-grader, whose family is from Hong Kong, booked her place in the second women’s major of the year by taking medalist honors in sectional qualifying.
Her status as the youngest qualifier in the history of the event has put her in the spotlight, but Li said it won’t put her under pressure this week at Pinehurst.
“The perfect week, I just want to go out there and have fun and play the best I can and I really don’t care about the outcome,” Li said. “It’s just I want to have fun and learn.
“I want to learn a lot from these great players.”
Li didn’t think she’d be intimidated by the crowds she’s sure to draw this week. She’s already appeared at one of golf’s iconic venues this year, winning the 10-11 girls age group in the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at Augusta National in April.
“It’s awesome, right? I mean, Pinehurst and Augusta National in, like, two months. I mean, that’s just amazing. It’s mind blowing for me.”
But Li’s achievement in earning a place in the field has prompted concern as well as admiration from older pros.
“For an 11-year-old to actually qualify, on this stage, it’s extraordinary,” said Norwegian veteran Suzann Pettersen, ranked fourth in the world. “Hopefully she can have a fantastic week. I’m sure she’s already met and played with some of our big idols out here.”
But Pettersen also hopes Li, and other young golfers, don’t home in on their sport to the exclusion of other experiences.
“I really just hope that they’re also having fun with it and really enjoying what they’re doing. Because it’s a long life. In golf you can play forever, so really enjoy it.”
Li, who tops out at five feet, two inches (1.6m) has sampled other activities. She said she “really likes” dancing, “loves” diving and also plays table tennis and badminton.
But nothing else has golf’s appeal.
“I like golf because it’s different from other sports,” she said. “Anybody can play it — if you’re tall, short, fast or slow, that’s what I like about it.”
Li didn’t seem to be beset by worries over her golfing future, and whether she’d like to follow in the path of players such as Michelle Wie, Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson, who made precocious leaps to the professional ranks.
“I haven’t really thought about that,” Li said. “Right now it’s just: play as well as I can and the game’s going to take me wherever it’s going to take me.”