PINEHURST — If Lucy Li handles Pinehurst No. 2 and the U.S. Womens Open with the ease she handled a press conference Tuesday, she should be fine.
Forget that Li is 11 years old and the youngest player ever to qualify for the Womens Open. On Tuesday, she answered questions from a room of adults with confidence and candor that belied her age.
She wasnt wide-eyed or edgy in any way. She gave some thoughtful answers, some surprising answers.
There were a few giggles. But she came off pretty polished, which could be an indication of how she might deal with the test that is the Womens Open, and on an unrelenting course that is No. 2.
Li was asked if she had ever been intimidated on a golf course.
No. I just dont care that much, she said, causing laughter in the interview room.
Anything about playing in the Womens Open make her nervous?
Not really, she said.
In the 16-minute media session, Li talked of Donald Ross courses, her favorite sports, favorite subjects in school, favorite golfer, favorite foods.
There even was a question about the last two books she has read.
I love Rick Riordan, so I read all of his books, she quickly replied. And I like reading Sherlock Holmes, too.
Li is listed at 5 foot 2, which may be generous. Michelle Wie, one of the LPGAs biggest names, said she was introduced Sunday afternoon to Li, saying her first impression was: She looks so darn cute.
Wie said she hoped Li would feel comfortable enough to ask questions of the other players.
Were not scary; we wont bite, Wie said.
The real deal
Its not as if Li was issued an invitation to the U.S Womens Open by the U.S. Golf Association the way Beverly Klass competed in the 1967 Womens Open at age 10. In the USGA sectional qualifier at Half Moon Bay, Calif., Li finished at even-par 142 and was the medalist by eight shots.
Shes the real deal, said Bryan Bush, a local Pinehurst caddie who will carry Lis bag this week.
Li, from Redwood Shores, Calif., got in nine holes Tuesday at No. 2. One of her playing partners was Beatriz Recari of Spain, an LPGA Tour pro and European Solheim Cup member last year.
I think shes fearless. I think shes going to do well, Recari said. There were a lot of people out there watching and clapping, and she seemed completely calm. Its good to see youngsters arent afraid to compete at the highest level.
Shes shorter than everybody else, but she hit it pretty solid. Its a long course, but I dont think shes afraid of hitting woods into the greens.
Stacy Lewis, the top-ranked womens player in the world, said she first noticed Li on the practice range Tuesday, adding, How little she was and the pigtails kind of caught me off-guard.
Nor was Lewis that convinced that an 11-year-old playing in the Womens Open was such a good thing.
Im not a big fan of it, Lewis said. She qualified, so we cant say anything about that. You qualify for an Open, its a great thing. But I just like to see kids be successful at every level before they come out here.
Lewis said it would be wise for Li to play in more events such as the U.S. Womens Amateur before competing against seasoned LPGA professionals. Li qualified for the U.S. Womens Am last year the youngest to do it and was the youngest to reach the match-play portion during the 2013 U.S. Womens Amateur Public Links event.
I just like to see kids learn how to win before they come get beat up out here, Lewis said.
Her decision to play
Li said it was her decision, not her parents, to attempt to qualify for the Womens Open this year.
Because its 36 holes and I didnt care if I qualified or not, she said. I just wanted to go for the experience.
Doesnt sound like an 11-year-old. It was only when she talked about celebrating birthdays at a Dave & Busters and then watching a movie that she sounded like a sixth-grader.
And the high-pitched giggles. Those were a giveaway, too.
While Raleigh native Webb Simpson is Lis favorite golfer, she said she was inspired by Erik Compton, the PGA Tour pro who has had two heart transplants. In one of the best story lines of the U.S. Open, Compton tied for second place with Rickie Fowler behind champion Martin Kaymer of Germany.
Hes such a nice guy, and his story is so impressive, Li said of Compton.
Bush, Lis caddie, has lived in Pinehurst since 1982. He was recommended to Lis parents, saying, I happened to luck out with the history maker.
Bush, 38, said he was stunned to learn of Lucys golf knowledge. She had read books about Ross, who designed and built the No. 2 course, as well as such famous golf architects as Alister MacKenzie, who designed Augusta National Golf Club.
I was kind of blown away, really, Bush said. She knew how Ross built the (No. 2) greens. The key phrase for us to always remember, she said, was Ross built the green to repel balls, not to receive them, and that you need to hit the right spots.
A bigger stage
Li received a lot of exposure on the Sunday before this years Masters, winning her age division in the inaugural Drive, Chip & Putt Championship at Augusta National. The Golf Channel provided live coverage, and Li got her share of TV time.
But this will be golf on a bigger stage, on No. 2, in the Womens Open.
Lexi Thompson, who won the years first major title at the Kraft Nabisco, was 12 when she qualified for the 2007 U.S. Womens Open at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in Southern Pines. Then the youngest qualifier, she dealt with media interviews and autograph sessions and missed the cut after rounds of 76 and 82.
It was pretty overwhelming, Thompson said Tuesday. My advice this week would be to have fun. Take it as a learning experience. If this is what she wants to do for her life, she will learn from the other players and see what she needs to improve on.
But Li said she hasnt thought that far ahead, that its more about this week and the U.S. Womens Open.
Right now, its just play as well as I can, and the games going to take me wherever its going to take me, Li said.
Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip