She’s 11, and playing in the US Women’s Open

calexander@newsobserver.comJune 18, 2014 

It’s hard to imagine an 11-year-old girl being overly brash, and Lucy Li certainly doesn’t look the part.

Li became the youngest to qualify for a U.S. Women’s Open this year, winning her U.S. Golf Association sectional by seven shots. Media requests were turned down by her parents, but a YouTube video soon appeared that had a smiling Li saying, “I am the future of the game.”

Well, hello, Lucy Li.

The video had a little of the feel of Nike’s old Tiger Woods “Hello, World” ads. Except Li playfully pulled up her pigtails, then she showed off her braces.

The golfing world got a close look at Li on the Sunday before the Masters when she won her age division in the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at Augusta National. Qualifying for the Open brought another wave of attention to the girl from Redwood Shores, Calif., and another will come this week at Pinehurst.

In 2001, when the U.S. Women’s Open was at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in Southern Pines, Morgan Pressel had golf fans talking and the media clamoring after her. Pressel qualified at age 12 and had turned 13 a week before the Open.

“I remember all these people coming to watch the young whippersnapper,” Pressel joked during a recent visit to Pinehurst.

Six years later, the Open again was at Pine Needles and Lexi Thompson was the new whippersnapper. A 12-year-old, like Pressel, Thompson was charming with her youthful innocence and her exuberance in being able to tee it up with the best players in the world.

Now, Thompson and Pressel are among the best, both major championship winners.

Thompson said she had just one nervous moment at Pine Needles – on her first tee shot. “I was shaking. It was pretty crazy,” she said.

The rest, she said, was pretty easy. Just golf.

“I just soaked it all in,” she said. “I didn’t realize all that was going on. I was just so excited to be there.”

Pressel and Thompson now look at photos from those Opens and have to stifle laughs.

“It seems like a long time ago,” Thompson said. “I see pictures and like, ‘Ooo-h, did I look like that?’ 

Pressel, 26, is proud of the fact she broke 80 both rounds during the 2001 Open, with two 77s. Thompson had a 76 and 82.

“I thought I was a big shot and thought that was what I was supposed to do,” Pressel said. “Now I think I was 12 years old and played in an Open. I mean, I was a kid.”

Beverly Klass was 10 when she played in the 1967 U.S. Women’s Open but did not qualify. Li went out in her sectional in Half Moon Bay, Calif., and shot rounds of 74 and 68 to earn her trip to Pinehurst.

A year ago, Li was the youngest player to make it into the match-play segment of the Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship. She later became the youngest to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship. Now, the Women’s Open.

Pressel said there should be more – and soon. Alexa Pano of Florida attempted to qualify for the Open this year, but didn’t make it. She’s 9. Maybe next year at 10.

“The kids are good. And they give it a shot,” Pressel said. “An 11-year-old doesn’t have to try and qualify for an Open, but they’ve seen others do it. They think they can do it, so they give it a shot.”

As for her advice for Li, Pressel said, “Go have some fun. Try to learn what the best players are doing. See what it takes.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip

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