Li expects to have major "fun"
Lucy Li took her seat at the table in front of the assembled media two days before the U.S. Women's Open, her pony tails resting on either side of her lime green visor, looking almost like any other golfer.
One difference: she’s just 11 years old.
But she sounded a lot like the pros in her press conference Tuesday when talking about the Pinehurst No. 2 course she’s about to face.
“I think the course is great,” she said. “The greens are running perfectly and there’s not much rough. It’s kind of a links-style and Donald Ross.”
Youth is not much of an anomaly in women’s professional golf. Michelle Wie made waves at 13. Lexi Thompson, the 2014 winner of the Kraft Nabisco Championship, a women’s major, was 12 when she played in her first U.S. Women’s Open in 2007.
Li is the youngest player to ever qualify for the U.S. Open, younger than Thompson in 2007. But don’t let that fool you - she said nothing about this week makes her scared or nervous. It was her idea to try to qualify for the U.S. Open, just to get the experience, not caring if she didn’t qualify. But she did.
She’s got a good deal of knowledge on Ross, the architect of No. 2 and whose original design Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore recently restored to the course. She likes him because she’s played on two other courses he designed - the Country Club of Charleston and Peninsula Golf Club in San Francisco.
“I know that he loves those undulating greens,” she said. “They’re tough, but I like them because they’re good. They can help you and they can hurt you.”
Crowds don’t bother her, she said. She thinks she plays better, actually.
“I just want to go out there and have fun and play the best I can,” she said. “I really don’t care about the outcome. I want to have fun and learn.”
Thompson, who’s also competing this week, would encourage her to do that exact thing. She made her record-setting appearance just 10 minutes away at Pine Needles seven years ago.
“I would say just have fun this week,” she said. “If this is what she wants to do for her life, she will learn off the other players and she what she needs to improve on.”
Li might be able to hit a drive 230 yards - and even further with adrenaline, she said - but she’s not much different than any other 11-year-old. She likes to swim, play table tennis and read. After she qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open, she went out to dinner at her favorite restaurant and watched a movie. She said meeting her favorite golfer, Webb Simpson, last week has been the coolest thing she’s done since she got to Pinehurst.
She likes golf because she feels anybody can play it, and her age or height don’t discount her.
“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.”
And while she might be shorter than most if not all of the other competitors in this week’s tournament, that doesn’t mean she can’t play. She won her qualifier by seven shots. And while professional golf may be on the horizon, Lucy Li isn’t focused on that.
“Right now, it’s just, play as well as I can,” she said. “The game’s going to take me wherever it’s going to take me.”