A patriotic fashion choice, pigtails, braces and an ice-cream bar in hand made Lucy Li seem like the 11-year-old she is in her U.S. Women’s Open debut Thursday. But don’t be fooled.
Li made history as the youngest competitor to qualify for the Women’s Open, but it’s the Bay Area sixth grader’s pizazz that’s made her the tournament’s darling, stealing the headlines away from more seasoned competitors. She posted a lower score than 30 more experienced golfers in the field, but is a longshot to make the cut.
Donning an American flag shirt with hearts instead of stars over a matching red, white and blue sequined skirt, Li posted an eight-over-par 78 in the first round at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club.
“Because it’s the U.S. Open,” she told reporters when asked about her fashion choice. “I like the red, white and blue, too.”
A young U.S. Women’s Open golf competitor is nothing new to the sport. Michelle Wie was 13 when she made her Women’s Open debut. Lexi Thompson was 12. Beverly Klass was 10 when she competed in the 1967 Women’s Open.
But even Wie was a little jealous.
“She looks so darn cute,” Wie told reporters. “I don’t think I looked that cute when I was 11.”
Li may be cute, but she’s still competitive. She studied Donald Ross, the architect of Pinehurst No. 2 who died 54 years before Li was born, to better prepare for the course. Though Li’s 78 was well behind leader Stacy Lewis’s three-under-par 67, her round was a stroke better than Jessica Korda’s, a two-time winner on the LPGA Tour this year. Li told reporters her plan for the rest of the day was to “eat some more ice cream.”
Entering the tournament, Lewis, the top-ranked player in the world, was skeptical about Li competing.
“I’m not a big fan of it. She qualified, so we can’t say anything about that,” Lewis told USA Today Sports on Wednesday. “But I like to see kids be successful at every level before they come out here. I just like to see kids learn how to win before they come get beat up out here. … When I found out she qualified, I said, well where does she go from here? You qualify for an Open at 11, what do you do next? If it was my kid, I wouldn’t let her play in the U.S. Open qualifier at 11, but that’s just me.”
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Li’s performance is the only Women’s Open story on ESPN.com’s front page. She also led the New York Times’s coverage of the tournament. A headline on GolfChannel.com about Li read “Show Stealer.”
She’ll draw more attention if she can become the youngest player to make the cut. She faces an uphill battle: Just three players in the last two Women’s Opens with the same score as Li after the first round have gone on to make the cut, according to ESPN.
If she can post a lower score on Friday, Li might continue making us all feel inadequate through the tournament’s weekend as we ponder what we accomplished at 11.