PINEHURST, NORTH CAROLINA – Lucy Li showed her age only when she finished her historic round at the U.S. Women’s Open on Thursday.
Just like any 11-year-old, she went straight for an ice cream.
The youngest qualifier ever at the Women’s Open played a grown-up game at Pinehurst No. 2, except for three holes that made her 8-over 78 look a lot worse than it was, and stretched the odds of her becoming the youngest player to make the cut.
“She looks 11. She doesn’t talk 11. And she doesn’t hit the ball like she’s 11,” said Catherine O’Donnell, who played with her in a sunbaked opening round on a course that only four days ago hosted the men’s U.S. Open.
Li was the star attraction, right down to her Stars & Stripes outfit to celebrate the occasion. She wore a mid-drift shirt patterned after the American flag, with a similar motif for a skirt, complete with silver stars that matched the color of her braces.
She wound up 11 shots behind Stacy Lewis, the No. 1 player in the world who opened with a 67. But one moment was telling.
The kid made a 7-foot birdie putt on the par-5 fifth hole and headed to the next tee, her braided pigtails swinging with each step. The media and a large gallery followed her right past the adjacent green, where hardly anyone noticed Lewis making her way around Pinehurst with no bogeys.
Only this was more than just a sideshow.
Li missed only one fairway — by less than a yard. Even though she hit fairway metals into half of the holes, she rarely got out of position. Now if she could only take back three shots that led to big numbers.
“It was a lot of fun. I kind of struggled today, but it was great,” Li said, pausing to lick her ice cream between answers. “I mean, it’s 8 over. It’s not bad. But I was 7 over in three holes, so that’s 1 over in 15 holes. So yeah, I just need to get rid of the big numbers.”
Li had the same score as O’Donnell, Natalie Gulbis and Jessica Korda, a two-time winner on the U.S. LPGA Tour this year. There already were 11 rounds in the 80s.
Perhaps most remarkable about her round, besides the 13 pars and two birdies, was how she bounced back from mistakes.
“That’s what I was so happy about in my round,” she said. “Because after I got doubles and triples, I was able to get it back. Like, I made a good stretch of holes after the double on the first hole. And after the triple, I birdied No. 5. And I got a lot of pars after that.”
The youngest player to make the cut was 13-year-old Marlene Bauer, who tied for 14th in 1947. That was the second U.S. Women’s Open, and Baeur — whose married name was Hagge — became one of the founders of the LPGA Tour.
It was a long day for Li, and part of her was glad it was over. She also was looking forward to another chance on Friday.
And what will she do in the meantime?
“Eat some more ice cream,” she said.
Lewis played bogey-free to take a one-shot lead over Michelle Wie on Thursday in the first round of the U.S. Women’s Open when the opening round was halted because of storms in the area.
“It was such an easy day,” Lewis said, referring to her game more than the golf course. “I played really, really solid, other that I had to make a few par putts. But other than that, I didn’t put myself in too bad of spots and made a few birdies.”
Wie made four birdies on the back nine, and a 10-foot par save on the par-3 17th hole, for a 68.