Here’s a pairing we’d love to see at next month’s U.S. Women’s Open: 11-year-old Lucy Li and one of the grand old dames of women’s golf, Laura Davies, who has 39 years on the youngest golfer ever to qualify for the event.
A day after Li stunned the golf world by firing 74-68 to gain eligibility for the Pinehurst tilt, Davies made it through sectional trials in New Jersey to earn her 26th start in this country’s national championship, which she won in 1987. The four-time major titleholder posted rounds of 72-75 at Rumson Country Club to make her way into the field.
"I couldn’t be so pleased as to be going to Pinehurst where the Open is back-to-back with the men. I’ll be seeing a lot of old friends," Davies, from Coventry, England, told reporters after finishing three shots back of medalist Catherine O’Donnell and capturing the second of two spots up for grabs. "I know I’m closer to the end of my career than the beginning, but I feel I can win again. The way I hit the ball, I will still have my chances. I just love competing."
While Davies, the winner of 84 professional tournaments, is competing this week at the Airbus LPGA Classic in Mobile, Ala., sixth-grader Li may be home in Redwood City, Calif., practicing for her stint on the world stage and reading her press clippings.
The pigtailed youngster with braces and an all-world laugh is bedecked in red, white, and blue leggings, showing off a swing to die for, and proclaiming that "I am the future of the game," in a video posted on Thursday.
Whether Li is the real deal or flames out before her time, for now she is earning accolades and cautions from golf’s best,
All newly crowned world No. 1, Adam Scott, could do was chuckle when he recalled where he was 22 years ago.
"The club championships weren’t even on my radar screen at 11. Lydia Ko’s next rival there," he told reporters on the eve of this week’s Crowne Plaza Invitational, referring to the 17-year-old phenom who’s already yesterday’s headline. "It's exciting to see. It's a little scary ... I just think about how nervous I was playing as a professional for the first time, let alone an eighth grader."
Jim Furyk, also at Colonial this week, echoed Scott.
"It's pretty amazing, and as a parent probably extremely scary," he said. "I don't know what the hell I would do with a child that was that good at 11 and where you would direct them ... I think it's incredible, but the first thing that goes through my mind as a dad now is, ‘wow, I don't know what I would do.’"
Two-time major winner and ESPN analyst Dottie Pepper was astounded by Li’s achievement.
"This little girl just blew us out of the water ... It’s fantastic!" Pepper, who played with wunderkinds during her LPGA career, said Wednesday.
Trying to get this straight in my head... Lucy Li qualifies for @USGA Women's Open. Her DOB is in this century. THIS CENTURY. Whoa!— Dottie Pepper (@DottieandBogey) May 20, 2014
At the same time, Pepper hoped Li would not miss out on her childhood.
"As somebody who’s seen a lot of junior kids come up and get burned out," Pepper warned Li and her camp "to just be aware of those signs and when it gets to be too much, [let her] just go and be a kid."
Michelle Wie, herself a former prodigy who’s been through the ups and downs of other-worldly expectations, looked forward to seeing the whiz kid in North Carolina.
"I’m just really excited for her," Wie told Golf Channel ahead of her turn in Mobile. "I think she’s going to have a blast at the U.S. Open, I can’t wait to meet her."
Stacy Lewis, in a battle this week to reclaim the No. 1 ranking from Inbee Park, was on the fence about Li’s start at Pinehurst.
"I just think at any age to qualify for the U.S. Open is impressive, it doesn’t matter if you’re 11 or if you’re 30," she said. "I don’t know, it’s not something I would encourage kids to do. I like to see kids get better at every level, win as a junior, win at college golf, win in high school golf and then come out here and play. But one week out of the year, let’s do it, have some fun with it, but I hope it’s not a trend we see continuing."
In a smart move, Li, as Golf Channel pointed out, was not meeting with the media. Instead, here’s what her parents said in a statement released by the USGA:
"Lucy is very honored to have qualified for the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open and to have the opportunity to compete in this most prestigious national championship. Her time spent playing in last year’s USGA championships, as well as her win at [Augusta National’s] Drive, Chip and Putt have provided her with many good opportunities as she prepares for the U.S. Women’s Open. We are vey grateful for the support Lucy has received, both from the golf community and the media. She is looking forward to playing at Pinehurst."