Is adorable Lucy Li, 11, the next star of women’s golf?

Staff writerJuly 13, 2014 

  • LAST OF ITS KIND

    What: 38th U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links

    When: Monday-Saturday

    Where: The Home Course, DuPont (6,352 yards, par 72)

    Schedule: Monday and Tuesday are 36 holes of stroke play, with tee times from 7:30 a.m.-2:36 p.m. After that, a cut from 156 to 64 players will be made for the start of match play. Wednesday match play: round of 64. Thursday match play: rounds of 32 and 16. Friday match play: quarterfinals and semifinals. Saturday: championship match (36 holes).

    Defending champion: Lauren Diaz-Yi, Thousand Oaks, California.

    Skinny: This will be a historic week in golf. This is the last installment of the men’s and women’s championship for amateurs who are members of public courses. Last year, the United States Golf Association announced it was replacing both U.S. Amateur Public Links events with the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship starting in 2015. The list of women’s champions from this tournament is impressive, starting with 18-year-old Kelly Fulks winning the inaugural title in 1977 and again in ’78, Heather Farr (1984), Danielle Ammaccapane (1985), Pearl Sinn (1988, 1989), Amy Fruhwirth (1992), Jill McGill (1994), Michelle Wie (2003), Yani Tseng (2004), Tiffany Joh (2006, 2008) and Mina Harigae (2007). ... Wie became the tournament’s youngest champion at 13, defeating medalist Virada Nirapathpongporn, 1-up, at Ocean Hammock Golf Club in Palm Coast, Florida. Wie just won her second USGA title last month at the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina. ... This will be the second WAPL in Washington. Sinn won in 1989 at Indian Canyon Golf Course in Spokane.

    THREE TO WATCH

    Doris Chen, Bradenton, Florida: Methodical and unflappable, the USC golfer not only won the NCAA Division I women’s individual title last spring, but she was the runner-up to Diaz-Yi at last summer’s WAPL.

    Annie Park, Levittown, New York: Highest-ranked amateur in the field (No. 11), she won the 2013 NCAA Division I title for USC and was a member of the 2014 U.S. Curtis Cup squad.

    Lauren Diaz-Yi, Thousand Oaks, California: A surprise winner last year, but showed guts, heart and lots of emotion in registering the largest margin of victory (10 and 9) in tournament’s history.

    Locals in the field: Kendall Gray, Federal Way; Alexis Keating, Elma; Katie Lee, Silverdale.

    Spectator information: Admission is free, and parking is available on-site unless otherwise notified.

    Todd.milles@thenewstribune.com

— When Lucy Li arrived home in Redwood Shores, California, last month, she had an army of followers waiting for her.

Li had just spent the week at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club’s No. 2 Course charming folks with her delightful girlish squeals and giggles, and impressing them with her vast golf knowledge and sweet, fluid swing at the U.S. Women’s Open.

She did not make the weekend cut. What 11-year-old would? But Li’s 16-over-par 156 total tied the likes of LPGA Tour stars Natalie Gulbis, Teresa Lu and Laura Davies, and beat three other professionals ranked inside the top 100 — Lizette Salas, Mika Miyazato and Mo Martin.

Did we mention she was 31/2 months shy of her 12th birthday?

As the week’s media darling and the youngest girl to ever qualify for a U.S. Women’s Open, Li came home a heroine to her pals.

“Yeah, my friends were like, ‘Oh, you’re famous now,’ ” Li said. “And I was like, ‘Oh, shut up!’ 

On Monday, a whirlwind year of golf comes full circle for Li when she tees off at The Home Course in DuPont. She is playing in her second U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, which was the first United States Golf Association national tournament she played in last summer.

Li earned the No. 25 seed last year and became the youngest match-play qualifier (10 years old) at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links. She lost in the first round to Illinois resident Ember Schuldt, 3 and 2, at the Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club in Norman, Oklahoma.

Later that summer, she also became the youngest qualifier in U.S. Women’s Amateur history at the Country Club of Charleston in South Carolina.

Before she trotted off to the U.S. Women’s Open, she traveled to Augusta National Golf Club in April before the Masters and captured the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship for the 10-11 age group.

All of this golf — all of this exposure — at such a young age has not startled Li. Her attitude? It is just golf.

“It has been good,” she said. “Gotten lots of experience from it.”

Her father, Warren Li, a San Francisco-area stock broker, and mother, Amy Zeng, a former Hewlett-Packard employee, are Chinese. They moved to the United States in 1998.

After Lucy Li began showing natural ability in golf at age 7, her parents contacted noted golf instructor Jim McLean, who grew up in Seattle but now is headquartered in Florida. McLean has taught more than 100 PGA and LPGA tour players, including Cristie Kerr, Lexi Thompson, Keegan Bradley and Erik Compton.

For four months a year, Li lives in Florida with her aunt, Tao Zeng, to be near McLean’s golf academy.

Her first real taste of USGA golf wasn’t around a tournament. It came two weeks after Webb Simpson won the 2012 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.

With the course still in championship condition, Li played it and shot a 79.

“She was 9,” her mother said.

When Li got to play in her first U.S. Women’s Open in June, she was met by a throng of reporters. The attention was extensive — Li’s pre-tournament news conference from the media center was nationally televised — but the girl was more than up to the task of handling it.

“It was fun — a lot of fun,” Li said. “And it has been crazy. I took a break and did not practice for a week (after that).”

Li and her family arrived in DuPont more than a week ago to prepare for the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, which will be discontinued after 2014.

“(The Home Course) is definitely not as tough as Pinehurst, especially greens-wise,” Li said. “It is a good golf course.

“I know my game is there, but I don’t really care (about the results). I want to play as well as I can.”

Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 todd.milles@thenewstribune.com @ManyHatsMilles

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