Tweens prove golf has no age limits
An 11-year-old girl has played her way into the U.S. Women's Open next month at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina. She will compete against the best players in the country and around the world.
Lucy Li, a sixth-grader with braces, made history Monday. She shot rounds of 74-68 to become the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open. Not only did she earn a spot at the biggest event in women's golf, she won the 36-hole qualifier by seven shots.
The record for youngest qualifier had belonged to Lexi Thompson. She was 12 when she made it to the 2007 Women's Open. Li, from the suburbs south of San Francisco, still won't be the youngest player. Beverly Klass was 10 when she played in 1967. But that was when the U.S. Women's Open didn't have qualifying.
Top professional Judy Rankin was a 14-year-old prodigy from Missouri. She entered the 1959 U.S. Women's Open in Pittsburgh.
"When I went to register, they asked me if I was registering for my mother," Rankin said. "I weighed 80 pounds. I remember the first tee was way up high. I was shaking. I was so scared, so nervous. I thought I could fall off. I didn't even make the cut. I was probably ill-prepared to be playing. But the next year, I was low amateur."
Teenagers in the U.S. Women's Open are nothing new. Morgan Pressel qualified for the U.S. Women's Open in 2001 when she 12. Michelle Wie was 12 when she qualified for her first LPGA Tour event.
Lydia Ko was 15 when she won the Canadian Women's Open two years ago. That made her the youngest winner in LPGA history. Now she's in range of becoming No. 1 in the world.
In men's golf, Matteo Manassero won twice on the European Tour before he had his driver's license. Ryo Ishikawa won his first professional tournament when he was 15. Jordan Spieth nearly won the Masters last month at age 20. And Guan Tianlang, a 14-year-old from China, made the cut at the Masters last year.
Even so, two numbers are enough to get anyone's attention "11" and "sixth grade."
Li began playing when she was 7. She would whack a few golf balls on the range while waiting for her brother and cousin to finish a tournament. Last year, Li set a record in the U.S. Women's Amateur as the youngest qualifier at age 10. She also was the youngest in the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links to reach match play, losing in the first round to a college player.
Critical thinking challenge: What do all these young players have in common? When did they start playing?