Thursday, June 19, 2014

Wie and Li

PINEHURST, N.C. -- Michelle Wie is looking at her past. Lucy Li is looking at her immediate future. The topic: Playing your first U.S. Women's Open as a youngster. A very young youngster, that is.

A little more than a decade ago, Wie did it when she was 13. Li has upped the ante, if you will, by qualifying for this event at age 11. Li will tee off here at Pinehurst No. 2 on Thursday at 7:07 a.m., and she hopes lots of spectators will come out to see her compete.

"I think I like crowds; they don't bother me," Li said. "I play better the more people that come watch me."

Li was sitting in the interview room at Pinehurst on Tuesday, all braces and pigtails and giggles. She talked about loving to go to Dave and Busters, being a big fan of Sherlock Holmes books, and how she celebrated after qualifying for the U.S. Women's Open by going to see "The Amazing Spider-Man 2."

Eight hours earlier, Wie had sat in the same chair, now age 24 and a serious contender to win what would be her first LPGA major championship. But figuratively, Wie had been in this same chair in 2003. Then she was a 13-year-old at the U.S. Women's Open at Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon, facing a room full of adult reporters marveling at the Wunderkind.

"I wasn't quite as young as her," Wie said. "But I'm just so excited for her. I met her on Sunday afternoon. She looks so darn cute. I don't think I looked that cute when I was 11. It's definitely a walk back to memory lane."

Wie played in a United States Golf Association event -- the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links -- when she was 10 in 2000. She knows the spotlight that will be on Li this week will be adoring but also a bit critical.

"A lot of people ask me, 'Is that too young? What do you think?' " Wie said of Li, but she could have been talking about herself. "It's a memory that will last her a lifetime. What other 11-year-old can say that they played in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst and got to see the men play as well, too?"

***

PINEHURST, N.C. -- Lucy Li showed her age only when she finished her historic round Thursday at the U.S. Women's Open.

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 sun-baked opening round on a course that only four days ago hosted the men's U.S. Open.

The sixth-grader from the Bay Area 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.

Li wound up 11 shots behind leader 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."

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