Heather Byrne can only imagine what it took for 11-year-old Lucy Li’s parents to get their daughter in position to play in this week’s U.S. Women’s Open.
“I would be tired,” said Byrne, a mother of two from Whispering Pines. “(11) is young, but if they’re that good and that dedicated, you have to support them.”
Byrne was watching her daughter Kaitlyn, 8, take part in a U.S. Golf Association youth clinic at Pinehurst Resort’s driving range Wednesday afternoon. Earlier in the day, Kaitlyn and her younger brother James, 6, met Li’s caddie Bryan Bush and got to see her golf bag up close.
They are fans of the youngest player to ever qualify for a U.S. Women’s Open. That Kaitlyn is just three years away from Li’s age made Heather Byrne shake her head.
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“(Li) has probably lost a lot of ‘friend’ time and maybe some extracurriculars between school and golf,” Byrne said. “She is probably very busy, just like her parents are probably very busy.”
Li’s appearance in the Open hasn’t been universally accepted by her competitors.
“I don’t know, from the parents’ side, you kind of wonder,” said Stacy Lewis, the world’s top-ranked player. “When I found out she qualified, I said, ‘Well where does she go from here? What do you do next? You qualify for an Open at 11, what do you do next?’ If it was my kid, I wouldn’t let her play in the U.S. Open qualifier at 11, but that’s just me.”
But another parent at the clinic, Raleigh’s Eric Brown, thinks Li will probably turn out fine.
Brown has seen another child prodigy up close. The Brown family is friends with the family of Reed Shannon, 13, a Raleigh actor who will play young versions of Michael Jackson, Berry Gordy and Stevie Wonder in Broadway’s first national tour of “Motown The Musical” this summer.
“So we’ve seen some of the things they’ve gone through,” said Brown, whose daughter McKinley, 9, balances golf with a love of dance. “How they arrange for school, when he gets to be around his friends. I imagine it’s rough on the child, but if you keep kids grounded, you can raise him the way you want.”
Balance is the key, Byrne said.
“(Li) is getting to experience some pretty cool things – traveling, playing golf,” she said. “Fame at an early age, some don’t turn out so well. But she has a gift. She needs to use it.”