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June 20, 2014

Fun beats out frustration for 11-year-old Li

Lucy Li, the youngest player to every qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open, shot another 78 on Friday and enjoyed her stay in Pinehurst.

Golf’s cruelty spares no one, not the old and definitely not the young on Friday at the U.S. Women’s Open.

But after another 78 in the second round and missing the cut, 11-year-old Lucy Li was impervious to the frustrating whims of the game.

“It has been a great week, I had lot of fun and I learned a lot,” Li said.

If Li, who finished 16 shots over par, felt any pressure as the youngest player to ever qualify for an Open or the garden-variety pressure that comes with playing on golf’s biggest stage, there was no sign of it from the sixth-grader from central California.

After a double-bogey on the first hole, she came back with a birdie on No. 3 and a par on the fourth. Bogeys on Nos. 5 and 8 gave her a 3-over par 38 for the front.

Not bad for any age. As her caddie Brian Bush said, she’s an 11-year-old “but with a professional golf swing.”

Donald Ross’ No. 2 course went to work on the back nine with back-to-back bogeys on the 10th and 11th and a triple bogey on the 13th. Almost any golfer would have been frustrated by the four-hole stretch, not Li.

“You just have to be patient,” she said.

Easier said than done, especially on this course. Li hit what looked like a textbook approach shot on the par 5, 10th, the ball bounced up toward the flag only to turn and roll off into the bunker.

After an absolute dart on the 12th from 186 yards out, she shorted a birdie putt. Then her tee shot on the 13th landed in a wire grass in natural area on the rightside of the fairway.

It was the equivalent of golf jail but Li tried to take her medicine. Her first swing out of the sandy waste area missed the ball. Then she took a drop and hit her fourth shot past the green and up against the grandstand.

She got another drop, a free one this time, and chipped to about 12 feet of the cup.

“We got Ross’d on No. 13,” Bush said.

The double-bogey putt missed but Li had her own response for the course’s famed designer. On the 14th tee, she striped a drive down the middle of the fairway. Her second shot landed within 10 feet and she birdied the hole. She qualified that as her favorite moment of the tournament.

“We would have an ‘uh-oh’ hole and the next thing you know she’d hit a hybrid or a fairway wood inside 8 feet,” Bush said. “You don’t see many of the adult pros doing that.”

Hundreds of fans followed her on Friday, including North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory for a hole on the back nine, but Li was unfazed the extra attention.

She also gave the crowd their money’s worth. With a driver almost as big as her 5-foot-1 frame, Li had a big looping swing that was consistently steady off the tee.

“I play better the bigger the crowd,” Li said, adding she had never played in front of so many people before.

Then, just in case you forgot you were talking with an 11-year-old, Li finished her sentence with a “So, yeah.”

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