The pig-tailed young girl, not much taller than the 4-foot-high stretch of rope she was walking next to, cut in front of me as I made my way down the ninth fairway at Pinehurst No. 2.
I was focused on covering the third-round pairing of Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson at the U.S. Women’s Open in June. Yet there was something familiar about the pre-teen striding precociously “inside the ropes” with several members of the media and LPGA officials.
When she briefly stopped to get a drink of water from someone who appeared to be her mother, it dawned on me: The girl was 11-year-old Lucy Li, who 24 hours earlier was participating in the event that she was now taking in as a fan.
Li, a 5-foot-2 sixth-grader from Redwood Shores, Calif., is the youngest player to qualify for the Open. She shot 78-78 over the first two rounds at Pinehurst – including a double bogey on the first hole of the first round. She wouldn’t make the cut, but she made an impression with her outlook. Li’s news conference after the first round was marked by frequent pauses for her to take licks of an ice cream bar.
“Right now it’s just play as well as I can and the game’s going to take me wherever it’s going to take me,” said Li, who was dressed in a stars-and-stripes themed outfit. “So I just really don’t care that much.”
Two days later, Li walked the course nearly anonymously as a spectator (she might have signed an autograph or two). She was most certainly envisioning what it would be like to one day play on the weekend against players such as Wie and Thompson for their sport’s biggest prize.
“I hope,” said Wie, who would go on to win the Open, “that she’s having a blast.”