They say age is just a number, right? Well, it looks like Lucy Li, an 11-year-old golfer from California, would agree.
On Monday, Li became the youngest person ever to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open when she won the sectional qualifier at Half Moon Bay. On June 19 at Pinehurst, she will tee off at the U.S. Open, where she will be competing against women more than three times her age.
At 11 years old, most athletic girls are content just dreaming of playing against the best players in the world. Li has already accomplished that, and she won't turn 12 until October.
Ron Kroichick at the San Francisco Chronicle broke down Li's accomplishment:
Li broke the record previously held by Lexi Thompson, who was 12 when she made the field for the 2007 Women's Open. Thompson is now 19 and the No. 6-ranked player in the world.
Breaking barriers is nothing new for Li—last summer, at 10, she became the youngest player ever to advance to the USGA Women's Amateur. In May 2013, she became the second-youngest player in the history of the Women's Amateur Public Links; then, in June, she became the youngest player ever to advance to match play at that tournament.
Some may say that Li's victory—and the trend of youngsters having success in golf—is bad for the sport because it makes the rest of the field look weak. But that simply isn't true. Having an 11-year-old qualify for the U.S. Open is an incredible boost for golf and, particularly, the LPGA.
On Monday and Tuesday, it seemed to be all people could talk about on social media. LPGA players of past and present, such as Michelle Wie and Dottie Pepper, took to Twitter to exclaim their excitement for the impressive feat:
Youth is great for golf. The sport is trying to shake its elitist, country-club image, and the best way to do that is by reaching out to the younger generation. There's something about young people having success that just resonates, excites and inspires viewers.
This secret isn't specific to the LPGA. The PGA is hungry for young superstars too. If you tuned in to the Masters or The Players Championship, you were bound to hear the phrase "20-year-old Jordan Spieth" more often than "good par save."
Spieth, the 2013 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, burst onto the scene last year when he became the first teenager since 1931 to win a tournament on the tour. That's still his only PGA title, but after being in the final pairing on the final day of the Masters and The Players, he has officially been named the "next big thing."
Woods turned pro when he was 20 years old and won 29 titles in his first five years on the tour, including six majors. The buzz created by the start to his career is still carrying the PGA Tour. Nothing has come close to matching that level of excitement for golf since. (McIlroy's two majors and 11 wins by the age of 23 were great, but his struggles the last two years have certainly quieted the thrill.)
Teenagers have been making a lot of headlines on the LPGA over the past few years. Seventeen-year-old Lydia Ko has been turning heads for the past two, with three LPGA victories and a No. 3 world ranking. Lexi Thompson, still only 19, turned into a superstar when she won a major this year.
Their success has helped pull the LPGA out of a slump. In 2014, the LPGA expanded to 32 events and a record $56 million purse. Meanwhile, the PGA is suffering from its lowest ratings in over 50 years.
There are two teenagers in the LPGA top 10 and only two players above 30, while seven players in the PGA top 10 are in their 30s. The average age of the LPGA top 10 is 26, while the average age of the PGA top 10 is almost 32.
Of course, it makes sense that the women have enjoyed earlier success, as the pool of competition in the LPGA is smaller and women mature earlier than men. But though the youngest-ever standards might be different, both tours need fresh faces and new stars to keep viewers interested.
Golf is a great sport to watch, but people need a reason to tune in. Whether that's to see if a 20-year-old can win a major or to see if an 11-year-old can make the cut, youth is a storyline itself.
So carry on, Li. Hold your head high and take Pinehurst by storm. Trust us, we'll be watching.