All eyes were on 11-year-old Lucy Li during the U.S. Women's Open at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club as the pre-teen phenom piqued the interest of golf fans everywhere.
Below, we'll take a look at how she fared.
Give Li this—she's consistent. Unfortunately in this case, her consistency meant she didn't make the cut at this year's tournament. For the second day in a row, Li shot an eight-over 78, putting her sixteen over par for the tournament and well below the cut.
Here's your leaderboard:
|6||Na Yeon Choi||+1||71||70||141|
Once again, a few rough holes really marred an otherwise solid round. Take away a double-bogey on 1 and a triple-bogey on 13, and the 11-year-old played at plus-three the rest of the way. Pretty impressive stuff for a pre-teen.
"I'm really happy about how I played," she told reporters after her round, via ASAPSports.com. "I'm really happy with how I bounced back from the big numbers. I got birdies after I got like doubles and triples, so that's what I'm really happy about, yeah."
Her perspective, among other things, left pretty much everyone involved with the event impressed over the past two days. Even her caddie, per the LPGA on Twitter:
To put her round in perspective, keep in mind that Li finished tied in score with Natalie Gulbis.
So with that, Li's tournament is over. The insanely talented youngster with the technically sound swing and ice cream bar after her first round amazed us all. She tackled one of the toughest courses in golf, at one of its premier tournaments, and more than held her own.
We'll be seeing big things from Li in the future; there's no doubt about that. After all, who knows how good she'll be by the time she's a teenager?
Simply qualifying for the tournament was a major accomplishment for Li, although she didn't have a great day from a scorecard perspective. Li shot an eight-over 78, which put her in a tie for 64th place, 10 shots behind leader Stacy Lewis at the conclusion of her first round.
Here is a look at the leaderboard, courtesy of USOpen.com, following Li's round:
|T3||So Yeon Ryu||-1||69|
Li wasn't expected to contend by any means, so her performance has to be judged differently than those of LPGA Tour regulars. This was the first verse in what figures to be a long and prosperous career for the uber-talented youngster.
According to Randall Mell of GolfChannel.com, Li made history by becoming the youngest female golfer to ever play in the U.S. Open:
Lucy Li arrives for historic 1st tee shot. The 11-yr-old is youngest qualifier ever to play in US Women's Open: pic.twitter.com/7c63h1yDw1— Randall Mell (@RandallMellGC) June 19, 2014
There was an interesting dichotomy in the field as Li represented the new generation, while Juli Inkster—who is 53—entered yet another U.S. Open, per The Associated Press:
Li attracted the attention of many during the lead-up to the U.S. Open with her entertaining interviews, and she continued to do so on the course with an apropos stars-and-stripes outfit that drew comments from many, including Stina Sternberg of Golf Digest:
Although young players have played in major women's tournaments before, Li seemingly garnered more interest than anyone before her. Not only is she the youngest to play at the U.S. Open, but it is possible that she is the most diminutive as well at 5'1".
Crowds naturally flocked to her, but Li claimed leading up to Thursday's first round that she would embrace it, per Ron Kroichick of the San Francisco Chronicle.
"I like crowds. They don't bother me," Li said. "I play better when more people come to watch me. So I'm really excited."
Despite that, there may have been some nerves involved when Li began her tournament on the 10th hole. Distance off the tee was inevitably going to be an issue for Li due to her small stature, and that became apparent right off the bat as she carded a double-bogey seven on the 455-yard 10th.
That could have easily caused her to go into a downward spiral, but that really wasn't the case. Li went on to par the next two holes and four of the next five in all, starting to look like a wily veteran on the tough Pinehurst course, according to Tim Rosaforte of Golf Digest:
After a shaky start (double at her first), 11-year-old Lucy Li has played next five holes in +1, with 4 pars. Maybe she's not too young.— Tim Rosaforte (@TimRosaforte) June 19, 2014
Another hiccup ensued when Li double-bogeyed the par-four 16th hole, but she proceeded to par the final two holes of her front nine to go in with a five-over 40.
It obviously wasn't an ideal performance for Li, but it allowed her to get her feet wet and settle in leading up to her back nine. It's fair to say Li's back nine got off to a much better start, as she delivered her first truly positive result of the day.
After a great tee shot and approach, Li birdied the par-four first and celebrated the moment after draining a mid-range putt, per Steve DiMeglio of USA Today:
Birdie at 1 -- her 10th hole -- from 12 feet gets a fist pump from Lucy Li ...— Steve DiMeglio (@Steve_DiMeglio) June 19, 2014
Li looked as though she was picking up steam when she parred the second hole, but disaster struck on the third. Li was all over the map on the par-four third and suffered a major setback as she triple-bogeyed the hole, as Chris Sullivan of MyNorthwest.com highlighted:
Oh no! 11y old Lucy Li with a triple bogey. +7 now. Hang in there kid.— Chris Sullivan (@NEWSGUYSULLY) June 19, 2014
The triple bogey meant Li would have to face adversity yet again and resist the urge to fold. That is precisely what the impressive up-and-comer did, as she righted the ship with a par on the fourth and followed that with her second birdie of the day at the fifth.
Li received plenty of congratulatory cheers after sinking the birdie putt and even got a thumbs up from Pinehurst Resort's official Twitter account:
Lucy Li makes birdie on the par-5th, her 14th hole of the day. She's at +6. Not bad. Not bad at all. #USWomensOpen— Pinehurst Resort (@PinehurstResort) June 19, 2014
The most impressive aspect of Li's birdie was that she made it on the course's longest hole at 472 yards. After struggling on the par-five 10th to open her round, that birdie had to do wonders for her confidence.
Li then parred the sixth hole before giving one back at the seventh with a bogey. She was able to recover, though, with another par on the eighth before bogeying her final hole of the day.
Li's round was inconsistent to say the least, but that is to be expected out of such a young player. She definitely had some impressive moments throughout the day and it is easy to see why she is so highly touted.
Following the round, Li spoke to the media about her plans after the day (via Will Gray of the Golf Channel):
Lucy Li on her plan for the rest of the day: "Eat some more ice cream."— Will Gray (@WillGrayGC) June 19, 2014
For all the attention and well wishes Li received prior to Thursday's first round, there were some detractors as well. Among them was world No. 1 player Stacy Lewis, who expressed concern about whether Li was too young, according to DiMeglio:
I'm not a big fan of it. She qualified, so we can't say anything about that. But I like to see kids be successful at every level before they come out here. I just like to see kids learn how to win before they come get beat up out here. ... When I found out she qualified, I said, well where does she go from here? 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.
Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but Li didn't embarrass herself by any means in the first round. There is no question that she is too young in terms of contending to win the tournament, but it's unlikely anyone went in with those types of expectations.
Was Li's first round a success?
Li had a better round than several golfers, including many card-carrying members of the LPGA Tour. She acquitted herself well and proved she has an extremely bright future in the sport of golf.
Although Li is well behind the leaders and will have a tough time making the cut, she can still finish her tournament on a high note Friday. Li showed plenty of flashes of great play Thursday, so there is no reason why she can't make some improvements.
If Li can avoid the doubles and triples that plagued her in the first round, she definitely has a chance to make a move up the leaderboard Friday and leave a lasting impression.
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