Li: From Drive, Chip & Putt to U.S. Women's Open

By Doug FergusonMay 21, 2014, 1:10 am

Billy Payne wore a smile as wide as the Augusta National fairways as he watched eight kids file out of the room with their trophies from the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship on the Sunday before the Masters.

''We're going to be hearing from some of these kids again,'' he said.

Yes, but six weeks later?

An 11-year-old girl who won her age group in the youth competition before the Masters has played her way into the U.S. Women's Open next month at Pinehurst No. 2.

Lucy Li, a sixth grader with braces and a sharp short game, made history Monday at Half Moon Bay with rounds of 74-68 to become the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open. Not only did she earn a spot at the biggest event in women's golf, she won the 36-hole qualifier by seven shots.

It's another example that golf has no age limits.

The record for youngest qualifier had belonged to Lexi Thompson, who was 12 when she made it to the 2007 Women's Open at Pine Needles. It's only fitting that when Li signed up for the Drive, Chip and Putt, she listed Thompson as among her favorite players.

Li, from the suburbs south of San Francisco, still won't be the youngest player. Beverly Klass was 10 when she played in 1967, but that was when the U.S. Women's Open didn't have qualifying.


U.S. Women's Open sectionals results


Judy Rankin was a 14-year-old prodigy from Missouri when she entered the 1959 U.S. Women's Open at Churchill Valley Country Club in Pittsburgh.

''When I went to register, they asked me if I was registering for my mother,'' Rankin said Tuesday. ''I weighed 80 pounds. I remember the first tee was way up high. I was shaking. I was so scared, so nervous. I thought I could fall off. I didn't even make the cut. I was probably ill-prepared to be playing. But the next year, I was low amateur.''

Teenagers in the U.S. Women's Open are nothing new.

Morgan Pressel, who went on to become the youngest major champion in LPGA history at 18, qualified for the U.S. Women's Open in 2001 when she 12. Michelle Wie was 12 when she qualified for her first LPGA event, and she was in the final group at a major when she was 13.

Lydia Ko was 15 when she won the Canadian Women's Open two years ago, making her the youngest winner in LPGA history. Now she's in range of becoming No. 1 in the world.

In men's golf, Matteo Manassero won twice on the European Tour before he had his driver's license. Ryo Ishikawa won his first professional tournament when he was 15. Jordan Spieth nearly won the Masters last month at age 20. And who can forget Guan Tianlang, the 14-year-old from China who made the cut at the Masters last year?

Even so, two numbers are enough to get anyone's attention – ''11'' and ''sixth grade.''

''This is ridiculous,'' Dottie Pepper said Tuesday, more amazed than concerned. Earlier in the day, Pepper was on Twitter and tried to get her head around an 11-year-old teeing it up at Pinehurst No. 2 when she noted that Li's date of birth was ''THIS CENTURY. Whoa!''

Rankin and Pepper both attributed the increasing achievements by teens – pre-teens in Li's case – to modern equipment and coaching.

Li began playing when she was 7 by whacking a few golf balls on the range while waiting for her brother and cousin to finish a golf tournament. She now works with Jim McLean. And this is not the first time Li has written herself into USGA history. She set a record last year in the U.S. Women's Amateur as the youngest qualifier at age 10. She also was the youngest in the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links to reach match play, losing in the first round to a college player.

''For people with talent, regardless of age, today's equipment is making the game a lot easier to learn,'' Rankin said. ''For talented people, they are learning the game quicker and easier. That has a big bearing on it.''

Rankin also points to the very best in golf being on television so often, and the fact that kids copy what they see.

''No one in the world is better at mimicking than children,'' she said. ''I can go way back to a friend of mine from U.S. Amateur days, Helen Sigel Wilson. She always said the way to teach a kid how to play good golf is only let them see great players. They can figure it out.''

Sooner than later, that's what they're doing.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard


On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry