Li, 11, has been turning heads for several years

By Randall MellMay 22, 2014, 8:56 pm

Lucy Li’s swing was awfully good for someone who couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5 years old.

Joby Ross remembers her practicing for hours at Mariners Point Golf Center, near Li’s home in Redwood Shores, Calif. Ross is a teaching pro at Mariners Point, but Lucy didn’t come for instruction. She was getting that from her mother and aunt, who did not even play golf.

“I think they were just teaching her out of books and magazines back then, and doing the best they could,” Ross said. “It’s pretty amazing. Occasionally, if I saw something that wasn’t quite right, I would come over and mention it, like `She’s taking it away too far inside.’ But that was it.”

While it’s being reported Li picked up the game when she was 7, Ross says she was actually 4 or 5 when she began showing up at Mariners Point, where there is a driving range, a short-game practice area and a nine-hole par 3 course.

Watching from a distance, Ross was impressed.

“After she stopped coming to our place, I remember telling the guys to keep their eye out for this kid, because we were going to hear about her again,” Ross said. “She was going to do something special down the road.”

Make that extra special.

The 11-year-old’s list of feats grew Monday when she became the youngest player ever to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open. Li, just a sixth grader, won the U.S. Women’s Open sectional qualifier at the Old Course at Half Moon Bay outside San Francisco. She promises to be one of the star attractions when she tees it up with the best in women’s golf at Pinehurst No. 2 next month.

Li shot rounds of 74 and 68 at Half Moon Bay. Her even-par total was seven shots better than anyone else in that sectional. She breaks the age mark of Lexi Thompson as the youngest qualifier to a U.S. Women’s Open. Thompson was 12 years, 4 months and 18 days old when she competed in the 2007 Women’s Open. Li, who turns 12 on Oct. 1, will be 11 years, 8 months and 19 days old when she tees off in this year's Open on June 19. 

“It’s pretty unbelievable, quite the amazing story,” said Jim McLean, who has been teaching Li since her parents brought her to him four years ago. “I know how good she is, but I was still surprised.”

Li made international news this week. McLean said he has been contacted by countless major news organizations wanting the scoop on this gifted 11-year-old. Lucy hasn’t done any interviews, though. The family is guarded with a flood of requests pouring in to them.

“Lucy is very honored to have qualified for the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open, and to have the opportunity to compete in this most prestigious national championship,” the family said in a statement released by the USGA. “Her time spent playing last year’s USGA Championships, as well as her win at the Drive, Chip & Putt, have provided her with many good opportunities that she will consider as she prepares for the U.S. Women’s Open.

“We are very grateful for the support Lucy has received, both from the golf community and the media. She is looking forward to playing Pinehurst.”

Li won her age division last month in the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at Augusta National on the Sunday before the Masters. Last year, she became the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Amateur and also the youngest to make it to match play at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship.

McLean says Li was 7 when her parents first called him at his base at Trump Doral in Miami, asking if he would teach her. He’s not sure she had any regular, formal instruction before they approached him.

“She was probably a little too young for me to start working with her,” McLean said. “But they came out here, asked me to watch her hit shots and said they were serious about having her move here for the winter.”

And they did move Lucy to Miami for the winters. Lucy’s mom, Amy, and her aunt, Tao, first accompanied Lucy. Tao got an apartment near Trump Doral and stays with Lucy while she works at McLean’s golf school four months of the year. Warren, Lucy's father, is a computer consultant working in the Bay Area.

“You never know with young kids, how interested they are going to be, or what might derail them,” McLean said.

So early on, McLean was curious how much of this intensity of interest in golf was coming from the family, and how much was coming from Lucy. He said he quickly learned how much she loved the game in their winters together.

Ross said he had the same questions when he first watched Lucy at Mariners Point.

Back when Lucy was 5 or so, Ross remembers seeing her in tears on the range. Ross was concerned, and he approached the family to see what the fuss was about.

“They would come and practice for hours,” Ross said. “I wondered if they were practicing too hard, and maybe that’s what the tantrum was about. I went over and asked if she was OK.”

To Ross’ surprise, he discovered that it was Lucy’s mom and aunt who were getting tired and wanted to go home, and that Lucy was in tears protesting because she wanted to stay and keep hitting balls.

“She was upset because she didn’t want to leave,” Ross said.

McLean says Lucy may seem quiet and shy at first, but she has “quite the personality” and is “very funny” and likes to laugh. She also enjoys music and is very artistic. She likes to draw and will doodle impressively on scorecards. She also likes to make things, like necklaces and bracelets.

Lucy’s golf skill comes with some athleticism. Before golf, she was in ballet and tap dance and even did some 10-meter diving in a swimming program, even though she wasn’t a very good swimmer.

The family’s close, McLean said, and Lucy is very attached to her older brother, Luke, who is a student at Princeton. In fact, that’s how Lucy got started in golf. Her brother played and she would watch him practice, eventually picking up a club and hitting balls.

“I’m sure there will be a tremendous amount of scrutiny on her at Pinehurst,” McLean said. “I think she’ll deliver. She has the game, but it’s tough. You’re going up against the best players in the world. It’s jumping up a lot of levels.”

McLean will be there, confident that no matter how Li fares, she should celebrate the fact that she made it there.

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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, 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 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 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