Li, 11, ready to make history at Pinehurst

By Randall MellJune 17, 2014, 10:41 pm

PINEHURST, N.C. – Lucy Li’s pig tails are sprouting out of the top of her lime green visor as she makes her way around Pinehurst No. 2 during Tuesday’s practice round at the U.S. Women’s Open.

She’s wearing a green-and-white shirt, with a zebra’s face on the front, sparkly green sequins all over the shoulders, and a green skirt with white polka dots.

She says she’s 5 feet 3, but she seems shorter than that. She can’t weigh more than 100 pounds, but she says she can drive the ball about 230 yards and can hit a 5-iron about 170. When she smiles, she reveals a mouth full of braces.

There’s no missing who the history making 11-year-old is here at the U.S. Women’s Open.

Just a sixth grader from Redwood Shores, Calif., Li will have some story to tell if she’s asked to write about what she did on her summer vacation when school resumes.

When Rolex world No. 1 Stacy Lewis checked in at Pinehurst, she discovered Li’s locker is right next to hers. Actually, it’s just beneath hers. Lewis met her for the first time on the range on Monday morning.

“Seeing how little she was, the pig tails, it caught me off guard,” Lewis said.

Michelle Wie was struck at just how young Li looks.

“She looks so darn cute,” said Wie, who knows something about being a prodigy. “I don’t think I looked that cute when I was 11. She just looks so excited, so wide-eyed.”

There’s something so incongruous about cute meeting fierce here at the U.S. Women’s Open, a championship setting up as possibly one of the most brutish tests the women have ever faced, if rains don’t take the wicked mischief out of these turtleback greens.

Li didn’t just win the sectional qualifier at Half Moon Bay outside San Francisco to become the youngest player ever to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open. She won it by seven shots. She did this shortly after winning her age division in the inaugural Drive, Chip & Putt Championship at Augusta National. She’s also the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Amateur, pulling off that feat when she was 10.

U.S. Women’s Open: Articles, videos and photos

Pinehurst No. 2 looks so brawny, so intimidating, you can’t help wondering if the disposition of any 11-year-old is suited to dealing with the pressure of this major championship, and doing it on national television, with worldwide media in tow.

If a golf course could be charmed, though, Li’s disposition would suit it.

She charmed the media Tuesday in her introductory news conference.

A bit of a mystery girl coming here, with her family closely guarding her privacy, Li took the veil off who she is in a news conference. With 15 TV cameras pointed at her, with more than 50 media eagerly waiting to ask her questions, Li didn’t look the least bit overwhelmed.

“I just want to go out there and have fun and play the best I can, and I really don't care about the outcome,” Li said. “It’s just, I want to have fun and learn. I want to learn a lot from these great players.”

Li punctuated her answers with delightful school-girl giggles, an endearing practice that also proved disarming.

What does she like to do when she isn’t golfing?

“I love doing a lot of things, but reading is my favorite,” she said.

She likes Rick Riordan’s stories, the tales of Percy Jackson and his adventures upon discovering he’s actually the modern-day son of an ancient Greek God. She also likes Sherlock Holmes. She’s apparently quite the student. She says she loves all her subjects, including math, science and history. According to the USGA’s official player guide, her parents say she has a photographic memory.

What does she think about playing in front of huge galleries come Thursday?

“I like crowds,” Li says. “They don’t bother me. I play better the more people that come to watch me.”

Does anything about this week scare her?

“Not really,” she says matter of factly.

Has she ever been intimidated on a golf course?

“No, I just don’t care that much,” she says, that disarming giggle letting you know she isn’t being flippant.

The mystery shrouding this prodigy has led to misinformation about the family as a whole. Her father, Warren, isn’t a computer consultant, as has been reported. He’s in finance.

“He’s a stock trader,” Li says. “He’s really good at it.”

The enthusiasm of that answer sent a roar through the media room. She did that more than once.

Her mother, Amy, used to be a manager with Hewlett-Packard. Lucy is also very close to her aunt, Tao, whom she stays with while attending Jim McLean’s golf school in Miami in the winters. She’s also very close to her brother, Luke, who attends Princeton.

Li proved she can handle a crowd of media in an interview room, but what about Pinehurst No. 2?

Li played nine holes on Tuesday alongside Beatriz Recari, the three-time LPGA winner. She played 18 on Monday.

Though Li isn’t long, and will wear out her 3-wood and 5-wood playing Pinehurst No. 2, Recari wouldn’t concede the sixth grader is overmatched.

“I think she was fearless, and I think she’s going to do well,” Recari said. “There were a lot of people out there today, watching and clapping, and she seemed like she was completely cool.”

How serious is Li taking her preparation? She has been at Pinehurst for at least two weeks.

Li’s caddie, a local Pinehurst veteran, said he was in awe of Li’s grasp of the game when he met her for the first time over a dinner on June 3. Bryan Bush has been toting bags at Pinehurst No. 2 for four years but has been playing the course a lot longer. He couldn’t believe it when the 11-year-old began talking to him about golf course design.

“What’s so great about Lucy is her golf knowledge,” Bush said beneath the Pinehurst No. 2 clubhouse after the nine-hole practice round. “She understands and knows all about Donald Ross and how he builds greens. That’s what was so neat when I first met her. She got to town, and we sat down for about an hour and a half. I was blown away with her knowledge of the game at age 11, because I sure as heck didn’t have it at 11 . . . Ross, Alister MacKenzie, she knows all the greats. She knew Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw had done the restoration.”

Playing Charleston Country Club, and the Peninsula Country Club outside San Francisco, piqued Li’s interest in Donald Ross. He designed both courses.

Bush knew Li got the Ross philosophy when she told him: “Ross built these greens to repel golf balls, not receive them.”

So how is a short-hitting sixth grader going to survive taking so many woods into these turtleback greens? Bush shared what he’s seeing in practice rounds.

“You’re watching an 11-year-old hit a 5-wood as well as I can hit a pitching wedge,” he said. “It really brings you back to like, `Wow, I’m in complete awe.'”

Bush was asked if he would be surprised to see her make the cut.

“Oh, no, we will be here on Saturday,” he said.

If that’s true, history will run through the weekend for the Li family.

Getty Images

Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

Getty Images

Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

Getty Images

Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

Getty Images

Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."