Li faces scrutiny, criticism as 11-year-old in Open

By Randall MellJune 18, 2014, 2:51 pm

PINEHURST, N.C. – The world’s eyes are upon her on the largest stage women’s golf has ever visited.

Youthful ambitions will ride on her shoulders when she tees it up Thursday in the start of the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2.

Lucy Li, whether she likes it or not, carries a banner this week for a game that keeps getting younger in the women’s ranks.

At 11 years old, Li will be scrutinized by folks who wonder if she’s too young, if there’s danger thrusting younger and younger girls into a high-pressure and highly competitive adult world. In 2001, Morgan Pressel stunned the game, becoming the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open. She was 13 when she teed it up at Pine Needles. In ’07, Lexi Thompson broke Pressel’s mark, teeing it up at 12 when the U.S. Women’s Open returned to Pine Needles. In 2012, Lydia Ko won the CN Canadian Women’s Open at 15, becoming the youngest player to win an LPGA event.

Youth’s a theme that resonates beyond Li this week with Ko trying to win this championship and become the youngest world No. 1 in the history of men’s or women’s professional golf.

“I just want to go out there and have fun and play the best I can,” Li said.

Li was asked in her news conference Tuesday whose idea it was to try to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open.

“It was mine,” she said. “I didn’t care if I qualified or not. I just wanted the experience.”

Mell: Li, 11, ready to make history at Pinehurst

Rolex world No. 1 Stacy Lewis played at the University of Arkansas and didn’t turn pro until she was 22. She has concerns when she sees young players stepping on to the big stages in professional golf. She voiced them back when Thompson was considering turning pro at 15. She voiced them again this week when asked about Li playing on such a large stage.

“I'm not a big fan of it,” Lewis said. “She qualified, so we can't say anything about that. You qualify for an Open, it's a great thing. I just like to see kids be successful at every level before they come out here. I would like to maybe see her play some U.S. Ams, play the Pub Links and get into match play, where you have some experience. I just like to see kids learn how to win before they come get beat up out here.”

Lewis said she doesn’t see an age restriction working, but that parents need to be careful.

“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?’” Lewis said. “If it was my kid, I wouldn't let her play in the U.S. Open qualifier at 11, but that's just me.”

Li earned her way to the U.S. Women’s Open, winning the sectional qualifier at Half Moon Bay near her home outside San Francisco by seven shots. She handled her news conference beautifully on Tuesday, charming national media with smart answers and a disarming giggle. She didn’t appear the least bit overwhelmed. If she had, it would have fueled skepticism. The next test is how she handles Pinehurst No. 2, a beast of a test. It won’t be how she handles the test of skill so much as how she handles the emotions that come with it that will leave the largest impression.

“I hope she thinks it’s really cool,” said Michelle Wie, who contended at the Kraft Nabisco when she was 13 and made the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open that same year. “I remember my first U.S. Open. If I missed a green, I was like, ‘Oh, this is still really cool.’ This is what U.S. Opens are like. You hear stories about how hard it is, but you can’t tell how hard watching it on TV.

“It’s an incredible experience for her, and I think the memory is priceless. I hope she learns a lot. I hope she has fun.”

Li told the national media that she doesn’t care about the outcome. She is here to learn. While she says that, there is obviously a lot of ambition in the 11-year-old and her family. She leaves her home in Redwood Shores, Calif., for four months of the year to live in Miami with her aunt to attend Jim McLean’s golf school at Trump Doral. McLean said Li was 7 when the family first flew her to Miami to have McLean look at her swing.

“People say a player that young should go have fun in something like this,” said Scott Thompson, Lexi’s father. “But if you told Lexi when she was 12 that we were going to the U.S. Women’s just to have fun, she would have laughed. She wanted to compete.”

Lexi shot 76-82 at Pine Needles in that ’07 U.S. Women’s Open and missed the cut. Pressel shot a pair 77s and also missed the cut in the ’01 U.S. Women’s Open.

Yes, there are pitfalls in pushing a child into an adult world, but as it was with Pressel and Thompson, Li doesn’t seem like she’s being pushed at all. She appears to really be in love with the game. In that regard, every child is different, built differently. A stage like this would probably overwhelm most 11-year-olds, but Li proved in Tuesday’s news conference that she was built for a moment like that. We’ll see come Thursday and Friday how Li is built with the pressure on in major championship play.

Laura Davies, playing in her 26th U.S. Women’s Open, says there should be no downside to Li’s playing the U.S. Women’s Open. She points out that Pressel and Thompson have done pretty well for themselves after making young starts on big stages.

“They both won major championships,” Davies said. “So look, if you're good enough, you're old enough. Or young enough, whichever way you look at it. If you can play the golf and you can qualify, then have a go. What's the worst that can happen? She shoots a million this week and everyone says, ‘Wasn't it great she was here?’ So I don't think anything bad can come out of it, because she's too young to worry about the pressure. I imagine she wouldn't have any pressure on her because she's just having fun, she's off from school. It’s perfect.”

We might not truly know that for a while, not even by week’s end. We might not know that until Li looks back 10 years from now and tells us.

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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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

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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.

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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."

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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.