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.

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.