11-year-old Li steals show with opening-round 78

By Will GrayJune 19, 2014, 8:00 pm

PINEHURST, N.C. – With a few minutes to kill on the third tee box Thursday, Lucy Li found a shady patch of grass and took a seat.

Pigtails popping out of her visor and a cool towel around her neck, she took a few bites from a fruit cup and chatted with people standing around her.

Ten minutes later, she got up and went back to making history at the U.S. Women’s Open.

At 11 years old, Li is the youngest ever to qualify for this event, and the second-youngest to ever tee it up. Entering the week, the questions piled up:

Could she hit it far enough? Could she hold a ball on the turtleback greens of Pinehurst No. 2? Would she possess the patience and discipline to make it around an Open setup?

Even after an 8-over 78, the answer to all of those questions was a resounding yes.

Li double-bogeyed her first hole, the par-5 10th, but from there she displayed poise and talent that belied her age.

“She’s way better than I was expecting,” said Catherine O’Donnell, who played with Li in the opening round and matched her score. “She looks 11, (but) she doesn’t talk 11, and she doesn’t hit the ball like she’s 11.”

Throughout the round, Li chatted with O’Donnell, 24, and 23-year-old Jessica Wallace, who rounded out the group and shot 74. Topics ranged from Harry Potter – “I don’t think she’s quite old enough,” noted O’Donnell – to the NBA, when Li explained that she roots for the Miami Heat over her hometown Golden State Warriors.

Between the sessions of small talk, Li impressed with her performance. She missed the opening fairway but found each of the next 13, and reached nine of 18 greens in regulation even though she was hitting a wood or hybrid club into half of them.

Her score left her 11 shots off the lead, but also one shot ahead of LPGA winners Natalie Gulbis and Jessica Korda.

“I’m happy with how I played,” Li said. “I mean, it’s 8 over, it’s not bad. But I was 7 over in three holes, so that’s 1 over in 15 holes. So, yeah, I just need to get rid of the big numbers.”

The trouble holes were the 10th and 16th, where Li found greenside bunkers and made double bogeys. She again found the sand on the par-4 third after pulling her wedge approach, and after two pitches and three putts she left with a triple bogey.

Despite such difficulties on the Donald Ross design, Li showed not even a hint of concern.

“We just laughed,” Li's caddie, Bryan Bush, said. “She goes, ‘Oh, I got Ross’d.’ And I told her, ‘Yes, you did.’”

Li made the turn at 5 over, then birdied the first hole after hitting a 6-iron approach to 15 feet, offering a small fist pump when the putt found the hole. She bounced back after trouble at No. 3, making a par at the difficult fourth and then carding her second birdie of the day at No. 5 after her wedge spun to within 6 feet. That putt elicited two fist pumps.

“That’s what I was so happy about in my round,” Li said, “because after I got doubles and triples, I was able to get it back.”

As the round progressed, the crowds following Li’s group swelled. Girls who looked as if they could have been in a schoolroom with her instead were asking their parents where they could get her skirt – a patriotic red, white and blue number with stars throughout.

One girl asked her for her autograph on the second tee, with Li hesitating before suggesting she find her after the round. It seemed more like a chat between two friends at recess than a fan-player interaction at a major championship.

Reaction to Li’s shots was consistent: first a “Wow,” then a shake of the head, then a small chuckle in awe. A girl who barely stood over her bag was piping drive after drive, hitting her 5-wood as accurately as many players hit their 6-iron. Li said she felt no extra pressure as the gallery got bigger.

“It was a lot of fun, yeah. I play better with crowds,” she said. “So yeah, it was good.”

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Among those in the gallery near the fourth green was Amy Alcott, who won this event in 1980 and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1999. Alcott, like Li, is from California, and wanted to see the pre-teen play in person.

“I know how excited she must be,” said Alcott, who played in her first U.S. Women’s Open at 15. “It’ll be an experience that she’ll remember for a lifetime.”

The lessons Li will take from this week will be invaluable, and she reiterated both before the tournament and after Thursday’s round that score was immaterial. But under major championship pressure, she still authored some jaw-dropping shots.

After her 5-wood ran through the green on the par-4 eighth, Li was left with a difficult pitch from below the putting surface. She used her 60-degree wedge to hit it within a few feet, an up-and-down that Bush, who has caddied at Pinehurst for the past four years, described as one of the best he’s ever seen on that hole.

On the par-4 second, she hit the longest drive of her group after her tee shot landed on a firm section of fairway and bounded down a slope. Bush estimated that the drive went 265 yards.

“She surprised me,” he said. “She told you guys in the press conference that on a tournament day it goes farther, and by God it does.”

Li’s playing competitors were equally impressed with her performance.

“I was expecting her not to be able to hit it as far, and I thought she would struggle because she couldn’t hit it as far,” O’Donnell said. “But, overall, she slings it really, really nicely.”

“Just the way she handles herself on the golf course, she is mature beyond her years,” added Wallace. “Her first U.S. Open, she’s 11 years old, who knows what people were expecting out of her this week. I thought she played the course well.”

Li addressed the media after her round with an ice-cream treat in hand, and as her well-earned dessert began to melt she was asked her preference between typical rough and the sandy areas at Pinehurst No. 2. After offering a mixed response, she paused.

“You’ve got to like the golf course, man,” she said.

It embodied the carefree attitude that Li embraces. She’s here this week to gain experience while making history, to win over fans with her innocent laugh, and to eat as much ice cream as she can. If she can play some good golf in between, so much the better.

She may have shot a 78, but on the opening day of the U.S. Women’s Open that was enough to steal the show.

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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