PINEHURST, N.C. – Lucy Li opened with an 8-over 78 Thursday at Pinehurst No. 2, making history as the youngest qualifier to ever tee it up at the U.S. Women’s Open.
The 11-year-old got off to a rocky start with a double bogey on her opening hole, but she steadied herself from there and made a pair of birdies on her second nine.
The score left her 11 shots off the lead set by Stacy Lewis (67), but Li was still one shot better than both Natalie Gulbis, a former winner on the LPGA, and Jessica Korda, who has two victories to her credit this season.
“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.”
Li’s opening-round score is in line with the tallies from two other girls who were previously the youngest ever in this event. Morgan Pressel shot 77-77 at Pine Needles as a 13-year-old in 2001, and Lexi Thompson carded rounds of 76 and 82 at the same venue when she played as a 12-year-old in 2007.
Beverly Klass is the youngest to ever compete in a Women’s Open, doing so at age 10 in 1967. Klass, who did not have to qualify for the event, missed the cut.
Teeing off at 7:07 a.m., Li’s gallery grew as the day progressed, and when their paths crossed there was a larger group following her than the one following Lewis, the current world No. 1 and tournament leader. Despite her youth, Li insisted that the galleries didn’t faze her.
“I play better with the crowds,” she said. “I wasn’t that nervous.”
Weighing less than 100 pounds, Li struggles with distance off the tee but had no trouble with accuracy, hitting 13 of 14 fairways in the opening round. She reached 9 of 18 greens in regulation despite hitting a wood or hybrid into many of the putting surfaces at No. 2.
“It’s tough. You miss the ball by 3 feet and it could be like a two- or three-shot difference,” Li said. “I like the golf course, though. It’s good.”