Girl, 11, Youngest-Ever Qualifier for U.S. Women's Open

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Lucy Li -- an 11-year-old girl from Silicon Valley -- has become the youngest golfer to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open by winning the sectional qualifier at Half Moon Bay in California. Cheryl Hurd reports.

    Lucy Li -- an 11-year-old girl from Silicon Valley -- has become the youngest golfer to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open by winning the sectional qualifier at Half Moon Bay in California.

    And her coach, Jim McLean, thinks the grade-school girl with braces and a hard swing from Redwood Shores will be “No. 1 in the world real soon. She’s a prodigy, even though I didn’t think so at first." 

    Li, who moved to California from Hong Kong, has been training with McLean at the Jim McLean Golf Schools in Florida since she was 7.

    McLean said that while she plays golf with him for four months out of the year, her father, Warren Li, a computer consultant, and her mother, Amy Zeng, who works at Hewlett Packard, remain at home in Silicon Valley.

    Lucy’s aunt, Tao Zeng, an eye doctor, watches over her niece in Florida, and then helps home-school her when she returns to Redwood Shores, about 30 miles south of San Francisco, through an online Stanford University program. Her brother, Luke, 18, studies at Princeton, McLean said.

    “She’s a genius,” McLean said. A few years back, he gave her Dr. Seuss’s, Oh, the Places You Can Go to read. She not only read it, she memorized it, he said.

    “It was unbelievable,” he said.

    And of course, McLean said, Lucy is well-versed in facts about golf – a sport her father and brother dabble in, though neither of them is half the pro she is.

    Lucy's mom, by the way, is a ping pong whiz.

    When she's back at home, one of her favorite spots to golf is Mariners Point in Foster City. PGA Golf Pro Joby Ross remembers Lucy golfing there was she was as young as 3. Sometimes he saw her with her mom and aunt having a tantrum. But she was crying, he was later told, because she didn't want to leave.

    “She knows the history of the game almost like Tiger Woods did when he was a kid,” McLean said of his young student.

    As for skill, McLean said that Lucy works hard, and has made “quantum leaps” in her ability, catching onto golf concepts and “small intricacies like chipping and curving.”

    Anyone who first meets Lucy, thinks she is very shy and quiet, McLean said. But “she has a really good sense of humor and laughs a lot. She’s a sweet kid," he added.

    Lucy shot rounds of 74 and 68 on the par-72 Old Course at Half Moon Bay on Monday.

    Her score means she surpasses Lexi Thompson — who was 12 when she competed in the 2007 Open — as the youngest qualifier in U.S. Women's Open history. Beverly Klass played the 1967 Open when she was 10, but there was no qualifying. 

    Lucy already has a big win on her resume. She captured the girls age 10-11 division at the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt contest at Augusta that preceded the Masters this year. She beat second-place qualifier Kathleen Scavo by seven strokes at Half Moon Bay.

    When she was 9, she made history at the California Women's Amateur Championship in 2011,  AmateurGolf.com reported.

    The U.S. Women's Open will be played June 19 to 22 at Pinehurst.
     

    NBC Bay Area's Cheryl Hurd and the Associated Press contributed to this report.