If you listened closely enough, you could hear a little grumbling from some of the membership at Rolling Green Golf Club during qualifying for match play in last summer’s U.S. Women’s Amateur.
There was a little talk that maybe the William Flynn gem had been set up too easy for the best female amateur players in the world. After all, they argued, a 13-year-old kid was going to be the medalist after following up an opening round of 4-under 67 with a 3-under 68. A 13-year-old kid, 7-under for two rounds on our golf course.
Well, that 13-year-old kid, Lucy Li, the golf prodigy from Redwood Shores, Calif., didn’t win the qualifying medal. A late afternoon round of 7-under 65, most of which I got to witness, by Mariel Galdiano of Pearl City, Hawaii enabled her to surge past Li and take medalist honors with a 36-hole total of 9-under 133.
But if you went out and watched Li play, even for just a couple of holes, you realized that this wasn’t just any kid. I know it’s always a cautionary tale when you’re talking about the latest teen queen golfer, but a couple of things struck me about her.
You could see how well she thinks her way around the golf course and that’s an absolute requirement at Rolling Green. Every shot she hit was an attempt to leave her with the best possible chance to hit a good shot on the next shot. Some very good golfers never figure that out.
The other thing about Li was her – and there are very few 13-year-olds you can say this about -- showmanship. She was enjoying people watching her play golf and it showed. Even some pros get thrown off when a large gallery starts to notice what they’re doing. Li relished every second of it.
Li’s 14 now and if you tune in for the opening round of 2017’s first major championship, the LPGA’s ANA Inspiration, Thursday, you might see her playing with the pros at Mission Hills Country Club’s Dinah Shore Tournament Course.
Li earned the last spot in the tournament by winning last weekend’s ANA Junior Inspiration at the Dinah Shore Tournament and Pete Dye Courses. She sandwiched a couple of even-par 72s around a 3-under 69 to win the coveted spot in an LPGA major with a 3-under 213 total. I couldn’t tell from the results which rounds were on which courses, but at least one of them was on the course that the ANA Inspiration will be played on.
Li won her first-round match at Rolling Green, beating August Kim, 4 and 3. That’s the same August Kim who is the focus of my previous post today, winning a share of a college tournament title with Purdue. Kim’s a senior with the Boilers. She won the Big Ten title last year. She’s battle-tested.
Hannah Green, the Australian who reached the semifinals at Rolling Green and has since turned pro, knocked Li out in the second round with a 6 and 4 victory.
Li finished four shots clear of the field last weekend at Mission Hills. One of the three players tied for second, Paphangkorn Tavatanakit of Thailand, will also be in the field for the ANA Inspiration. She was one of the six amateur standouts extended invitations to the ANA Inspiration by tournament officials.
Tavatanakit is the reigning American Junior Golf Association Rolex Junior Player of the Year. She didn’t have to tee it up in the ANA Junior Inspiration, but the AJGA was involved in the event and Tavatanakit probably wanted to be involved. And it gave her an extra round or two on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course. Smart girl.
Tavatanakit might be the best female junior player in the world, but even she has trouble keeping up with Li. So it will be interesting to see how Tavatanakit and Li do on a major stage.
It might not be the last time those two meet in an LPGA major championship.