Li’s Demeanor Belies Her Youth
By Ron Driscoll, USGA
VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – As Bryan Bush, Lucy Li’s caddie for the U.S. Women’s Open, prepared to leave the podium after answering questions from the media about Round 2, he paused and bent down.
“I’ve got to get Lucy’s box,” he said, sliding a wooden stand into place so that his young charge – all 4-foot-11 of her – could reach the microphone for her turn before the press.
What the 11-year-old Li lacked in stature, she more than made up for Thursday and Friday in maturity, skill and unflappability. Case in point: in Friday’s second round, Li drove into the native area on the par-4 13th hole, and as Bush described it, “We could have taken an unplayable to start out with, but thought we could get the club on the ball.” After making an unsuccessful attempt to extricate the ball, Li was forced to take an unplayable lie one stroke later, and she ended up making a triple-bogey 7.
Most players – even far more experienced ones – struggle to maintain their equilibrium after such a disastrous hole. Li walked to the 14th tee, laced her tee shot down the middle, and knocked her 198-yard second shot within 3 feet for an easy birdie.
“We would have an uh-oh hole and next thing you know she would hit a hybrid or a fairway wood inside 8 feet,” said Bush. “You don't see many of the adult pros doing that.”
If the “bounceback” stat – which computes a player’s ability to rebound from a bad hole – were being calculated this week, Li would surely be among the leaders. Five times she made a double bogey or triple bogey in her two rounds, and she steadied herself to make four pars and one birdie on the ensuing holes, refusing to let her game get away from her despite playing in a spotlight she had never before experienced.
“I'm really happy with how I bounced back from the big numbers,” said Li. “Just be patient and not care about what happened, just go to the next shot and hit it like nothing, like it’s the first shot.”
Li carded identical scores of 78, her 16-over 156 total putting her seven strokes off the 36-hole cut line, tied for 120th. However, her score was as good as or better than more than 20 percent of the 154-player field (two players withdrew on Friday).
“She had no expectations,” said Bush. “She came here to have fun. She went through the sectional qualifier. She played her way into the field and she proved that she deserved to be here. Her play spoke for itself.”
Li arrived at the course on Friday more than four hours before her starting time, which allowed her to get in her practice before the heat of the day and rest up before she started her round. Otherwise, said Bush, “she would have been gassed by the back nine.”
The ability to pace herself could come in very handy this summer. Li plans to stick around to watch the rest of the Women’s Open, then her next USGA championship will be the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship in DuPont, Wash., starting July 14 (she advanced through a sectional qualifier in Stockton, Calif., on May 28). She may also play in the U.S. Girls’ Junior (July 21-26, in Flagstaff, Ariz.) and the U.S. Women’s Amateur (Aug. 4-10, in Glen Cove, N.Y.), which would mean possibly three championships in a four-week period.
As Bush put it, this week for Li was not measured by birdies, fairways hit or strokes saved around the green.
“It was never about score,” he said. “She was here for the experience and the opportunity to play with the best players in the world. She proved that she can.”
Once again showing wisdom beyond her age, Li explained her theory about ignoring the outcome.
“If you care about your score, then the numbers get bigger and bigger and if you don't care about it, it actually helps you play better,” she said.
Score one for Lucy.
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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