When Lucy Li arrived home in Redwood Shores, California, last month, she had an army of followers waiting for her.
Li had just spent the week at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club’s No. 2 Course charming folks with her delightful girlish squeals and giggles, and impressing them with her vast golf knowledge and sweet, fluid swing at the U.S. Women’s Open.
She did not make the weekend cut. What 11-year-old would? But Li’s 16-over-par 156 total tied the likes of LPGA Tour stars Natalie Gulbis, Teresa Lu and Laura Davies, and beat three other professionals ranked inside the top 100 — Lizette Salas, Mika Miyazato and Mo Martin.
Did we mention she was 31/2 months shy of her 12th birthday?
As the week’s media darling and the youngest girl to ever qualify for a U.S. Women’s Open, Li came home a heroine to her pals.
“Yeah, my friends were like, ‘Oh, you’re famous now,’ ” Li said. “And I was like, ‘Oh, shut up!’ ”
On Monday, a whirlwind year of golf comes full circle for Li when she tees off at The Home Course in DuPont. She is playing in her second U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, which was the first United States Golf Association national tournament she played in last summer.
Li earned the No. 25 seed last year and became the youngest match-play qualifier (10 years old) at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links. She lost in the first round to Illinois resident Ember Schuldt, 3 and 2, at the Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club in Norman, Oklahoma.
Later that summer, she also became the youngest qualifier in U.S. Women’s Amateur history at the Country Club of Charleston in South Carolina.
Before she trotted off to the U.S. Women’s Open, she traveled to Augusta National Golf Club in April before the Masters and captured the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship for the 10-11 age group.
All of this golf — all of this exposure — at such a young age has not startled Li. Her attitude? It is just golf.
“It has been good,” she said. “Gotten lots of experience from it.”
Her father, Warren Li, a San Francisco-area stock broker, and mother, Amy Zeng, a former Hewlett-Packard employee, are Chinese. They moved to the United States in 1998.
After Lucy Li began showing natural ability in golf at age 7, her parents contacted noted golf instructor Jim McLean, who grew up in Seattle but now is headquartered in Florida. McLean has taught more than 100 PGA and LPGA tour players, including Cristie Kerr, Lexi Thompson, Keegan Bradley and Erik Compton.
For four months a year, Li lives in Florida with her aunt, Tao Zeng, to be near McLean’s golf academy.
Her first real taste of USGA golf wasn’t around a tournament. It came two weeks after Webb Simpson won the 2012 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.
With the course still in championship condition, Li played it and shot a 79.
“She was 9,” her mother said.
When Li got to play in her first U.S. Women’s Open in June, she was met by a throng of reporters. The attention was extensive — Li’s pre-tournament news conference from the media center was nationally televised — but the girl was more than up to the task of handling it.
“It was fun — a lot of fun,” Li said. “And it has been crazy. I took a break and did not practice for a week (after that).”
Li and her family arrived in DuPont more than a week ago to prepare for the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, which will be discontinued after 2014.
“(The Home Course) is definitely not as tough as Pinehurst, especially greens-wise,” Li said. “It is a good golf course.
“I know my game is there, but I don’t really care (about the results). I want to play as well as I can.”