Society sets minimum age requirements for all sorts of things. For example, one cannot get a driver's license until they turn 16. Want to cast a vote in an election? You must wait until 18. More to my age group - Social Security checks come along when you get into your 60s.
When it comes to setting the field in the U.S. Women's Open golf tournament however, no such minimum age exists. If you are good enough, you have a chance to make the field.
When the best the game has to offer tees it up June 19 at Pinehurst, a California youngster will get a tee time. Lucy Li is from Redwood Shores, Calif., and is in the sixth grade. Yes, a sixth grade elementary student who just happens to be 11 years old!
Now there is a precedent for young (geez, can I use the term ladies; after all Li's just a kid) females to be in the field for the U.S. Open. In 2007 Lexi Thompson teed it up at the age of 12 years, 4 months and 18 days. She was, at the time, the youngest to qualify for the Open Championship. Now Li will have that distinction as she is 11 years, 8 months and 19 days of age. When you are talking about the record holder it sometimes is necessary to break things down. Let's hope we don't have to consider minutes!
Believe it or not, neither Thompson nor Li is the youngest golfer to play in the U.S. Women's Open. That mark belongs to Beverly Klass who played in the 1967 U.S. Open at the age of 10 years, 7 months and 21 days. She played at a time that qualifying was not necessary. The requirement to qualify began in 1976.
So let's get back to the question at hand. Is it appropriate for someone so young to play in this prestigious (or otherwise serious) golf tournament? You can think about it for a while. I will give you some more information and - imagine this - I will give you my thoughts on the matter.
Let's start with this fact. One cannot play in a qualifier unless they have a handicap of 2.4 or less. Lucy Li did not just sneak in after playing two rounds at the qualifying tournament. She shot 74-68 and won the qualifier by seven strokes. That's pretty good no matter what the age. She also won her age division (10-11) at the Drive, Chip and Putt contest held at Augusta this spring.
Li may be young but she has had a swing coach for 3 1/2 years now. Good gracious. She played in the Women's Amateur Championship last year and delighted galleries by hopping and skipping down fairways. She was seen snapping her fingers together and singing between shots. This may endear her to galleries, but I wonder what her playing partners would think about such behavior.
It will be interesting to see who she gets paired with. Can you imagine her playing alongside Julie Inkster for example? Inkster is old enough to be her grandmother. Maybe she could be paired with Thompson or Michelle Wie. The latter burst upon the scene with much fanfare and was determined to play on the men's tour. She has just recently started living up to the hype on the LPGA circuit.
Li is precocious. Last year she was asked if she planned on a college golf career or whether she would turn pro. Her response, "I don't know, just wherever it takes me."
Lucy Li is a fan of Rory McIlroy and when asked if she could learn anything from watching the men play, she responded with this gem: "When you watch the men play, their games are very interesting because they hit the ball all over the place and sometimes, they have to get out of the woods."
It sounds to me like she is being a little critical and, quite possibly, correct. Li supposedly only hits the ball about 200 yards off the tee. Heck, even I hit the ball farther than that. Not much farther mind you, and certainly my tee shots tend to go "all over the place" as she puts it. Her short game must be awfully good and that will come in handy at Pinehurst. Remember John Daly a few years back striking a moving ball in frustration on the slick contours of Pinehurst No. 2?
Well, it's time for your opinion on whether Li is indeed too young and should have to wait until she's old enough to drive (a car or 250 yards) to play in the U.S. Open. As for my thoughts, let her play. She proved she can score and that's what it's all about. Age after all is just a number.
Will the youngest member of the field be able to handle the pressure of the moment? That remains to be seen and it will be interesting to watch. Let's not, however, place too much emphasis on Lucy Li because she may not end up being the youngest in the tournament.
Qualifying for the U.S. Women's Open continues until May 30. One Alexa Pano is entered in a qualifier in Vero Beach, Fla. this week. Pano is - are you ready for it - all of 9 years old!
Which begs the question, how young is too young?
Al Stephenson is The Advertiser-Tribune's golf columnist.
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