PINEHURST, N.C. -- Lucy Li struck a blow for girl power Thursday in pigtails and the stars and stripes.
The youngest qualifier in U.S. Women's Open history shot an 8-over 78, a respectable score regardless of age or how she went about getting it.
"Eight over is not bad," Li said in between licks of pink ice cream. "But I was seven over in three holes, so that's one over in (the remaining) 15 holes. So yeah, I just need to get rid of the big numbers."
Nearly a hundred followers gathered for her 7:07 a.m. ET tee time, in which she was grouped with Catherine O'Donnell and Jessica Wallace on the back nine of famed Pinehurst No. 2. The crowd grew in numbers as the day went on, though the size of the fan often got smaller as parents brought pre-teenaged daughters (and some sons) to watch the player from Redwood Shores who was only 11 years, eight months and 19 days old.
Like most fans, O'Donnell and Wallace were blown away by Li's poise and maturity.
"There were times when I felt more immature than she is," said the 23-year-old Wallace. "She's so mature, it's like talking to another 23-year-old."
The group was backed up for 10 minutes at a time through many of the second nine holes they played, leaving plenty of time for conversation. So what do a couple of 20-year-olds talk about with someone who's 11? Random topics like hometowns, siblings and movies. Harry Potter (she's not that into him). Favorite books ("Divergent") and NBA teams (the Miami Heat). Li simply took a seat on the ground for many of the delays.
"She's sitting on the ground, having a snack," O'Donnell said. "She was like, all right, this is great, another stroll-in-the-park kind of thing."
For all but three holes, Li was even better when play resumed.
Sand was involved in each of Li's double and triple bogeys. She double-bogeyed her first hole of the day, on the par-5, 571-yard No. 10, after hitting her third shot in the bunker and her fourth over the undulating, turtleback greens designed by the legendary Donald Ross. The same thing essentially happened on the par-4, 458-yard No. 16 hole, which she also double-bogeyed.
She found the sand on her second shot on No. 3, her 12th hole of the day. She again blasted out too strongly, chipping over the green. This time, she 3-putted for a triple bogey on the par-4, 330-yard hole.
"I have to practice my bunker shots," she said.
But even at 5 over par after seven holes, she rallied by making her first birdie with an 11-foot putt on the par-4, 366-yard first hole. She also followed up her triple bogey on No. 3 with a birdie on No. 5.
"It doesn't matter what she makes on a hole," Wallace said. "She's very focused on the next hole, the next shot. I mean, she was talking a few times, 'Oh, those Donald Ross greens.' But all of us are thinking that at some point during the round, right?"
Li hit 13 of 14 fairways. She had the longest drive of her group on No. 2 and twice outdrove the more powerful O'Donnell.
"And I wasn't very happy about that," O'Donnell said.
All in all, it was a great learning experience.
"I learned that you've got to be patient," Li said.
Patient with writers, as well, including the one who asked why she chose to wear a top and frilly skirt resembling the American flag, but with hearts where some of the stars would be. She giggled in that way that she does when the answer ought to be obvious.
"Because it's the U.S. Open."
A look at Lucy Li's first-round score card at the U.S. Women's Open:
Hole* 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 Out 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 In Total
Par 5 4 4 4 4 3 4 3 4 35 4 4 4 4 5 3 4 4 3 35 70
Score 7 4 4 5 4 3 6 3 4 40 3 4 7 4 4 3 5 4 4 38 78
* -- lucy Li started her round on 10th hole
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