WHEN: Aug. 5-11
WHERE: Country Club of Charleston
WHAT: An international field of 156 golfers play 36 holes of stroke play Monday and Tuesday, with the top 64 advancing to the match play portion of the tournament.
Tee times: Monday and Tuesday begin at 7:30 a.m. and continue until 2:30 p.m.
PARKING: No parking at the Country Club. Public parking is available at the vacant space located at Folly Road and Albemarle Road, with shuttles running every 15 minutes from 5:15 a.m. until 9 p.m.
TV: The Golf Channel (3-5 p.m. Wednesday; 4-6 p.m. Thursday-Sunday)
In many ways Lucy Li is a typical 10-year-old. Li likes food — Chinese food, french fries and ice cream are favorites. Her music preferences run to rock and hip-hop. Her favorite song is “It’s Time” by Imagine Dragons. She likes to read. She’s an A student who enjoys history.
On Monday, Li will earn a place in golf history when the youngster from Redwood, Calif., hits her opening tee shot at 7:40 a.m. in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship at the Country Club of Charleston. At 10 years, 10 months and 4 days, she will be the youngest participant ever in the event that dates to 1895. The previous youngest golfer was Latanna Stone, who competed in the 2012 Women’s Amateur at the age of 10 years, 11 months and 2 days.
This isn’t Li’s first historic step into the U.S. Golf Association history book. In June, Li (10 years, 8 months, 16 days) qualified for the Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship and made it into the match play portion of the event, breaking a record previously held by Michelle Wie (10 years, 8 months, 23 days).
Li said she didn’t realize she was making history “until I saw the articles.” But there was no free ride into the Public Links or the Women’s Amateur.
Li earned her way into this week’s tournament with birdies on two of her last three holes en route to a 75 in a qualifying event in her home state.
There’s an athletic bounce in her step as the 4-11, 80-pound golf prodigy walks down the fairways, accompanied by her mother and aunt. She swings her arms from side to side, snapping her fingers because “I just like snapping my fingers.” She averages about 225 yards off the tee, good for a 10-year-old but yards short of her older competition. To make up for the lack of distance, she owns an outstanding short game.
For the past 2½ years, Li has been under the tutelage of noted golf instructor Jim McLean, who has golf schools in Florida, Texas and Arizona.
“She is still learning to play. She makes great contact almost every time and she has improved her accuracy,” McLean said. “It’s fun to watch her. I’m very proud of Lucy, the person she is, how mature, how smart and how nice she is. She’s a very nice girl.”
Li’s parents sought out numerous activities for her as she grew up. She took diving lessons at nearby Stanford and dove from the 10-meter platform at age 4 even though she couldn’t swim. She also tried gymnastics and music. Li was 7 when her parents discovered her aptitude for golf. Li’s brother Luke, who will be a freshman at Princeton this fall, was the captain of his high school golf team. While the family was watching him on the practice range, someone asked Lucy to take a swing.
McLean recalled his first meeting with Li’s parents, who asked him to become her instructor. McLean, who works with numerous PGA and LPGA professionals, told Li’s parents that he could put her with talented teachers, but Li’s parents were insistent that they wanted McLean. Reluctantly, he agreed to work with her once every couple of weeks. McLean soon discovered that Li had talent, drive and desire, traits that have allowed her to make giant strides at a young age.
Li said working with McLean has been fun, an attitude she tries to carry with her to the golf course.
“He’s very funny,” Li said of McLean. “He wants everything to be natural.”
Through McLean, Li has made the acquaintance of Rory McIlroy (her favorite golfer “because he’s so nice”), Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Jason Day, Keegan Bradley and others.
“This summer has been very exciting. There’s been a lot of traveling and sightseeing,” Li said. “My goal is to try to play as well as I can. The golf course is pretty long, especially the par-4s. Other than that, it’s pretty straightforward. The greens can be tricky.”
McLean said he would love to see Li make history but has a previous obligation.
“I try to make tournaments a fun experience for her,” McLean said. “Obviously, at 10 years old to compete in the U.S. Women’s is a huge win. There’s no downside whatsoever.”