DUPONT — After three-putting for the second time in her first three holes, she didn’t throw her putter or a temper tantrum.
She responded by hitting her ensuing tee shot right down the middle of the fairway, just like you would expect a seasoned veteran to react.
But the conversation in the fairway gave her away.
“So, are you excited for the seventh grade?” Lucy Li was asked by a playing partner’s caddie.
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Li, who looks like the 11-year-old she is with her twin ponytails but has composure most adults would covet, opened play Monday in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship at The Home Course. She shot a 2-over-par 74, recovering nicely from bogeys on her first two holes. She is in 44th place in the 156-player field, with the top 64 after the second round Tuesday advancing to match play.
And yes, Li, who lives in Redwood Shores, Calif., is looking forward to the seventh grade. She will have a lot to tell her friends.
Like how she was the youngest qualifier in the history of the U.S. Women’s Open, and how she became one of the stars at the event despite missing the cut.
She is looking to make more history this week. Last year at the Public Links Championship, she became the youngest player in history to qualify for the match-play portion of the event.
“I guess I was just cold at the beginning,” Li said of her early putting woes Monday, “but I was happy I turned it around on the back nine.”
Li’s starting time was 7:41 a.m., and it was quite chilly during her front nine before the sun broke through. But Li remained cool throughout, even when things didn’t go her way. She was 3 over after her first nine holes.
“I guess I got that from my dad,” Li said of not getting upset. “He can five-putt and he doesn’t care.”
Li, who turns 12 in October and started taking golf seriously at age 7, is quick to point out that she cares how she plays, but that her main goal is to play her best and have fun.
That was the advice she was given by Michelle Wie, a fellow golfing phenom who at 13 in 2003 became the youngest player in history to win the U.S. Women’s Public Links Championship and who won the U.S. Women’s Open last month at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina.
Li followed Wie for all 18 holes of her final round at the Women’s Open despite the oppressive heat.
“I just wanted to watch it, and I really admire her,” Li said of Wie.
Li continues to build a legion of admirers herself. Count 45-year-old Hui Chong Dofflemyer of Belvidere, Ill., among them.
Dofflemyer, the oldest player in the field, was paired with Li for the two rounds of stroke play along with Dana Finkelstein of Chandler, Ariz.
“Oh my god,” Dofflemyer said, when asked to describe Li and her round.
“She was hitting the ball farther than I was and I wasn’t expecting that,” said Dofflemyer, whose 19-year-old son is a star amateur in Illinois. “I didn’t know I was going to be paired with her and that I would be playing in front of so many people (about 40 to 50 following the group). I was nervous.”
Nothing seemed to faze Li.
“I only see the ball when I’m playing,” she said. “I don’t see the people.”
Li hit her drives between 200 and 250 yards, and with amazing precision. She did not miss a fairway until the 18th hole, and even then she missed by just a couple of yards.
She made birdies on both of the par-5s on the back nine, which helped make up for a three-putt bogey on the 13th hole.
Along the way, it was obvious she was having fun, whether it was asking Finkelstein’s caddie about what to expect in seventh-grade geography or what kind of music she liked.
So is her goal to beat her performance from last year at this event, when she lost in the round of 64 in match play? Once again, she showed veteran savvy and wiggled her way out of answering directly.
“I just want to do my best,” she said.
But whatever happens this week, Li knows it will be different when she returns to school.
“They knew I played golf, but not how much,” she said. “But now that I’ve been on TV at the U.S. Open, I guess they will know.”
Scott Hanson: 206-464-2943 or firstname.lastname@example.org