So much has changed, yet so much remains the same. Lucy Li doesn’t show up in pigtails and face paint anymore. She no longer dresses like a pre-teen whose parents are picking their battles. She has, in fact, done what girls do: mature into a young, confident woman.
But the golf game is still extraordinary. Just two weeks after securing her LPGA Tour card by mathematically locking up a season-ending top-10 spot in the Epson Tour’s Race to the Card, Li came into the Dana Open presented by Marathon and put together two spectacular rounds, finishing Friday with a 7-under, 64 to take the midday lead after the morning wave and ensuring one of the late tee times on Saturday.
“I was hitting it really good today,” Li said after her round. “Also yesterday. I just got a few more putts to drop today. Made a few good par-saves on my back nine, so that really kept the momentum going.”
Some of the fundamentals are the same. As you would expect, the swing has changed since Li broke onto the scene as a 10-year-old at the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst. At that time she broke the record for the youngest player ever to qualify for a major championship. While she missed the weekend, the pre-tournament press conference Li gave while eating an ice cream cone remains one of the indelible images of that championship.
She’s gotten progressively stronger over the years, and longer in the last couple. As an amateur, she was a staple on United States Curtis Cup teams. And she racked up a number of amateur titles, especially in her native California, before turning pro in 2020 at age 17. Now, as a 19-year-old, she has won twice on the Epson Tour with four other top-10 finishes to her credit, including one runner-up.
By all rights, she should be home in California kicking her feet up this week. But she played the CP Women’s Open on Ottawa last week and finished in the top-10, which earned her a spot in the Dana Open. With only so many LPGA Tour starts available, Li knows she needs to take advantage when she can.
“I was really excited to play last week in Canada,” she said. “It was such a great tournament and great course, great hospitality. So that was one of my goals going into the week: try to top-10 (my way) into this event. I was happy to just sneak in there, so (now I’m) just kind of trying to keep it going and keep doing what I'm doing.”
Golf comes to you at different times, no matter what your skill level. Li was a novelty eight years ago. Now she is player.
“I think initially when I first turned pro I kind of struggled with (recognition from such a young age, and) staying patient. Especially the first year being a little unlucky with COVID kind of slowing me down.
“I think the main thing, the number one thing for me and why I'm playing better this year, is my ability to just, when you're on the course, forget about everything and play your golf.
“It was a little bit tough for me (in the past) because I was so young. But someone called me old this week, which was tough. Now, just focusing on playing my game and not thinking about the past or the future, because that doesn't really matter when you're out there.
“So that's definitely huge.”
There are certain lessons that only experience can provide. Winning is one of them.
“I've never led an LPGA event before, so we'll see,” Li said showing a level of maturity that continues to belie her 19 years. “It's a new experience. But definitely having those two wins on the Epson Tour gives me confidence in knowing I can play well coming down the stretch. I think it's really important to treat every day the same, no matter what position you're in.
“That's like number one key for me.”