Lucy Li: Too much too young?

2014 05 Lucyli

What were you doing when you were 11?

In my case, I was in my final year of primary school, working on a project about the solar system. When I wasn’t doing that, I was mostly playing with my friends in the park behind my house and collecting football cards from packets of Candy Sticks.

What I was most certainly not doing was attempting to qualify for a major golf tournament.

So, on that basis, I guess little Lucy Li and I have had different upbringings.

The sixth grader from San Francisco celebrated her 11th birthday on October 1, 2002, and only too up golf by chance in 2010. Despite this, she will play in this year’s US Women’s Open having won her way into the tournament through qualifying at Half Moon Bay, where she carded rounds of 74 and 68.

To put Li’s achievement into a wider context, Tiger Woods had won the majority (eight) of his 14 majors by the time she was born. Arnold Palmer, meanwhile, had celebrated his 73rd birthday just weeks earlier.

Crazy, mind-boggling, frightening… call it what you will, Lucy Li’s achievement in qualifying for the US Women’s Open has, as you might expect, earned the kid an army of impressed new followers.

But is it right that an 11-year-old can qualify for a major golf tournament? I’m not so sure.
It doesn’t say much for the quality of women’s golf that an 11-year-old can qualify for one of its premier events.

At 11, Lucy should be playing against other kids her own age, or in the under-16 age bracket. Like in the 'Drive, Chip and Putt Championship# at Augusta National where she was an age group winner earlier this year (pictured above). So far in the adult game, she hasn’t proved she’s capable of anything more than stringing together two good rounds of golf on a half-decent golf course. Impressive, yes. But deserving of a place in a major championship? I don’t believe so.

The concern, of course, is that she goes to Pinehurst and takes on a course that will, in all probability, be set up to be the most exacting, most punishing test the cream of women’s golf will face all year. What a place to make your debut on the LPGA.

She’ll be star-struck, out of depth, and dangerously exposed to a challenge and attention that no child should have to experience. If she makes the cut, I’ll be utterly, completely flabbergasted. What’s more likely is that she misses the cut by a mile, racks up a couple of big numbers, and is left battered and bruised by the whole experience.

It also doesn’t say much for the quality of women’s golf – which is, in fact, much higher than some might have you believe – that an 11-year-old can qualify for one of its premier events.

That’s why I believe a lower age limit should be introduced for these qualifiers. Sixteen-years-old is perfectly good. None of this ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’ rubbish. Anyone can be good for 36 holes. It doesn’t mean you actually are any good. Not yet, at least.

I can only hope that Lucy Li proves me wrong. I’d be delighted if she did, in fact. I don’t want to see a little kid humiliated on a global sporting stage. So, here’s hoping she defies the odds and puts on a show at Pinehurst – and that, to avoid any such situations arising again in the future, changes are made to the qualifying criteria for majors henceforth.

Lucy Li: Your thoughts

Do you agree with Michael McEwan that Lucy Li is too young to play in this year's US Open? Leave your thoughts in the 'Comments' section below.

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