Li shines again before exiting Women's Publinx
DUPONT, Wash. – Lucy Li is 11.
I was 11 once.
All similarities end there.
Despite her sudden-death loss in the first round of match play at the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship, Li remains a genuine golf prodigy. With apologies to Michelle Wie, Li is probably the best 11-year-old female golfer in the history of the game.
Playing from the equivalent of the regular's men's tees at The Home Course, Li shot a 1-under-par 71 Wednesday in her match against 18-year-old Alice Chen of Princeton, N.J.
The two were deadlocked after 18 holes, setting the stage for a brilliant display by Chen on the 19th hole – drive in the fairway, 6-iron within 7 feet of the cup, birdie putt that looked good all the way.
Li, whose second shot rolled over the green, faced a 4-foot putt for par on the extra hole.
Chen is about to start her freshman year at Furman University. Li is about to be … well, 12 on Oct. 1.
At the recent U.S. Women's Open, Li was the darling of the media and the fans. She shot consecutive rounds of 78 to miss the 36-hole cut, all the while displaying remarkable maturity and shotmaking ability. All she lacked was length, and that surely will come.
I watched every shot of the match between Li and Chen, and both shot legitimate scores of 1-under-par 71. There was no need to talk about the usual match-play concessions, because women rarely concede putts.
I am generalizing, of course, but there must be a golf gremlin out there talking to all women: "You will not concede any short putts. You never know; your opponent may miss from 4 inches."
So Li hit 14 greens in regulation and shot a fair-and-square 71, following rounds of 74 and 70 during two rounds of qualifying.
My friends and I refer to Li as Miss Sparkles. In Wednesday's play, she wore sparkly pink tights and a black top with additional yellow, sky-blue and pink sparkles. Her skirt was pink. Her visor was pink. Her shoes were black, white and red.
She's a fashionista at 11, and she attracted by far the biggest crowd of spectators during the first round of match play. Big in this case was maybe 50 fans walking along with the players.
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After this year there will be no more spectating at Amateur Public Links Championships. That's because the events – for both women and men – have been eliminated. The 2014 tournaments are the last.
Pam Murray of Dallas, Texas, is chairman of the WAPL, and she sat down with Golfweek to discuss the reasons for the elimination of the Public Links Championships. They will be replaced in 2015 by National Four-Ball events, one for men and another for women.
"Just determining who is a public-course golfer and who is a private-course golfer was a nightmare," Murray said.
Another reality of modern golf: The Public Links events had become redundant, with many of the same players participating in the Pub Links and also the U.S. Amateur.
"I would say that 75 percent of the women in the Public Links also played in the U.S. Amateur," Murray said.
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Annie Park, a member of the USC women's golf team, lost to a UCLA rival's younger sister in the first round. That would be Erynne Lee. Her opponent was 18-year-old Katie Lee.
"Playing Erynne's little sister was just like playing Erynne," Park said.
Lee was a 1-up victor, Park missing a 4-foot putt on 18 to extend the match to extra holes.
Park and Erynne Lee also were Curtis Cup teammates in the recent 13-7 victory by the U.S. over a team from Great Britain and Ireland.
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Cassy Isagawa of Wailuku, Hawaii, got the phone call at 7:30 a.m. Sunday morning: As first alternate for the Women's Public Links, she was in the field if she could make it in time for Monday's opening round of qualifying.
She made it, albeit with little sleep.
She advanced through 36 holes of qualifying with a 142 total, 2-under-par. In Monday's first round of match play, she beat Blair Lewis of La Mesa, Calif., in 20 holes.
For the 20-year-old Isagawa, it has been a frustrating summer. She missed qualifying for the 2014 U.S. Women's Open by one stroke, then missed the 2014 U.S. Women's Amateur by two strokes. Then she finished fourth in a Public Links qualifying event with three spots.
Finally, though, she got her chance. She made airline reservations, while her mother packed a suitcase and her father packed the golf clubs.
Her biggest headache? “I had no idea what clothes I had in my suitcase,” said Isagawa.
• • •
Medalist Eun Jeong Seong, a 14-year-old from South Korea, was 4-down to Samantha Gotcher of Clarksville, Tenn., before launching a comeback and winning her opening match on the 19th hole.
Two putts were crucial. She sank a 30-foot putt to win the 18th hole to send the match into overtime, then she made a 14-footer to win on the first extra hole.
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Hunter Pate of Las Vegas played in her first WAPL at 12. She was back this year at 14, although she missed match play with a 154 total in qualifying.
Her biggest thrill of the year, though, came on the other side of the country, at Augusta National Golf Club in the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals.
She won the Girls 14-15 division.
“I was just in shock," she said. "I looked at my dad and yelled, 'We just won at Augusta National!' It was incredible."