RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Lucy Li didn’t jump into Poppie’s Pond last Sunday after she won the ANA Junior Inspiration. Cameras were ready to capture the moment, but Li, 14, wanted to save her first leap for the main event.
The winning team of the Mountain West Conference Championship usually takes a dip, as do victors of the AJGA ClubCorp Mission Hills Junior. Li, however, never has been one to go with the crowd.
“I didn’t want to break the tradition of the winner of the major getting to jump in the pond,” she said.
In 2014, an 11-year-old Li became the youngest to ever compete in the U.S. Women’s Open. The precocious Li stole the show the first two days at Pinehurst No. 2 before Michelle Wie took over the weekend.
Now the prodigious pair will play alongside each other for the first two rounds of the ANA Inspiration. Wie was also grouped with Lydia Ko for her first trip around the Dinah Shore Tournament Course.
“Every time I come back here,” said Wie, “I always think back to the first time.”
Wie first competed at the ANA in 2003 as a 13-year-old. She played alongside Ai Miyazato in the first round, and they reminisced about it on Wednesday.
“The moment that I got nervous was when I realized I was in the final group with Annika (Sorenstam),” Wie said, who ultimately tied for ninth. “That’s when I got the shakes a little bit.”
Li, already a high school junior, wore a pair of shiny gold Nike high-tops and a brightly-colored Nike dress on the eve of the ANA. She looked like a mini-Wie and said the shoes were a birthday gift.
Li said she has gained not only experience, but about 20 yards off the tee since Pinehurst.
When asked how many inches she’d grown, Li quipped, “not where I want to be.”
Li played with Sandra Gal and three other amateurs during Wednesday’s nine-hole pro-am. On the 18th, Li came within a couple of inches of holing out for eagle, delighting fans and outshining the pro in the group.
Last Sunday at the junior event, Li was the only player who finished under par. She said it was her first time playing with the lead, and she expects her nerves at the major to be similar to what she felt among peers.
While she offered no timeline for future plans, Li does have an interesting goal: the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
“It’s just something to think about for fun,” she said, giggling.