NORMAN — Ten-year-old Lucy Li sought relief from Tuesday afternoon's hot sun in the shade of a small tree behind the No. 2 tee box at Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club.
Enjoying the shade and snacking on a banana, Li watched Michigan State senior golfer Allyssa Ferrell hit a shot onto the green at the 161-yard par-3 hole.
Then Li walked toward her caddie, traded her banana for a golf club and hit her shot to the front fringe of the green.
At 10 years, eight months and 16 days old, Li, of Redwood Shores, Calif., was the second-youngest player ever to compete in the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship when she teed up her first shot Monday morning at Jimmie Austin.
But Li didn't just show up and play. She shot 77 on Monday and 71 on Tuesday to tie for 25th and qualify for the 64-player match play tournament — the youngest player ever to do so.
“I'm really excited,” she said with a giggle after learning she would be around to compete in the match-play bracket on Wednesday. “I wasn't really expecting much (at this tournament). I just wanted to play as well as I could.”
Li started competing in tournaments at age 8, winning the San Diego Junior Masters in 2011 with a round of 5-under-par 67.
Later that year, after turning 9, she became the youngest player to make the cut at the California Women’s State Amateur. Last year, she reached the quarterfinals of the match play at the same event.
While she calls Redwood Shores her home, she and her parents moved to Miami, Fla., in 2011, and since then, Li has been a student at the Jim McLean Golf School at the Doral Golf Resort.
Li’s arms aren’t much bigger than the shaft of her TaylorMade driver, and she’s only a few inches taller than 4 feet. But her smooth, flowing swing, with a long, wraparound follow-through, produced shot after shot that found fairways and greens as her mother and aunt looked on, joyous but reserved.
“She hit a lot of great shots today,” said Li's caddie, Chelsey Franklin, the event coordinator at Jimmie Austin and a former OU golfer. “This has been so fun. She's a great player, so she knows what she wants to hit; she just wants confirmation.
“I think that just gives her the extra boost to hit the perfect club and the perfect shot.”
Her competitors' drives regularly flew 30 yards past Li's, and at times, she had to hit fairway woods to greens when the others hit middle irons.
But it didn't faze her. Li's emotions rarely wavered. Poor shots didn't bother her, and she was as happy as a 10-year-old should be after good ones.
She flashed an excited grin toward her caddie after she rolled in a birdie putt on No. 4. And she hurried to the scorer's tent, bouncing as she ran, to sign her scorecard after chipping in from a deep bunker on the final hole.
“From the moment I hit it, I knew it was gonna go in, because it was so straight. I was excited,” she said, admitting that she could only see the top of the flag from her spot deep in the sand trap. “I didn't see it go in, but I heard it.”
Li is five months older than the youngest player to ever qualify for the event, Allisen Corpuz, who was 10 years, three months and nine days old in 2008.
And a more familiar name, current LPGA Tour player Michelle Wie, was 10 years, eight months and 23 days old when she became the youngest player to make the cut in 2000 — but that title now belongs to Li.
“She doesn't have any fear,” Franklin said. “She just picks a target and commits to it, which is a fabulous thing. Hopefully it's a quality she's able to maintain throughout her entire golf career.”