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Age really does know no limits in golf

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 20, 2014 at 3:58 pm •  Published: May 20, 2014
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Billy Payne wore a smile as wide as the Augusta National fairways as he watched eight kids file out of the room with their trophies from the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship on the Sunday before the Masters.

"We're going to be hearing from some of these kids again," he said.

Yes, but six weeks later?

An 11-year-old girl who won her age group in the youth competition before the Masters has played her way into the U.S. Women's Open next month at Pinehurst No. 2.

Lucy Li, a sixth grader with braces and a sharp short game, made history Monday at Half Moon Bay with rounds of 74-68 to become the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open. Not only did she earn a spot at the biggest event in women's golf, she won the 36-hole qualifier by seven shots.

It's another example that golf has no age limits.

The record for youngest qualifier had belonged to Lexi Thompson, who was 12 when she made it to the 2007 Women's Open at Pine Needles. It's only fitting that when Li signed up for the Drive, Chip and Putt, she listed Thompson as among her favorite players.

Li, from the suburbs south of San Francisco, still won't be the youngest player. Beverly Klass was 10 when she played in 1967, but that was when the U.S. Women's Open didn't have qualifying.

Judy Rankin was a 14-year-old prodigy from Missouri when she entered the 1959 U.S. Women's Open at Churchill Valley Country Club in Pittsburgh.

"When I went to register, they asked me if I was registering for my mother," Rankin said Tuesday. "I weighed 80 pounds. I remember the first tee was way up high. I was shaking. I was so scared, so nervous. I thought I could fall off. I didn't even make the cut. I was probably ill-prepared to be playing. But the next year, I was low amateur."

Teenagers in the U.S. Women's Open are nothing new.

Morgan Pressel, who went on to become the youngest major champion in LPGA Tour history at 18, qualified for the U.S. Women's Open in 2001 when she 12. Michelle Wie was 12 when she qualified for her first LPGA Tour event, and she was in the final group at a major when she was 13.

Lydia Ko was 15 when she won the Canadian Women's Open two years ago, making her the youngest winner in LPGA history. Now she's in range of becoming No. 1 in the world.

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