PINEHURST — One week after Martin Kaymer cruised to his first U.S. Open championship at Pinehurst No. 2, the women will take center stage on Donald Ross’ famous course.
Inbee Park shot an 8-under to win last year’s title at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, New York. It was Park’s fourth major championship and her second U.S. Open crown. This week, Park’s journey to try to repeat is one of the best stories to follow, but the most intriguing belongs to Lucy Li.
The 11-year-old is the youngest qualifier in U.S. Women’s Open Championship history. This wasn’t the only USGA record Li broke. Last year, she became the youngest qualifier in U.S Women’s Amateur history and she also became the youngest player ever to reach match play at the Women’s Amateur Public Links.
“The perfect week, I just want to go out there and have fun and play the best I can and I really don’t care about the outcome, it’s just I want to have fun and learn,” Li said. “I can learn — I want to learn a lot from these great players.”
Despite her young age, Li has read some books on Ross and said she doesn’t expect to be intimated by the large crowds during the tournament.
“I like Donald Ross, Donald Ross, I like him because I played Country Club of Charleston last year and Peninsula Golf Club in San Francisco, so I know that he loves doing those undulating greens,” Li said. “They’re tough. But I like them, because they’re good. They can help you and they can hurt you.
“I think I like crowds, they don’t bother me. I play better the more people that come watch me. So, yeah. I’m really excited though.”
Lexi Thompson is no stranger to qualifying for a U.S. Open in Pinehurst. Thompson played in the 2007 event at Pine Needles at the age of 12. At the time, Thompson was the youngest to have qualified for the U.S. Open.
Earlier this year, Thompson won her first major championship, a 3-shot victory over Michelle Wie at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
“I do have a good amount confidence coming into this week. The win at Kraft Nabisco helped me out so much,” Thompson said. “Getting a major win under my belt under that kind of pressure and those circumstances, but I’ve always imagined myself winning a Kraft Nabisco and it felt like my week when I got there. Coming into the U.S. Open it’s the tournament I look forward to every year, being an American playing in your own national championship. The USGA always has the best or the most well run events, whether it’s U.S. Juniors, U.S. Amateurs, and I always just enjoy it, no matter what.”
Stacy Lewis, the world’s No. 1 player in the world, likes the course and believes it fits her game. This is her eighth U.S. Open appearance and her best finish was a tie for third in 2008 at Interlachen. Lewis won last year’s Women’s British Open at the Old Course at St. Andrews and captured the 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship.
“Well I tried to keep it out of the native areas, that was the goal. But I did, I hit a few balls out of it, just to kind of see how the club was reacting and really if you got a good lie, you could hit it pretty solid,” Lewis said. “Actually, the ball kind of jumps out of there. So it’s all a toss up, all depends on the lie. But I love the golf course, I love the way you have to think your way around. It’s position golf, it’s where do I need to be for every hole location and that suits my game. That’s the way I play every week. So I think I have that as an advantage. It’s just really cool — it’s just a cool golf course, just to walk out there and see it, it’s just really cool.”
Reach sports editor Shawn Stinson at 910-997-3111, ext. 14 or on Twitter @scgolfer.