A child should not play against adults
If it's OK with parents, go ahead
Lucy Li, a sixth-grader, has qualified for the U.S. Women's Open this year. It's a tremendous accomplishment, and she and her family should be justifiably proud.
She is clearly an outlier, someone on the far end of the curve, but I can't help but think this isn't the best thing for sixth-graders as a group.
I don't pretend to be an expert on all 11-year-old girls, but I happen to have one living in my house. Going to the U.S. Open would be a great adventure for her, like a trip to Disney, but maybe not if it meant having to practice riding Space Mountain for three hours a day six times a week.
There are so many interests to pursue at this age, rock-climbing and astronomy and piano, a variety that will lay the foundation for a child to see all the options that adulthood brings.
The level of mastery needed to compete at Li's level usually means an intense focus on skills and repetition. Again, this may be something Li loves, but how many young kids have we seen burn out after all the training needed to become prodigies? The WTA found so many young girls were being marched toward a tennis career that they raised the age requirements.
Li should relish this -- perhaps she is more like Michelle Wie, who qualified for the Women's U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship at age 10. Since the LPGA doesn't allow women to join until the age of 18, Wie had to wait to be a full tour member, and the former prodigy has won three tournaments since 2009. She has yet to win a major; she's a strong player with a healthy career, but not the dominant golfer some expected given her youthful success.
Prodigies are a great story, but it is only the beginning of a story. Often, if you use Jennifer Capriati or Anna Kournikova as a roadmap, what follows can be difficult.
And even though Li's story is good, it doesn't do women's golf any favors if 11-year-olds can play on the same field as the pros. Golf is a game of skill as much as strength, but the optics -- a child playing against adults -- doesn't happen in many other professional sports.
Some games are better left to grown-ups.
Trying to address the question of whether an 11-year-old is too young to play in the U.S. Women's Open is like asking if 16-year-olds should drive or 18-year-olds should vote. It depends on the kid, on the situation.
Whether or not my kids at 11 could have handled it or whether I would have wanted them to try is irrelevant. While we're on an analogy roll, it's a little like trying to explain to someone (my husband) that athletes are not overpaid, it is simply what the market will bear.
If Lucy Li was able to qualify and it's OK with her parents, then she should be able to play.
The youngest woman/girl ever to qualify, Li, who is finishing up sixth grade, is only a year younger than Lexi Thompson and Morgan Pressel were when they qualified for the U.S. Women's Open. And she's a year older than the youngest to ever play in the Women's Open. Beverly Klass was 10 when she competed in the tournament in 1967 before there was a qualification process.
As for how Thompson and Pressel are holding up since then, Pressel won the 2007 Kraft Nabisco Championship at age 18, and Thompson seems to be doing just fine as well, winning the first major of the year in women's golf this April at age 19.
If we need any further evidence that women's golf is getting younger, there is Lydia Ko, who just turned 17 in April and has recently risen as high as No. 2 in the world rankings (currently she's No. 3). She won her first professional tournament at 14.
The USGA has done what it can to make qualifying tougher by expanding it to two rounds. Still, Li prevailed, winning by seven strokes on a tough course at Half Moon Bay in California.
Li also has built up a resume by qualifying for the match-play portion of the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship last year, and, oh yes, she drives the ball 200 yards.
Before the skeptics get too carried away here, no one is packing up Li and sending her out on tour yet. This is one tournament.
You want to tell her she suddenly can't or shouldn't play?
Not my kid, not my place. And not fair.