Lucy Li happy with how she played

PINEHURST, N.C. -- With an ice-cream bar firmly in hand while addressing the media, Lucy Li looked like some kind of cartoon superkid who'd just saved Pinehurst No. 2 from that dastardly villain, Double Bogey, and then relaxed with a little post-heroics dessert.

Hmm, did any of the Powerpuff Girls play golf? Probably not. Maybe Li -- in her red, white and blue outfit -- could join Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup if they ever need help protecting the city of Townsville someday. Li can wield a wicked club, so you better watch out, Mojo Jojo.

Li, the 11-year-old who has stolen the show so far at the U.S. Women's Open, shot an 8-over 78 in her opening round Thursday. Let that sink in.

"She's way better than I was expecting," said Catherine O'Donnell, a 24-year-old graduate of nearby North Carolina who was in the grouping with Li and also shot a 78. "I was really looking forward to it. I was interested to see how she was going to play.

"It was like playing with another pro. She's a joy to play with too."

Li's family says she has a photographic memory. But if that ever fails her, she should have no problem recalling the details of her first day of competition at the U.S. Women's Open. She can go back in the archives to read and watch all about it. There can't ever have been a more-chronicled round of golf by an 11-year-old.

"I'm happy with how I played," Li said blandly, as if what she had just done as the youngest-ever U.S. Women's Open qualifier was pretty average. "I mean, it's 8 over. It's not bad. But I was 7 over in three holes, so that's 1 over in 15 holes. I just need to get rid of those big numbers."

Indeed, her round started rather shaky. Li double-bogeyed her first hole, which was No. 10. Her caddie, Bryan Bush, a local looper who's an expert on Pinehurst, admitted that before the round started he felt like throwing up because he was so nervous for Li.

Then after the double, he joked, "I was hoping they wouldn't call in an alternate."

But Li was unfazed by the rough beginning, just as she seems to be about everything in this history-making endeavor. Bush said she told him, "I got Ross-ed," referring to struggling with the greens of course designer Donald Ross, who, incidentally, passed away in 1948, a full 54 years before Li was born.

Li knows her history, golf and otherwise. So she was well aware, even before her practice rounds at Pinehurst No. 2, what she would be in for.

However, her playing partners weren't so sure, even though both were eager to experience it. O'Donnell and Jessica Wallace, a 23-year-old Canadian who played collegiately at Pepperdine and Colorado, said they were happy to be grouped with the youngster. But they didn't know what to expect.

"It was a very surreal experience," said Wallace, who shot a 4-over 74 and said she loved the gallery that followed the trio. "I know what a big deal Lucy is coming out here, so, hey, I'm totally fine coattailing off of people wanting to take a look at her."

Li bounced back from her opening double by making par on four of her next five holes. Another double came at No. 16, and then she had a triple-bogey at No. 3. She also had bogeys at Nos. 13, 7 and 9.

But there were a lot of impressive shots along the way by the youngster from Redwood Shores, California. Her first birdie came on No. 1 -- her 10th hole -- and she added another on No. 5.

Probably her most impressive hole was her par save on No. 8, where she was able to chip on with her 60-degree wedge, hold the tricky green and sink the putt.

Bush called it "the best up-and-down I've seen on that hole" and added, "I mean, we could have ordered a lemonade from where she chipped that shot."

An easy-going, funny guy, Bush seemed to mesh well with Li's "Hey, I'm only 11; I'm just having fun" personality at this event.

"I know she doesn't care, but I do," Bush said of how Li casually waved off any concerns beforehand about how she might play. "I was nervous, and she was calm. So we balanced each other out."

Bush said Li consulted with him on club selection and aiming points but noted that "she knows her distances better than I do. It was a good team effort. A week ago, I would have maybe been more in awe, but now I've seen enough to know she should be around for a while."

He has had several practice sessions with Li, so Bush said he was expecting her to play well, but he was surprised by how far she drove the ball. She had the long drive of her group on the No. 2 hole.

"She told you guys in the press conference that on tournament day it goes farther," Bush said, laughing. "By gosh, it does."

That said, Li, at 5-foot-2, is still growing, so her average driving distance of 235 yards on Thursday was about 15 yards behind the field. But she hit 13 of 14 fairways and nine of 18 greens in regulation.

All throughout the round, spectators seemed enchanted by the small figure between the ropes wearing a stars-and-stripes shirt (with hearts where the stars are supposed to be on a flag) and a matching skirt. Li, the American-born daughter of Chinese immigrants, said she chose her clothes because they seemed appropriate for the U.S. Women's Open.

"I like red, white and blue," she said.

You'd hear comments all over the course: "Where is the little girl? ... How is the kid doing? ... Isn't that outfit darling? ... Wow, she made that shot look easy!"

In the end, Li outperformed most expectations, except her own -- because she said she really didn't have any, other than to have fun and try to learn something.

"I'm glad I got it over with," Li said. "But I'm also excited for tomorrow."

Then Li was off to get something more nutritious than her Starburst pink ice-cream bar for lunch, after which she planned to work on her bunker shots.

O'Donnell joked that Li didn't need more practice out of the sand because it looked like she was already pretty good at that. O'Donnell added that Li could hold her own in conversation during the round because she's so intelligent and well-read.

"Jess and I had a great time playing with her today," O'Donnell said. "She looks 11. She doesn't talk 11, and she doesn't hit the ball like 11."