Is Eleven Years Old too Young to Play in a U.S. Open?

At eleven year’s of age Lucy Li is the youngest golfer to ever get through a sectional qualifier for a women’s US Open. I explain why she was to young for the biggest stage in the women’s game.

Thrash TalkThe darling of the 2014 Women’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst this year was not the winner Michelle Wie but eleven-year-old Lucy Li. Her colorful outfits and bubbly personality stole the show for anyone who watches women’s golf. She handled the pressure of being only eleven at playing in one of the biggest events in women’s golf. But this begs the question, is eleven years old too young to play in a U.S. Open?

Note that Lucy was not even the youngest player who attempted to qualify! She was the youngest to qualify but there was a nine year old, Alexa Pano from Florida, who was not successful but gave it her best effort. My daughter is still quite young, but nine years old seems on the young side to be playing in the biggest stage of women’s golf. At nine, I never gave a thought to giving press interviews people asking me questions in press conference. Is this too much at such a young age?

I say yes. They should implement a minimum age of fifteen to qualify for the event. This way the golfer is at least in high school before playing in a professional event. Some will say that maturity is not defined by a person’s age, and that I should not arbitrarily set an age of fifteen because some ten year olds may be more mature than other seventeen year olds. This is true but some age must be chosen and this is my suggestion.

Other sports have implemented an age limit to protect the young talents. Olympic gymnastics for example has set the age at sixteen. Their theory is that a child’s skeleton is not yet ready to handle the day to day stress of Olympic training until they are sixteen. I think that in addition the stress of an entire nation on these kid’s shoulders it would be easier to handle at that at sixteen then at nine. Golf, while not as physically demanding still has much of the press hoopla that the athlete will need to manage in addition to just playing the game. With all the focus on Li and having to give so many interviews it was little surprise she was unable to play well at the event.

The results of these young girls playing in professional events are mixed. Lexi Thompson, who Li replaced as the youngest sectional qualifier, qualified for the U.S. Open at the age of twelve has gone on to have a great career with minimal hiccups. Thompson won her first major this year and is likely to become a driving force in the women’s game. Michelle Wie, who now has come into her own, struggled to find her game even she was a wunderkind at such a young age. Michelle was mismanaged, mostly by her parents, but I am sure the lure of millions of dollars drove many of the decisions. At such a young age the pressures and responsibilities are too much and likely set her back a few years. Michelle is now rightfully taking her place amongst the game’s best but she should have been there years ago.

Lucy Li

I feel strongly that kids should be able to be kids. They should be without the pressures to play well, and then be put in front of the circus of media questions. Li was great at it. Her two rounds of 78 were very respectable for the stage that she was on. Making the cut would have been an outstanding achievement, so breaking eighty was pretty successful in my opinion. She was wonderful in front of the press as well. There is no question she did a great job but I am very suspicious that all kids her age could have handled it as well. Add to this, she did have some practice. Recently, she had just won her age group at drive, chip and putt contest held at Augusta National a few months earlier. If she had gone out and shot 88 both days it may have scared her. This is the reason in my opinion to have the age limit.

Golfers under fifteen will still have an outlet to play golf at a very high level. There are many AJGA events and even the US Women’s Public Links, or the Women’s Amateur. These are events that young girls can play in but not have the scrutiny that a U.S. Open brings. So in essence they can work their way up to the bigger events.

I doubt the USGA will implement my idea. In their mind the Lucy Li show was only a positive and those young girls whose careers might have been set back are road kill. Their thinking is, if Lucy did it why can’t the other girls. This is short sighted and only hurts the game in the end. I am certain they feel the media play from Lucy was extremely beneficial for the event and so why change anything.

Photo credits: © Scott Halleran

7 thoughts on “Is Eleven Years Old too Young to Play in a U.S. Open?”

  1. That’s the point of it being the US “Open”. If you qualify, you’re in.

    You could make this argument about eligibility for pro tours – but it makes no sense in the context of the US Open unless you want to change the name to the US (almost) Open.

    If you feel strongly that “kids should be kids” then don’t let yours try to qualify for the US Open . . but it’s a dangerous and slippery slope when you start excluding players who have the ability to qualify “for their own good”.

  2. It’s not a professional tournament Michael-Anyone can qualify to play if their handicap is low enough.

    Plus it isn’t for the USGA to decide if she should play-its for the parents. You took the wrong angle on that one. Id still disagree-she seemed to handle it all fine so I think her parents did the right thing-but to say it’s the USGA is the wrong approach.

  3. @AmazingWhacker – The idea of “open” is of course clear, but it is in no way truly open. For example you need to have a certain handicap to be able to participate, so it is not open. My point regarding the Olympics applies as well. They are amateur events, but the age restrictions still apply. There are certainly precedents for having certain types of restrictions.

  4. I think it is great, young Lucy may decide to quit the sport and will still have achieved what most never will.

    If you are good enough, you are old enough.

    My biggest concern is the amount of practice juniors are doing, will she be injured young or develop a bad back from trying to play at a high level for years.

  5. The biggest push to a resurgence of golf will be the hundreds of thousands of parents of prospective girls (or boys).

    If we think the game is shrinking, the millions of dollars parents of aspiring children will pour into this sport could potentially pull the sport out of the doldrums.

    I already see thousands of Asian parents trying to put their children into golf camps and every other golf related programs in hopes that their child has potential.

    Just think if the Dan Plan even gets him on the tour, how many more people will try to join the sport.

    The fact that a little girl (barely 5′ tall) can make it into these qualifiers means a lot more than two much larger than average girls (Michelle and Lexi).

    It opens up the door to many more hopefuls.

  6. Your first mistake is comparing her to you. No offense but if she had your “skill” she wouldn’t be playing in the Open. I assume her skill level is well beyond what you could imagine, so you opinion on whether or not she should be in the Open is arbitrary at best. Second, it’s an Open, which you must not understand, means that if you can play to the appropriate level, then you’re in. Third, there is absolutely no need to set an age limit, if you still don’t understand why…….refer to the second reason. Fourth, I have never understood why people like you feel the need to put restrictions on things that just don’t need them. Is it because you can’t imagine things beyond your simple experiences? I hate to break it to you, but there are a lot of people out there, even kids, that aren’t average. Hopefully you can learn to change you perspective beyond your own experiences.

  7. Exactly who are you protecting, other people’s kids or your own ego because you may not be good enough to guide your daughter to this level? I’m glad you weren’t Lydia Ko’s father.

    But you and Stacey Lewis would get along quite well. I quit watching any of Stacey’s shots after her comments about Lucy Li to the effect that “she was not a fan of it” when referring to what she thought about Lucy Li playing in the US Open. She then said, “but I guess she did qualify so we can’t say anything.” Correct, Stacey, she did qualify so shut up and thanks for giving me a reason not to watch you anymore.

    Have you ever played golf? Your last sentence in paragraph 4 says “it was little surprise she (Lucy) was unable to play well.” You obviously have no idea how good it is to shoot a pair of 78’s on that course with turtleback greens. What’s more, you then go on to contradict yourself saying “breaking 80 was pretty successful.” You and Donald Trump are the only 2 people I know who can contradict themselves in the same article or sentence.

    I think “most” parents are smart enough to not put themselves into situations their kids can’t handle. I’ve taught my 8-year-old not to judge her self worth by a bad result in a golf tournament, she’s playing herself not the other kids. She was smart enough to see through that when she was 7, but she’s also smart enough to understand what I really mean by saying that in the first place. She totally gets it and is so far of other kids her age mentally that it gives her a huge leg up and a never quit attitude that carries over to academics and every other non-golf aspect of life.

    Are there bad parents? Sure. Did Michelle Wie’s parents screw her up? Probably. But stop trying to place arbitrary restrictions on the rest of us because you don’t want our daughters getting ahead of yours.

    Leave my daughter out of it, she’ll be just fine. In fact, you can watch her this weekend as she competes at Augusta in the Drive Chip and Putt finals in the Girls 7-9 Division. And if she comes in dead last, she’ll be fine, won’t cry and will still be smiling. Why? Because I’ve taught her that no matter what happens she’ll be out there with Daddy (and family) and so she’s already “won.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *