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Meet Lucy Li, the 11-year-old golf phenom teeing off at US Women's Open

June 19, 2014 at 11:31 AM ET

June 17, 2014 - Pinehurst, NC, USA - Lucy Li, 11, answers questions from the media during a press conference for the U.S. Women's Open Championship at...
Jeff Siner / ZUMAPRESS.com
Lucy Li, at 11, is the youngest player ever to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open.

She is the youngest player ever to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open, but that distinction doesn’t phase 11-year-old golf phenom Lucy Li.

“I like crowds. They don't bother me. I play better the more people that come watch me,” the sixth-grader said at a recent news conference.

Don’t let the braces or the multiple colorful pigtails fool you. There’s a reason why Li has become the talk of the tournament, where she tees off Thursday in Pinehurst, North Carolina.

PINEHURST, NC - JUNE 18:  Eleven-year old Amateur Lucy Li of the United States lines up a putt during a practice round prior to the start of the 69th ...
Streeter Lecka / Getty Images
Li lines up a putt during a practice round prior to the start of the 69th U.S. Women's Open at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club in North Carolina.
This Aug. 5, 2013 photo provided by the USGA shows Lucy Li hitting a tee shot on the 18th hole during the U.S. Women's Amateur Championship in Charles...
Steve Gibbons / AP
Li at the 18th hole last August at the U.S. Women's Amateur Championship.

Li has spent nearly half her young life preparing for this moment. Since age 6, she has split her time between her home in California’s Bay Area and a golf school in Florida.

“I like golf because it's different from other sports,” she said. “Anybody can play it, if you're tall, short, fast or slow, that's what I like about it.”

JUNE 17:  Eleven-year old Amateur Lucy Li of the United States hits a shot during a practice round prior to the start of the 69th U.S....
Scott Halleran / Getty Images
Li hits a shot during a practice round.

But Stacy Lewis, the top-ranked women's player in the world, has expressed concern about someone so young competing at such a high-level event.

“I just like to see kids learn how to win before they come get beat up out here,” she told USA Today. “When I found out she qualified, I said, 'Well, where does she go from here?' … If it was my kid, I wouldn't let her play in the U.S. Open qualifier at 11.”

Lucy Li smiles as she walks to the second tee during a practice round for the U.S. Women's Open golf tournament in Pinehurst, N.C., Wednesday, June 18...
John Bazemore / AP
Lucy Li smiles as she walks to the second tee during a practice round.

But Michelle Wie, who turned pro at 16 and described Li as “so darn cute,” is a big fan. She even offered the youngster some advice.

“Go out there, try to learn as much as you can,” she said. “Go up to any pro, we're not scary, we won't bite. Just ask us anything."

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