Lucy Li may be only 12 years old, but she knows a talented golfer when she sees one. That’s why she invited 17-year-old Kathleen Scavo to be her partner and attempt to qualify for the inaugural 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.
“I asked Kathleen last year because she’s really good,” said Li of the 2012 and 2013 California Junior Girls’ State champion.
“I said yes right away,” says Scavo. “Lucy is just a great player and we get along well.”
The camaraderie paid off March 26 during a qualifier at Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz, Calif., where the pair earned medalist honors with a bogey-free, 7-under 65.
“We both played quite well that day,” said Scavo. “We kind of ham-and-egged it. We made birdies on different holes, which was nice.”
“That definitely is nice,” said Li with a laugh. “You don’t want to make birdies on the same holes in this format.”
That happened again on Saturday during the first round of stroke play on Pacific Dunes, with Scavo and Li combining for a 5-under 67, in a tie for third place and just one stroke off the lead. Their round included seven birdies, four of which came during a six-hole stretch on the inward nine.
“At the start we both had a little difficulty (including a bogey on the opening hole) with the speed of the greens,” said Scavo.
Li had trouble with the speed of the greens, knocking a few putts from the fringe well past the hole. “The last few holes I just decided to chip those,” she said. “It was much better.”
The San Francisco Bay Area residents knew each other from competing in various Northern California Golf Association events, but became closer when they both qualified for the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club in North Carolina.
“It was nice to have a friendly face around there,” said Li of Redwood City, Calif., who attracted international media attention as the youngest qualifier in U.S. Women’s Open history at 11 years, 8 months, 19 days old. Neither Li, who shot 78-78, nor Scavo, who shot 83-73, made the 36-hole cut, but both gained invaluable experience among the world’s best players.
Li sets another record for the youngest competitor in this inaugural competition, while she and Scavo comprise the fourth-youngest team by combined age.
“That doesn’t matter,” says Scavo, a quarterfinalist in the 2013 U.S. Girls’ Junior. “Golf is a game where you can be good at any age. It doesn’t really make a difference.”
Experience helps, however, and after two days of practice rounds on Pacific Dunes, both knew what they needed to do well to advance to match play.
“If your short game is good that’s a big advantage,” said Scavo.
“Putting is very important,” added Li. “You’re going to have a lot of long putts. And club selection is, too. On Thursday (during a practice round) I had 200 yards to a hole and hit a 6-iron. I thought that was crazy, but it was the right club.”
While the spotlight will not be quite as bright as when they played in the U.S. Women’s Open, there are still some nerves this week.
“All USGA championships bring pressure,” said Scavo. “This is just a different kind of stage.”
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Li. “I think the USGA did a really brilliant job of getting one of golf’s most popular formats into a championship.”
Although neither one had been to Bandon Dunes before this week, both had heard plenty about it.
“I was really excited to come up here because it’s so famous,” said Scavo. “But because we’re both new to links golf it seemed a little daunting. After a few rounds, it’s more manageable.”
“A lot of my friends have played here and they were telling me how hard it was, and I was like, oh we’ll see,” said Li with a laugh. “They were right.”
The pair played in some wind last year during qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Open at California’s Half Moon Bay Golf Club. But that paled against the gusty conditions they have faced at Pacific Dunes.
“It’s so windy that it plays a big part in how the ball breaks on the greens and how fast they move,” said Scavo. “Into the wind, they can go slower even downhill. I thought that was kind of interesting.”
The duo may not get the chance to play in this championship again in the next few years.
“This event conflicts with the NCAA championships,” said Scavo, who has committed to enroll at the University of Oregon this fall, where she plans to play golf.
“Oh really?” said a surprised Li. “That’s unfortunate. It really is.”
Tom Mackin is an Arizona-based golf writer and a frequent contributor to USGA websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.