06/18/2014 at 11:20 AM EDT
With pigtails and plenty of giggles, Lucy Li just wants to have fun like any 11-year-old girl. Except that this week, she's playing the biggest event in women's golf.
The sixth-grader from Redwood Shores, California, near San Francisco, doesn't appear to be the least bit overwhelmed by the attention around her since she became the youngest qualifier in U.S. Women's Open history when she shot 68 at Half Moon Bay last month to win her sectional by seven shots.
The pre-teen, who sports braces on her teeth, celebrated by having dinner at her favorite restaurant and watching The Amazing Spider-Man 2
"She looks so darn cute," said onetime youth golf phenom Michelle Wie
, who didn't make it to her first Women's Open until she was 13. "I was like, 'I don't think I looked that cute when I was 11.' But she just looks so excited, so wide-eyed … And I'm just really so excited for her to be out. It's a memory that will last her a lifetime. What other 11-year-old can say that they played in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst? And she got to see the men play, too."
Li only became serious about golf four years ago when she set up shop in Miami to work with Jim McLean. Just two months ago, Li won her age division in the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at Augusta National. And now she's at Pinehurst No. 2, ready to take on the course where Martin Kaymer won the U.S. Open on Sunday.
"It's awesome, right?" she said, giggling as she answered questions from media. "I mean, Pinehurst and Augusta National in like two months. I mean, that's just amazing. It's mind-blowing for me. It's been awesome. The food is great and it's been a lot of fun. I've made a lot of friends."
There's something about the U.S. Women's Open in the North Carolina sandhills that attracts all the kids, who have played in this tournament before. Age is not an issue.
"Look, if you're good enough, you're old enough – or young enough, whichever way you look at it," pro golfer Laura Davies said.
"If you can play the golf and you can qualify, then have a go. What's the worst that can happen? She shoots a million this week and everyone says, 'Wasn't it great she was here?' So I don't think anything bad can come out of it because she's too young to worry about the pressure."
"She's just having fun," Davies added. "She's got a week off school. It's perfect."
Li, who is not the youngest player in Women's Open history – Beverly Klass played at age 10 in 1967 – laughed and laughed when a reporter asked about whether her father could beat her.
"No," the petite golfer responded, moving closer to the microphone.
She made one thing clear as her star power rises. She's not out to prove anything. She's not out to make history.
"The perfect week? I just want to go out there and have fun and play the best I can, and I really don't care about the outcome," Li said. "I want to have fun. I want to learn a lot from these great players."